12 Signs of Bad Church Leadership and How to Fix Them

 

Leadership around a table

As a church member, what are the signs of bad church leadership, and when is it time to make a change? 

A church is a place where you give and receive love and care, grow in your faith and know God! But (like any family) when there's abuse from the one providing protection and guidance, it leaves us feeling broken. Bad experiences from church and ministry leaders can lead people to walk away from church for a season. When abuse or neglect happens, it can be devastating, leaving lasting wounds on hearts, souls and minds. Not to mention, bad church leadership ultimately will lead to a dying church.

Now that you’re a part of our church family, we think it’s wise to let you know that not all churches are healthy. Please watch out for 12 signs of bad church leadership.

1. There Are Too Many Expectations Placed on Members

Here's a shocking statistic: 

According to Deloitte, 77 percent of surveyed individuals reported experiencing burnout while in their current job position. To make matters worse, over half of those individuals admitted to suffering multiple rounds of burnout. 

By the numbers, there's a very good chance that there are members of your congregation dealing with burnout right now. But because many church activities are planned and arranged by a select group of core members, overburdened congregation members are one of the most common signs of bad church leadership. 

You may have this problem if: 

  • You have to push people to volunteer 
  • Regular volunteers are taking longer and longer to answer your texts 
  • Events are being met with decreasing enthusiasm 
  • Newcomers are always being saddled with major responsibilities 

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Why Is This a Problem? 

The church is supposed to be a place of safety and refuge. Being the church equivalent of the Uncle Sam poster that points at the viewer and says, "I want you!" can give people a sense of pride and purpose at the thought of being needed. But requiring congregation members to give their all to the church constantly is a long-term recipe for disaster.  

Once the burnout sets in, people will stop volunteering or leave, searching for a congregation that will pour into them. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

You can make sure that volunteering expectations and roles are sustainable. Rotate your volunteers so that you don't have the same people giving their time and energy to the church every week. And if the issue is that your church is biting off more than it can chew, it might be time to scale back the annual event calendar.

2. There Aren't Enough Expectations Placed on Members

Considering the first issue we just mentioned in signs of bad church leadership, the same way that burdening people with too many duties and expectations can damage the health of your congregation, so can a church that routinely doesn't ask anything of its members. 

You may have this problem if: 

  • Congregants are always asking if they can help 
  • You and your staff are doing most of the heavy lifting 
  • People are always expecting the pastoral staff to do everything 

Why Is This a Problem? 

If people don't have legitimate opportunities to support the work of God, you could quickly start to find yourself in a church full of professional cheerleaders. And then, in the future, when you're looking for ushers, youth leaders, and Sunday School teachers, very few people will want to step in and help.  

Plus, to make matters worse, when people are left to their own devices, it's not unusual for them to start creating cliques and gossiping. Busy hands working towards a common goal are significantly less likely to cause problems later on down the line. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Coincidentally, the solution to under-utilized church members is the same as the one for overburdened ones. You need to create a volunteer system that allows people to help out as they're able. 

If you and your team have traditionally avoided asking people to help out, you may have to do some intentional volunteer recruiting. But delegating wisely isn't just a way for you to get more done as a church — it can also help your members develop a more Christ-like approach to leadership and working with people.

3. Decision-Making Is Dictated by Politics

Capitol Building - Politics Bad Church LeadrshipThis kind of church-related nightmare and signs of bad church leadership is keeping deacon boards and pastors up late at night. Every time a decision has to be made, you have to scheme and strategize like a presidential campaign manager to get results.  

Does the sanctuary carpet need to be replaced? Team Red and Team Purple will spend every weekend lobbying for votes.  

Are you painting the nursery? The Women's Ministry leadership team is already working its influence on the deacon board.  

And if there's a snag in the voting process or someone votes unexpectedly, Heaven helps the leadership team's sleep schedule because the "evening" meeting will be going into the early morning hours. 

