Karl Vaters is an encourager of those who serve in a local church. He speaks from experience and has plenty of stories to tell. He regularly speaks from what he calls a ‘smaller church’ perspective. I first met him at my first Children’s Pastors Conference a LONG time ago. Thankful for social media and his website, he’s a good resource when it comes to living and working in the trenches of the pew, the fellowship hall, and the parking lot, not just the stage.

He posted a blog in March 2022 entitled: How To Be A More Innovative Small Church (3 Starter Principles). These are my questions and thoughts for each principle:

  1. Connect the congregation to it’s innovative heritage
    – How can I learn about the history of the local church I serve? How can I share that history with the current church families in such a way that they find belonging and connection to those saints?
    – Be sure to read the history on the church’s website; chat with the longest-serving staff member; Dig deeper into the names on the plaques all over campus.
    I Love My Church Faith Milestone: every year we tour the church, learn vocabulary for church spaces ex: “We call this a _____ because _____,” and the stories of the people on the plaques.
    – Every other year, on the last Sunday before the time changes so it’s daylight, we tour and hear the stories of our church cemetery with our 3rd-5th graders with a church saint who is the caregiver or knows the most. I call them ‘the keeper of the stories’. I’ve served at two local churches with cemeteries onsite or across the street and those are indeed sacred spaces of great information. The kids love to hear the stories, they’re outside, and church saints can answer all their questions. I get to add that many of the names on the grave markers made decisions that made it possible for the kids to enjoy the church they call ‘home’ today, were active in their jobs and families AND their local church and community.
  2. Strip away everything but Jesus
    How many times do I say His name in the course of my teaching? No matter what I teach, do, share, pray, how do I make sure everything is all about Jesus?
    – Even the best curriculum doesn’t point to Jesus every week, but I must. So I study and practice pointing all things and people to Jesus for every message. HE is the message of greatest importance. Everything we think or believe we are as Christians and as the church is only because He rose from the dead to forgive us of our sins. He is indeed the author and perfecter of our faith. Jesus all day, everyday!
    – I’m on the lookout for images of Jesus in all types of art and creative expressions. I’ve learned much about how the greatest artists of history were given space and finances to paint, sculpt, and draw what we now regard as some of the greatest pieces of art in the world.
    Bread & Juice Class is a Faith Milestone we offer to Kindergartners and 1st graders early in the school year. In a church-wide space audit a huge picture of the last supper was discovered which was given to the children’s area. That artwork is an important part of our teaching and our end-of-class picture.
    – At Preschool Chapel and in our large group space, The Treehouse, we have a constant visual companion in a 6ft cardboard cutout of Jesus. “This is NOT Jesus, but it is how an artist took all he/she knew and thought He might look. For us, it’s a reminder that Jesus is with all of His followers all the time.”
    – We light an LED pillar candle when we gather together at the beginning of every large group, every Faith Milestone, every meeting, and every everything with a repeat after me, “We light this candle. As a reminder. That God is with us. And around us. Always.”
  3. Engage in more conversations.
    – How do I make myself available, accessible, and offer margin to have conversations with those I serve, those who I serve alongside, and those who I don’t know yet? What is my posture? Where is my face? Do I linger? Do I arrive early enough? Do I stay late enough? Do I have a ‘place’ where I am found?
    – Just a few weeks ago we enjoyed a Rally Day event to intentionally welcome folks back to church after the last worship service of the day with an outdoor picnic, homemade lemonade and ice cream, and burgers/dogs. I never eat at these events, but rather walk table to table and chat. My dad called it, “working the room.” I learned from the best. On Rally Day I pulled a wagon behind me with hand fans (it was HOT!) with sunglasses (Top Gun theme) and bubbles (everybody likes bubbles) for the kids and the kids-at-heart. So many great conversations, answers to questions I asked about new family schedules, thanking the guys at the grill and the tech station, relieving the face painters to take a bio-break so a little girl could delightfully paint my face as we waited. 

How would you address these three principles to be more effectively innovative in your house?

“Jesus Christ was the most revolutionary, innovative, world-changing person who ever lived. His followers should be the same.” – Karl Vaters