Preaching Articles

Small churches aren’t just smaller versions of big churches. They have unique gifts, challenges and methods of operation.

But not everyone realizes that fact. Including some small church pastors.

This often leads to frustration when we go to ministerial conferences or read pastoral books. Most (usually all) of the speakers and authors are from large churches, so they offer large church solutions. But when we try to implement them, many of them don’t work for us.

It’s not that the speakers and authors are giving bad advice. It’s just that what works for a big church, often doesn’t work in a smaller one.

And no, I don’t buy the argument that not following the advice of big church speakers and authors is why we’re small. We’ve tried to follow their advice, but a lot of it doesn’t apply to our situations.

As I noted in a previous article, our churches aren’t small because we make small church choices. We make small church choices because our churches are small.

Here’s an example.

You Might Be the Problem, Or…

Recently, a reader got in touch with me, using this opening line, “Karl, I finally have a little time to write you. I’m the senior dude at a small church and I’ve been busy fixing a leak in the men’s bathroom. It’s my calling…”

His men’s room reference was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but it was probably true, too. It reminded me of a video I saw at a ministerial conference a few years ago, promoting Tony Morgan’s book, Killing Cockroaches.

The video tells the story of how, when Tony was a city manager, he was interrupted one day by a screaming woman, running into his office, asking him to kill a cockroach. He dutifully went and killed the offending pest (the cockroach, not the woman). Then he wondered how he’d allowed an atmosphere in which people thought it was appropriate to expect the CEO to kill cockroaches.

Morgan uses this incident to teach lessons about how being a good pastor is like being a good manager. That our days shouldn’t be wasted on trivial tasks, like killing cockroaches.

You can see this short, fun video by clicking this link. Here are the points he makes in it:

Tony Morgan’s “Things I Can Do”

  • Blocking time out in my schedule to dream, to plan and to work on the big picture projects
  • Empowering other competent leaders, not just delegating the tasks
  • Identifying my strengths and then finding others who are different than me to manage around my weaknesses
  • Hiring an assistant, someone who’s not a secretary, but rather a leader and a project manager
  • Surround myself with problem-solvers, rather than problem-messengers

He concludes the list by saying, “I’m typically the problem when my day is filled with killing cockroaches.”

To which I have to respond…

If your day is filled with killing cockroaches, either you’re the problem, or… you’re a small church pastor.

…You Might Be a Small Church Pastor

Let’s take a look at Tony’s list again. There’s not a bad idea in the bunch. But they don’t match reality for most small church pastors.

  • Blocking out time to dream? If you’re bi-vocational, you barely have time to sleep.
  • Empowering, not just delegating competent leaders? How about finding one, just one person who’ll volunteer to help out and show up on time.
  • Finding others to manage around my weaknesses? (See above problem)
  • Hiring an assistant/project manager? Which of the 35 people in the church would be able to do that? And on what (non-existent) budget?
  • Surround myself with problem-solvers, not problem-messengers?That roar you heard was small church pastors around the world laughing out loud. What some people call problem-messengers, many of us lovingly call “our congregation”.

Let me repeat. Tony’s list isn’t wrong. Every point is valid. When you’re a manager, you need to prioritize your schedule, hire problem-solvers and make better use of your time and talents. CEOs who kill cockroaches will not be as effective as CEOs who hire cockroach-killers.

But in a small church, the CEO analogy doesn’t apply. Small churches don’t follow a business or city model, we follow a family model.

And small church pastors aren’t like city managers or CEOs. We’re more like older siblings.

Families don’t operate well under CEOs – or under an older sibling trying to act like a CEO.

Families don’t want to be managed, they want to be led. And they want to be loved.

And when you’re part of a family, even the leader of a family, you do things for your family that you wouldn’t necessarily do for your co-workers.

Sometimes you gotta kill cockroaches.


Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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Vicki Park

commented on Apr 24, 2017

Thank you. Have been reading Sermon Central articles for a few years now and while thinking what the author has said is good, it won't work in the churches in our Parish, and thought we were to blame but lol of course when you only have congregations ranging from 25 to around 100, there isn't a lot of people available to help and we have been struggling with a pastor who is trying to emulate the pastors of big churches and now I know why it grates on people. He is not treating us like family. Another factor I would add is that the culture is different in a city to a country town, or another nationality. Thanks again for helping me understand the problem and to look at an appropriate approach for our context

Alan Wright

commented on Apr 25, 2017

I pastor a small church in the inner city. I needed this. Thanks Al

Joe Schuck

commented on Apr 25, 2017

Bro. Karl - this article is so true it makes me laugh! Most of what I read about "how to do church" would be great... if I had people who don't have to work for a living, who aren't also raising families, who don't have aging parents who need care, who don't have medical issues, and who had tons of money to give! Now don't get me wrong. For a small church we do great, but I find myself killing cockroaches because, well... sometimes there isn't anyone else to do it! I had to make the choice - feel bad because "I was the problem" as so many BIG pastors said, or realize that much of what they said didn't make sense in my situation and context. So keep on writing man - you have a thankful audience!

John Gosch

commented on Apr 25, 2017

First off, let me say that I am a new pastor, that was asked to lead a brand new church, that is VERY small. I have read every book out there and I agree 100%. The solutions offered are great ones (I used to be a store manager in a couple very large retail companies, so I used many of them), but I feel like a failure because these solutions do not work in a small church environment. No matter how many other things that I have read that say that I'm just not trying hard enough! So I'm at a lose. It is great to read that what I've been thinking while reading all these large church solution books, are not solutions for my church. But now what? What can I do? This church will not last if it does not grow. If it does not last, then I have failed at what Jesus has asked me to do (spread the Gospel)! So this article was nice, but I felt as though it left me hanging! God Bless!

Dr Robert Ballard

commented on Apr 25, 2017

I have learned the joy of the small church. A loving family where everybody loves everybody. As a young pastor, I dreamed of leading them to grow into a 1000 member church. When I shared such thoughts, I was told, "we like a small church. If I wanted to belong to a large church, I would have joined a large church." So I learned to bring in people one at a time. Love them and lead them to Jesus. One Easter, we baptized 10 and everyone was thrilled. The church seldom had more than 100 in worship but there was a quality I sense was missing in some larger congregations.

Craig Willingham

commented on Apr 25, 2017

I wasn't killing cockroaches after church last Wednesday but I was cleaning cobwebs out of a side room! I totally agree with your assessment on books and conferences often not being applicable to small (and I would add country) churches. Having recently attended a conference based on a book by a prominent author on revitalizing plateaued and declining churches, I was very disappointed to find that one of the main speakers was from a megachurch telling us how he had "revitalized" his church from 1500 to over 5000. I could see I was not the only one in the crowd disappointed and disillusioned! In regard to the comment by the new pastor, though, I will say that having been here now for 18 years, patience and love must be in great supply. If you give it time and love your people there will be opportunities for growth along the way and the development of relationships that make it worthwhile as you see God work in their lives and yours.

Jonathan Spurlock

commented on May 19, 2022

Our church is small and will probably stay small, as we're in a small community that will probably stay small. The community has around 400 people, and is isolated by a river to the north and hills in the other directions. Fortunately we don't have any roaches (that we can see, anyway) so my soles are saved (ha!). It is (fill in the blank) when we're told we need and must have this, that, and the other to make a difference, whatever that's supposed to mean. I'm glad my congregation attends faithfully and serves the Lord in this community--they have more of an effect as residents than I'll ever have, being an outsider. My favorite New Testament church is Philadelphia because even though they only had a little strength, the Lord still gave them an open door. Beloved, please pray for those of us serving small churches and small communities. We're part of the Body of Christ, too, and there are times we feel left out. Don't forget us, please.

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