You may have this problem if: 

  • Congregants are forming alliances like they're Game of Thrones characters 
  • The church is routinely overlooking simple solutions in favor of popular ones 
  • Key church influencers are extremely comfortable with throwing their weight around 

Why Is This a Problem? 

Everybody says that they hate politics, but every workplace and hobby group requires a certain amount of maneuvering. In the body of Christ, decisions shouldn't be made based on who knows people. God isn't a respecter of persons, and neither should we be.  

In addition, when your church that's caught up in its own internal Game of Thrones, it won't be able to spread the Gospel effectively. Either you won't be seeking God and making effective decisions, or the church's witness will be compromised once people become aware of the political dynamic. Neither of these scenarios is where you want your church to be. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

You want to be a church that seeks God's wisdom in its decision-making. If the board has been controlled by politics before, you'll want to start by letting people know that you're adopting a new paradigm.  

Unfortunately, however, you may find that politicking is too deeply entrenched in your church culture to change overnight. Although some people might consider this step to be overkill, you may want to consider reaching out to your district or your denomination to see what mediation and mentorship resources are available.   

4. Gossip is One of the Biggest Signs of Bad Church Leadership

Girls Gossiping  - Bad Church Leadership

Psychological Science observed that gossip could have a social norm-defining role in a community. But we're warned repeatedly in the Bible to watch what we say.  

Why? Because gossip can cause serious harm to the people impacted by it. It is hurtful and trust-destroying to have your character assassinated via rumors and slander, but it also seriously damages your church's ability to help people grow spiritually. Gossiping also leaders to controlling church members.

You may have this problem if: 

  • Congregants have left due to gossip 
  • People don't feel like they can be vulnerable in your church 
  • Certain members have a reputation for telling untrue stories about others 

Why Is This a Problem? 

On a practical level, gossiping can destroy a person's life. Depending on the size of your community and the level of harm that has occurred, people have lost their friends, jobs, and reputations over unfounded rumors. And while the members of your congregation might enjoy gossiping as it happens at the moment, it's a vice that erodes trust and poisons communities.  

How will you attract and retain members if you're known as the church with a severe gossiping problem? And if congregants are spending all their time dissecting other people's lives, are they growing spiritually? 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

You'll want to clamp down on gossip as if the long-term viability of your church depends on it.   

Be proactive when addressing rumors and encourage congregants to avoid bullying. And if it is persistent and malicious enough, you may also want to think very seriously about revoking memberships. Here's more on how to handle disgruntled church members

5. The Pastor Calls All the Shots

In 2006, Kobe Bryant had a game for the ages where he scored 81 of his team's 122 points. Sure, Mr. Bryant was his team's franchise player. But that game was considered historic in part because that wasn't an everyday event. 

For many churches, the pastor is essentially the franchise player. If there are events that need to be organized or fundraising drives that have to be promoted, the pastor is the one doing the heavy lifting to make it all happen. 

Signs of bad church leadership look like this: 

  • The board is full of "yes" people 
  • The leadership team often micromanages whenever it does delegate 
  • The pastor gets defensive in response to feedback 

Why Is This a Problem? 

This is one of the more subtle signs of unhealthy church leadership because, on paper, the church is getting things done. But when the congregation relies on a single person to do everything, you'll eventually start to reach a plateau.   

Plus, it becomes harder to build a long-lasting community when the pastor is your singular focus. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Get into the habit of delegating and including congregants in your decision-making process. Many pastors are charismatic people with prominent personalities. If that's you, you might have to be intentional about asking for people's thoughts.  

As you get into letting others do more, you'll be surprised at how your work-life balance will improve.

6. Conflict is the Norm

Every Christian has either been in or heard of a congregation full of high-conflict personalities. You couldn't just have a disagreement about the upcoming Thanksgiving potluck menu—everyone and their mother had to chime in while adding a few choice insults.  

You may have this problem if: 

  • Members are routinely insulting or condescending towards each other 
  • There's a persistent culture of disrespect 
  • Huge fights and displays of anger are a regular occurrence 

Why Is This a Problem? 

