More than 80% of churches are plateaued or in decline, and church leaders are the problem.

That’s harsh, but it’s the truth.

We often hear a lot of the same questions:

  • How can my church grow?
  • How can we reach millennials?
  • How can we do better at discipleship?
  • How can we increase the number of volunteers?
  • How can we better impact our community?

These are great questions. But the greatest barrier to your church’s success is not your strategy, it is your church leaders.

Here are five symptoms of church leaders that are a problem:

1. Church leaders at the highest-level are making decisions at the lowest-level.

When church leaders are making decisions about carpet, paint, bulletin design, and facility upkeep, they have become derelict in their role as the spiritual and vision leaders of the church. If the church lacks systems and teams to handle tactical decisions, the board will assume the duty. It has to be done. But if they are focused on the small stuff, who is thinking about the big picture? When high-level church leaders neglect spiritual leadership and vision development, it is a problem, and the church will plateau or decline.

2. Church leaders are selected for their capacity over their character.

Many churches are attracted to a business model. They want to be efficient like a business and develop strategies like a business. But a church is not a business. And so church leaders who excel as a banker, investor, or entrepreneur are not necessarily equipped to be pastors, shepherds, and vision-leaders. As a result, the church may look healthy on the outside and even experience quick growth, but if character is ignored, toxic leadership will eventually hamstring the church, and the church will plateau or decline.

3. Church leaders are selected for their tenure over their qualifications.

On the other end of the spectrum, some churches select their church leaders based on how long a person has gone to the church. But there is a difference between church attendance and spiritual maturity. A “good ol’ boy” who has been a member since he was an infant is not necessarily qualified to lead the church. While he may pass a cursory look at the Biblical qualifications for elders, these churches often fail to ask how equipped church leaders are to lead themselves, much less the church. If the board is filled with long-tenured church leaders with a low capacity for leadership, the church will plateau or decline.

4. Church leaders are advocates for comfort more than the Kingdom.

As a Lead Guide with the Malphurs Group, I am often shocked to discover that the greatest opponents to change in the church are not sitting in the pews–they’re sitting in board meetings. Change for the sake of change is never a good idea. But strategic change that leads to a greater impact is critical, and church leaders should be the first to advocate for this kind of change. If church leaders care more about their comfort and maintaining the status quo, it is a problem, and the church will plateau or decline.

5. Church leaders promote personal projects instead of a unified Vision.

Churches are often filled with more politics than anything you would find in Washington, D.C. If your church leaders will only support a church-wide initiative if they can keep the funding for their pet project, it is a problem. If your church leaders only invest their energy and effort into “their” ministry, it is a problem. Church leaders must have an all-in attitude around a God-given Vision for your church. If this is lacking, the church will plateau or decline.

Sometimes, church leaders have the will to change but lack the systems and training. But all of the training in the world will not overcome dysfunctional leadership.

Having ineffective church leaders is not a death sentence! Church leaders can grow, change, learn, and become effective. But if you want to see strategic change, you have to first admit where and how your church leaders are the problem.


Scott Ball is the Director of Services and a Lead Guide at The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his family, and is passionate about helping churches like yours to experience healthy, sustainable growth. Click here to email Scott.