Book review: The Grasshopper Myth by Karl Vaters


The main reason I’m happy about Karl Vaters’ The Grasshopper Myth is that there is now one less book that I have to write. But seriously, if I were to write a book to encourage pastors of smaller churches it would look like The Grasshopper Myth, but probably not be as good.

Karl says, “Healthy churches do not grow under the guidance of disgruntled, demoralized pastors. One of the primary reasons for writing my story was to help other small church pastors do what it took me too many years to do–stop being upset about what I’m not and start discovering and enjoying who I am.

We need to stop using numerical growth as the primary indicator of success in ministry and start looking at health as the primary indicator of success in ministry. It may all start with this premise–a healthy church that’s not growing numerically is better than an unhealthy church that is.”

And again,

“…this is probably the first book you have read on the subject of pastoring that wasn’t written by a mega-church pastor or by a researcher whose main focus has been to make mega-churches. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just the way it is.”

If you are expecting a lot of mega-church-bashing you won’t find it here. Unlike many books written from a small church perspective that feel a need to explain why small churches are better than large churches, Karl actually appreciates larger churches, and sees them as part of a wide range of church size, all of which have their place. The book is subtitled, “Big churches, small churches and the small thinking that divides us.”

When I first received the book in the mail three things stood out to me: first, the name of the book and the cover of the book are really sharp. Second, the great group discussion questions in the back. And third, some of the chapter titles such as:

How trying to build a big church nearly killed me–and my church.

Don’t despise the size.

So what’s wrong with church growth?

Small church big vision.

God doesn’t take attendance.

A new way to define success.

Stages in the emotional life of the small church pastor.

Those are just some of the chapters.

If you feel like you need some help getting your head screwed back on straight, this is the book. If you feel you’ve lost your head altogether, Karl will help you find it again and screw it back on.

Here are a few places I underlined:

“…our small size is not a problem to be fixed, but a strategic advantage God wants to use.”

“This drive for greater numbers and larger churches has probably resulted in more pastoral burnout than healthy, growing churches.”

“Yes, all healthy things grow. But growth is never as simple as older equals taller or healthy equals bigger. A pea will never be the size of a pumpkin and a rose won’t ever reach the height of a redwood no matter how much you water them, fertilize them, or teach them redwood growth principles. It’s just not in their nature. All healthy, living things reach their optimal size at maturity, then they grow in different ways from that point on.”

“I have become convinced that most small church pastors go through emotional stages. At the end, they either burn out and leave the ministry, or they go through that wall to effectiveness and fulfillment in ministry.”

The Grasshopper Myth is my new book to recommend for all pastors, but especially those who serve in smaller churches. Buy it today.



Karl Vaters has been a small church pastor for about 30 years, 20 of which at his current church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California.