Think back to the last time you had a powerful argument with a loved one. If the other person had immediately said, "Let's go praise God together," while you were still angry, you'd have been tempted to start arguing all over again.  

In a church that's always full of discord, it can be challenging for congregants to experience peace. And if your members tend to be disrespectful when they disagree with people, resentment and lack of trust will only grow. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Encourage people to express themselves with grace even when they disagree. Signs of bad church leadership you’ll see someone struggling with anger problems or lashing out. If so, you may need to encourage them to step back from their duties.   

Sometimes passions can run wild because churchgoers have personal agendas that they're trying to pursue. Starting every project with an orientation meeting can do a lot to set expectations and ensure that everyone's on the same page.

7. Everyone's Constantly Participating in the Blame Game

When the earth was first created, Adam and Eve had it all. But of course, the temptation to taste the forbidden fruit eventually got to them. And when it was time to accept the consequences of their sin, Adam blamed Eve while Eve blamed the serpent. 

Although the stakes might not involve dooming the entire human race, the fall of humanity is a story that plays out every day in many congregations—anything that goes wrong is always someone else's fault. 

You may have this problem if: 

  • No one admits to making mistakes 
  • People refuse to take ownership of their projects 
  • Congregants and staff are quick to throw others under the bus 

Why Is This a Problem? 

If everyone's first response to a problem is, "That wasn't my fault," that's a sign of lousy church leadership. Why? Because healthy church leaders have a strong sense of personal responsibility and accountability. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

As a leadership team member, you can take it upon yourself to create a culture of transparency, honesty, and accountability in your church. Be sure to let people know that you support them, and don't hesitate to do blame-free audits that can explore how things could have been done better.

8. There's Always Chaos

Have you ever been friends with someone who struggles to stay organized? You could be planning a wedding or lunch at a cafe, and they'll always be running late.  

Many churches operate like your chronically disorganized drama magnet of a friend.  

If there's a Mother's Day brunch being served, the kitchen is in total disarray. Every Sunday, staff members have to deal with a fire and put it out—you get the picture. 

Signs of bad church leadership will look like this: 

  • Resources are always overbooked 
  • Every week brings a new emergency 
  • There's no predictability to the setup and planning process 

Why Is This a Problem? 

Being organized is one of the essential church leadership skills that a pastor can have. Sure, stewarding the church's money might not be as exciting as preaching the gospel and baptizing. But administration makes it possible to do God's work daily. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Create systems and plans so that you don't have to reinvent the wheel every week. When you're hosting more significant events, make checklists and simplified lists.  

By planning as much as possible, you can reduce stress, keep staff members on an even keel, and run consistently high-quality services efficiently. It might take a few tries to nail down a process, but once everything falls into place, you'll wonder how you survived without your planning system.

9. The Congregation's Needs Are Routinely Ignored

No church leadership team ever sits down and brainstorms ways to deprive the congregation of its needs. This is often something that often happens over time.  

Maybe the pastoral team is so excited about their community outreach strategy that they miss the telltale signs of congregation burnout. Or perhaps it was so much easier to avoid setting up the nursery that the team forgot to make alternative arrangements for the young families in the church. Regardless of how the situation started, however, the outcome is the same:  

The church is constantly zigging when the congregation needs zagging. 

Signs of bad church leadership will look like this: 

  • Congregants are saying that they're not being spiritually fed 
  • People are dragging their feet when it comes to pursuing church objectives 
  • Folks have been running on empty for an extended period of time 

Why Is This a Problem? 

Church attendance involves making an implicit deal.  

In exchange for their time and offerings, your church is supposed to give its members spiritual care and guidance. If your leadership team routinely misses the mark with its members, your congregation could become a revolving door. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

You have to get to keep your finger on the church's pulse.  

Figure out what season your congregation is in and strike a balance between the church's plans for future growth and what your members need to hear. You and your leadership team won't have to drag the congregation kicking and screaming into things.  

But here's the good news:  

There are easy ways to get a sense of people's emotional needs.  

