Church Growth: Leadership Styles

churchgrowthl.jpgIn Beyond Megachurch Myths, Thumma and Travis summarize some of their findings regarding how the members perceive their church.

[M]egachurches were far more likely than smaller churches to agree that their congregations welcomed innovation and change, dealt openly with disagreements and conflicts, were excited about the church’s future, easily incorporated new people into the church, and had a clear sense of mission and purpose. … When the survey respondents … were asked to describe the leadership style of their senior minister, 62 percent chose the description “inspires people to take action,” while 17 percent chose “take charge,” and 12 percent said the pastor “acts on goals.”

The authors do not, by any means, consider this a definitive list of what makes churches grow, but it’s a valuable observation.

Innovation. Obviously enough, a larger church has to welcome innovation and change. After all, merely growing from 200 to 2,000 will bring countless changes and require constant innovation. You just can’t run a large church like a small one.

Moreover, for those who did not grow up in a faith tradition, the traditional way of doing things is usually not very attractive. If you grew up with an organ and choir, those sounds may be the very definition of “church” to you, but few without those experiences have a taste for organ and choir music nowadays. As a result, to appeal to the unchurched, many large churches have found it necessary to break with traditional practices.

Dealing with Conflict. It’s less obvious that it’s important to deal openly with disagreements and conflicts. In fact, many churches tend to sweep these under the rug — a very unhealthy and ultimately self-destructive practice. As one professional conflict mediator says,

As one man observed, whenever congregations try to avoid conflict, “the more ‘political’ and power oriented the struggle becomes, and the more destructive its impact.” … The truth is, the more “conflict-competent” the congregation, the more likely that love will be sustained to the glory of God. …

Therefore, when a dispute in the church occurs, parishioners should hardly be surprised. Rather, it should be anticipated and seen for what it is, the normal course of human interaction. Wise church leaders see the need to put a process in place to constructively manage the inevitable. …

Such a shift will be a major first step in modifying the statement of shock, “but I thought the church is supposed to be different,” to an affirming, “this congregation really knows how to address and resolve conflict and strengthen the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Indeed, those who study human behavior find that “love only endures when dissension is faced openly” … .

This is an area that church leaders, especially elderships, have rarely been trained for. As a result, they often deal with conflict by either being authoritarian or else by ignoring it. Both can destroy a church. Evidently, the larger churches are often the ones that figured out how to deal with conflict. After all, how can you have 2,000 members and not have any conflict?

Excitement about the Future / Mission. So many churches are in the business of maintenance that Christians become very excited when a church dares to plan for the future. When the planning involves the congregation and is directed toward God’s mission for the church, the excitement can become infectious and, by itself, lead to rapid growth.

This requires that the leadership frankly share with the congregation their vision for the future of the church and how they hope to get there. And it requires a sufficiently concrete vision that the church can know what will help make the vision true and what won’t.

Such a vision gives a rationale for change and innovation and a basis on which to resolve conflict.

Incorporating New People. We have, of course, discussed the importance of community before. Obviously, it’s impossible for a church to grow large unless it becomes expert in helping people be included in the life of the church.

Now, none of this is easy. It takes incredible amounts of time to do any of this. It’s not that hard in a church of 100 or 200, but for a church of 400 or 4,000, the level of effort needed grows dramatically.

And the church’s leadership may not be that excited about this much work. The preacher may have been hired to preach and visit the sick and have no ambition to build a large congregation. The elders may have no training and feel that it’s enough to do things as they’ve always been done.

But for a church that recognizes that it’s been called to a mission to the lost and the needy, growth is seen as extraordinarily important. The work that growth requires is the very purpose of being a Christian. It’s part of the joy of our salvation — being allowed to work in God’s vineyard.

But it’s not growth for growth’s sake. Rather, growth is the natural result of doing things right.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Church Growth: Leadership Styles

  1. David Guin says:

    I question Thumma and Travis' definition of "megachurch." I do hear the 2,000 attendance figure thrown about enough to have accepted it as conventional wisdom. Although people have been using that same number for quite a few years now, so you would think that just due to population growth it ought to be bumped up. But more importantly, when most people think of "megachurches," they're not thinking as much in terms of attendance figures but in the corporate, marketing approach to being church. I think most would be referring to churches with a corporate leadership structure, market driven style, less emphasis on sacrifice and the cross (think of Osteen's replacement of the cross with a rotating globe), and more emphasis on "benefits" of faith (again, think Osteen and becoming a "better you"). See

    So to think "Beyond Megachurch Myths," first you've got to reach consensus on what constitutes a megachurch. Otherwise it's just setting up false dichotomies and knocking down straw men.

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