DAVID LUDWIG: Karl, I just want to thank you for coming. We’ve been blessed. It’s been great to hear from you. It’s been great to get to know you and you shared a lot with us, and there were some that couldn’t be here. If you would, just summarize some of the things that you shared. One thing–let me say this to help us: So a lot of our churches might fall into what they would call “smaller.” You talked about that today and how that kind of is a struggle for a lot of people. Help them and help us to remember all the great things you taught us.

KARL VATERS: Yeah. Well, the small church really has my heart. And the main reason it does is because I spent so much of my ministry years, 25 years, trying to become something. I’m not trying to become a big church pastor. And so even in today, I shared some of that story, but the bottom line was when I really was able to get some help from a friend, a counselor, to relook at that. And the phrase he used was, “Let’s see if we can figure out how to define success in ministry without numbers attached to it.”

And even the question, even just the statement of it was so strange to me. It was like, “Oh, how does that help? What does that even mean? Like, how do you do that?” Because everything has numbers attached to it. And as I’ve begun to do that, I’ve begun to realize numbers can’t be the way that we define ourselves in the church. You can’t find that in Scripture. You can’t read through the Bible honestly, get to the end of Scripture, close to the last page, and go, “Oh! Jesus wants us to get more people in the building. That’s what following him is all about.”

You cannot get that from an honest reading in Scripture. Now, we’ve tried to put that into it, but it doesn’t come out of it. And so when you start to recalibrate, you start realizing, “Okay, wait a minute! Maybe smallness isn’t a problem to fix. Maybe small churches are a big part of the strategy that God is using! That is a mindset shift that I think can help like 90% of churches in the world because if we treat small churches like a problem we’re going to have one approach, but if we look at small churches and think maybe it’s a part of God’s strategy will have a completely different approach, a completely different mindset.

And I think we’ll be approaching it more accurately and more biblically, too, instead of finding a fix or trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Let’s see what’s right about the small church and how can Jesus use us where we are right now instead of trying to be something we’re not.

DAVID LUDWIG: Love that. You were saying even earlier about how it not necessarily the size that matters. It’s a healthy church that matters, and we’re all about that. We want to churches to be healthy. So, you’ve written a book–you’ve written a lot of books–most recently, the “De-sizing the Church.” Got a copy right here, and we’d love for you to just maybe share a little bit about this and help others get to know about it and find it. Thank you.

KARL VATERS: Yeah, the the best way to begin to describe it Is actually the title and subtitle. “De-sizing the Church: How Church Growth Became a Science then an Obsession and What’s Next.” And that really outlines the entire book. So, it started with me asking the question, “How did we become so obsessed with size?” Because I’m dealing with small church pastors who are so discouraged that the church isn’t getting any bigger, and if we could remove the discouragement about size, I think we could elevate the lives and hearts and ministries of 90% of our peers in ministry.

Why are we worrying about something that isn’t really worrying Jesus at all? So, I thought, let’s find out where that is. Where did our obsession with bigness come from? And so I did some research into American history and into the history of the Church Growth Movement, and very long story very short, what I discovered was that there’s this great thing, the Church Growth Movement, that came up in the last 40 years or so that gave us a lot of tools and gave us a lot of language to help us to ask better questions.

A lot of really good things have come out of Church Growth Movement, but they’ve been intermingled with, quite frankly, an American obsession with bigness. This obsession with bigness in America is actually one of the unintended consequences of some of our best ideas from the First Amendment, which means that the government isn’t going to pay the bills for the church, which means we’ve got to raise our own money on our own. And we’ve got this massive country to conquer, so being big as we move forward as part of the way we conquer the nation and so on.

So, bigness is a really American thing, and I am proudly American, and I like big fat stuff, too. But when American ideals start replacing biblical principles, then we have a problem, and one of the American ideals that has replaced biblical principles and a lot of pastors’ hearts is the idea that I have to get bigger in order to be a successful pastor. And so I want to help us get out of that mindset.

De-sizing is not about downsizing; it’s not about making your church smaller. That’s not the point. But it’s about removing numbers as the way we interpret whether or not a church is valuable. Let’s use numbers, but let’s have them inform us. Let’s not have them give us value because if they’re up, then we’re filled with pride; if they’re down, then we’re filled with shame and none of that works. So, that’s where it became the science and then it became this obsession and in the what next, we have to stop looking to techniques and to management principles as the way for the American Church to get strong again.

I’m not against good techniques, and I’m all for good management principles, but we’re not going to manage our way back to health. The only way we’re going to get back to health, and the two points that we talked about today, was we need to make disciples which Jesus commanded us to do, and we need to be people of Integrity. Yes, if we can live with integrity and make disciples, we can begin to earn people’s trust back again. We can be actual living examples of Christ in us and that’s going to be far more attractive than better techniques.

DAVID LUDWIG: Amen. Yeah, I love what you shared and as the discipleship guy that one slide really stole the show for me today, “Discipleship fixes everything,” and so I give you a big amen for that because I agree. Thanks again. We wanted to Let everybody know where to find more of your resources. So, where can they get a copy of that book?

KARL VATERS: Yeah, the book is any available pretty much anywhere you buy books. You can go to karlvaters.com, which is the clearinghouse for everything that I do. If anybody’s a podcast listener, I have a podcast called, “The Church Lobby.” We have interviews with church leaders every couple of weeks, and it comes from a small church standpoint and speaks to the church lobby aspects, the relational aspects of the church. So, we’re going to concentrate more on how do we manage as a pastor? How do we pastor more hands-on rather than how do you preach better from the pulpit? That’s all good, too. But we want to talk about the real conversations that we have in the church lobby. When I first started doing this, the first few years people would say, “I just read your first book or just read your second book, you’re saying stuff out loud that we only talk to each other about in the church lobby after convention, right?” I said, “Yeah. This is nothing new.” We’re just taking the church lobby conversations, and I put it in a book. So, now we put in a podcast as well. So, on karlvaters.com, “The Church Lobby” podcast, everything you need you’ll get there.

DAVID LUDWIG: Thanks, Karl. We appreciate it. We want to help our churches to get healthy, and we appreciate your help to do that.

KARL VATERS: You’re very welcome. It’s been an honor to be with you today.