You can speak to members and find out what's happening in their lives. You can run an annual church membership satisfaction survey to get a sense of what people would like to see more of from your church. In addition, you can create a culture where people are routinely encouraged to offer feedback.  

You don't want congregation members to perceive you as yet another church out of touch and out of step with their needs. Following this advice will make it easier for you to give the people what they want.

10. There's No Long-Term Strategy

Chron once observed that businesses with long-term goals and strategies were often able to give staff members and leaders a sense of purpose and direction. And although we don't necessarily want our churches to operate like corporations, there is something to be said for the importance of having the whole "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" conversation. 

Is your church hoping to grow by attracting young families? Are you planning to create a long-lasting legacy within your city and your community? How will you accommodate this growth? 

Signs of bad church leadership will look like this: 

  • Congregants can't explain the church's vision in two sentences or less 
  • Leadership veers from project to project with no larger purpose 
  • Staff members don't always know why they're doing certain tasks 

Why Is This a Problem? 

When push comes to shove, the last thing you want, or need is for your church to be functioning like a chicken that's had its head cut off. If all you ever do is focus on the following Sunday service, you will have difficulty selling your board members to congregants on your vision for the church.  

Although many churches can get away with thinking short-term for a while, there's something to be said for having exciting goals for your church to work towards. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Many would-be entrepreneurs are encouraged to sit down and write business plans in the business world. For pastors and members of church leadership teams, it's a good idea to take a few weeks to sit down and create a church strategic plan.   

Who are you looking to reach with the gospel? What are your long-term plans for your current building? These are the questions you'll want to think about very deeply.   

11. The Church Doesn't Provide Discipleship

As believers in Christ, we all understand that spiritual growth is a journey. Many people have been able to change their lives simply by walking with God. But between work, school, family life, and life in general, it's far too easy for people to become complacent over time.   

Most people aren't necessarily born knowing how to lead church members and organize worship teams. Many of the spiritual advisors you look up to now had mentors who helped them grow in the things of God. As a church, it's your job to give people fresh growth opportunities.  

But far too often, in churches, people forget about the importance of discipleship. 

Signs of bad church leadership will look like this: 

  • Your most experienced Christians are still spiritually immature 
  • People aren't receiving spiritual mentorship 
  • You're continuously hammering on to the basics without moving on to spiritual meat 

Why Is This a Problem? 

Can you imagine what a school run by students would look like? 

A healthy church doesn't allow people to stay in a place of spiritual stagnation. Members of your congregation should be eating spiritual solids as they advance in the Faith. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Look for opportunities to embed spiritual advice and mentorship into your services and processes. You can add practical examples to your sermons or spend time teaching people about spiritual discipline. Small groups and Sunday school classes provide additional chances to offer discipleship. 

But here's the bottom line:  

You'll know that you're excelling in discipleship when you see evidence of spiritual growth within your church.

12. Results Don't  Matter Enough

This is one of those signs of bad church leadership that many people don't notice until too late.  

Maybe your church has a ton of traditions, and nobody has ever stopped to say, "Is this working for us?" Or perhaps that's not the issue in your leadership team. Maybe you've got a bunch of staff members who have been hired because of who they know instead of what they can do.  

You may have this problem if: 

  • Most of your key staff members are politically or personally connected to your church's main power players 
  • Projects are routinely completed half-heartedly   
  • Your systems are good but you're still struggling to get things done 

Why Is This a Problem? 

Your job as a church is never complete. You've always got another ministry to pour into or another set of annual goals to work towards. A good church leader understands that while you can provide support and understanding, the church still needs to see results.  

If you have a bunch of ministries and activities going on that aren't as efficient as they could be, your church could be wasting money and resources without realizing it. 

Here's How You Can Fix It 

Create clear goals and always take time to solicit feedback and do an evaluation. Some churches use ministry evaluation forms to get a sense of whether the things they're doing are productive. But in most cases, you can figure out which way the wind's blowing by asking a single question:  

"Are we any closer to our goals and objectives after doing this?"  

Your answer to this will tell you a lot. 

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