I Wish I’d Known: 3 Facts That Top My List

Karl Vaters: “We can pastor our small churches well—without settling for less.”

Three facts sit atop my ‘I Wish I’d Known’ list.

Fact #1: 90 percent of pastors will never pastor a church larger than 200 people.

Ninety percent of the churches in the world have less than 200 people in them. Eighty percent have less than 100. Even after the rise of megachurches, most lead pastors will spend the majority of their ministry in small churches because 90 percent of churches are small. That includes me.

Certainly some of those churches will grow. Mine has. But it’s still technically a small church. That’s the way it will be for the vast majority of churches—even healthy ones.

I’ve learned a lot from megachurch pastors. But I’ve had to pick and choose from what they’re teaching, because most of it only applies to bigger churches, since that’s where they’re teaching from. That’s not bad, but it’s not my context.

Fact #2: 99.9 percent of us will pastor a small church for at least some time in our ministry.

Every pastor wants their church to grow. I do. And it has.

But even if the church I pastor becomes big, the undeniable reality is that before any church becomes big, it will be small. This is true among big church pastors, too—99.9 percent of them pastored a small church at some point.

I was taught how to break the 200 barrier, and how to pastor well over 200. But I was never taught how to do what 99.9 percent of us will spend some, if not most of our ministry doing—pastoring a church well while it’s under 200.

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We’re still teaching ministry students how to get through 200 without teaching them how to pastor well under 200. Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?

Fact #3: I can pastor a small church well, without settling for less.

Knowing that we will pastor a small church is not a defeatist attitude. Far from it. Once I recognized and embraced that God’s call on my life was to pastor a small church (at least for now, maybe for my whole ministry), I discovered it to be a profound privilege and blessing.

It’s not settling.

It’s not missing out.

It’s not “less than …”

If I don’t let it be.

There have always been small churches. And they have always been the vast majority. Healthy, vibrant, outward-reaching small churches have been the primary way the church has grown for the last 2,000 years.

Maybe that’s not a problem.

Maybe small churches are God’s idea, not our failure.

Instead of making pastors feel guilty that they didn’t “make it” when they pastor a small church, we need to tell them what I was never told: We can pastor our small churches well—without settling for less.

Karl Vaters pastors Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, Calif.