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Book Review

Small churches? Yippee!

This book’s title—The Grasshopper Myth—refers to the Israelite spies who reconnoitred Canaan for Joshua. They saw giants there and felt like mere grasshoppers beside them. This, says Karl Vaters, is how many pastors of small churches see themselves when looking at the megachurches that get all the media attention. By ‘small churches’ the author means up to 200 people, which  describes 90% of all the churches in the world.

The book is The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches And The Small Thinking That Divides Us by Karl Vaters (New Small Church, 2012).  It comes out of the American scene but its message is valid more widely. It agrees that there is a place for both megachurches and small churches—and all sizes in between, and that we should stop judging a church’s ‘success’ by the number of ‘butts on seats’ on Sunday mornings. The statistics show that, in the overall scheme of things, it is small churches that exercise the greatest influence in society. While it is megachurch pastors who write the books and run the seminars, it is mostly small-church pastors who get the work done.

There are no foolproof, transferable models that, if applied to any church, can guarantee its growing to become a megachurch. So small-church pastors need to accept the fact that they will probably remain small-church pastors until they retire, and that this is something to celebrate, not be ashamed of. In fact the advantages of being in a small church are significant and need to be acknowledged more widely than they are.

At the same time, small-church pastors need to stop sniping at the megachurches—and vice versa. Both models are valid, both are needed, and both can learn from each other. If that could be recognised and put into practice, the church’s witness would be transformed.

This is a delightfully simple and refreshing book and is set to make a positive difference to the church scene today. So get it!

[The book does not yet appear to be available as a hard copy, only as a Kindle e-book. So the numbers after the quotations below are Kindle location numbers, not page numbers]


We’ve come to realize that our small size is not a problem to be fixed, but a strategic advantage God wants to use. (77)

The problem is that too many of us have defined church success and health by numbers. And not just by any numbers. By two specific numbers. Butts in the seats and bucks in the offering. (150)

People choose to attend Small Churches, not in spite of their size, but because of it. Pastors of the New Small Church are the ones who have accepted that and celebrate it. (238)

‘Think Like a Big Church’. I heard it everywhere. I told it to my church leaders too.   It was the main reason for some of the biggest mistakes of my ministry. (530)

Pastoring a healthy megachurch is a special and rare gift. I have learned to be grateful that I have not been burdened with it. (674)

Wanting to worship and serve God in a Small Church is not a theological error or a personality deficit. It’s time we stopped treating it as though it was. (757)

Small Church pastors, take note of this. The next time you’re tempted to get frustrated about how many people are driving past your church to attend a megachurch, realize that there are more people who drive past megachurches to attend a Small Church. (760)

The truth is there are great churches that are big and great churches that are small.   I pastor a great church. No further adjectives are needed. (833)

What’s wrong with church growth?   In a word, nothing.   But there are some significant problems with the church growth strategies we’ve been using for the past generation or so. (1048)

Some people – most people, from what I’ve seen – prefer to receive pastoral care from the man or woman who preaches on Sundays. (1221)

The bigger the church, the more the pastoral role must change from personal shepherd to administrative oversight. (1259)

You need a smaller group if you want intimacy. Most big churches offer that as an option. But in a Small Church it’s unavoidable. Some people love that about Small Churches. Others don’t because that intimacy always comes with a flip-side – accountability. We all need both, but not all of us want both. (1304)

A New Small Church grass-roots movement is the only way post-Christian Europe is going to perceive a renewal of Christianity as a genuine spiritual movement, rather than a political strategy. (1525)

For the last few decades the western church has been focused on how to turn a big vision into a big church. Has that focus blinded us to the possibility that we can operate with a big vision in a Small Church? (1543)

Very few pastors are actually called by God to work in large settings among wealthy people with huge, almost limitless resources. Most of us are asked to dig in with the poor and disheartened, with limited space, money and resources. (1614)

The megachurch model isn’t the only model of church ministry. The megachurch model works for megachurches. That’s less than 1% of the churches in the world. But it’s the only model we regularly hear or read about. That has to change. (1815)

It’s still about 100 million people in megachurches at the most, while Small Church pastors are responsible for one billion people at the least. (2063)

One of the main complaints about Small Churches is that the only reason they stay small is because they have a small vision. I used to believe that. I don’t anymore. (2247)

Sometimes what we call a plateau is simply a church reaching its optimal size, then using that size to grow healthful fruit. (2295)

Not all growth is numerical. If you’re in a church that’s healthy, where people are growing in their faith, reaching the community, investing in missions and seeing transformed lives and families, it’s shameful, even sinful, to divert our limited attention, money, time, energy and heart away from that into chasing numbers. (2315)

Many church growth books devote significant ink to telling their readers how Jesus attracted crowds. What many of them don’t say is that, while Jesus’ ministry did attract crowds – megachurch-sized crowds at times – he actually spent more time trying to avoid crowds than trying to draw them. (2443)

Historically, the times of the church’s strongest growth and purest faith were when Small Churches, linked through informal networks, dominated the landscape. There were few large congregations during the early church, the Pentecostal revival or in China or Latin America today. But their spiritual awakenings were, and are, huge. (2620)

If you’re a big church pastor, you need to know that Small Church pastors need your help. But we’re not charity cases. You need our help too. (2803)

“God doesn’t sell franchises”. In other words, church isn’t like McDonald’s. You can’t take the same systems from one place and plug-and-play them in another place. (2843)

What do you think God might do through a city whose pastors and churches decided they were finally going to set aside their territorialism, their petty jealousies and their denominational prejudices? (2972)

We are Small Church pastors, not because we failed at being big church pastors, but because this is what God called us to do and who he gifted us to be. (3159)

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(Not yet available in hard copy)