8 Ways the Enemy Attacks Churches

By Chuck Lawless

I have studied spiritual warfare for more than twenty years. During most of that time, I’ve also worked as a church consultant. I’ve learned these two worlds often collide: churches fail to recognize the schemes of a real enemy, and they have no plan to respond. Here are some of the primary ways I’ve seen the enemy attack churches:

  1. Congregational division – I’ve seen churches divided over budget decisions, paint colors, worship styles, Bible versions, community outreach, global missions, staffing choices, service times, choir robes, small group curriculum, and church vans. Some of these issues are obviously more significant than others, but the enemy still knows this truth: believers make little dent in the darkness when they shoot each other in the back.
  1. False teaching – Most of my work is with evangelical churches, and I don’t often see blatant false teaching. What I see is much more subtle than that:
  • Small group leaders teaching unbiblical theology, with no internal system in place to recognize or address that problem
  • No oversight or accountability about curriculum taught in small groups
  • Theologically-suspect material in the literature rack
  • Problematic “recommended reading” in the church library
  • Music lyrics that promote bad theology
  • Poor exegesis of biblical texts.
  1. Family breakdown – I remember the first time I heard about two believers divorcing.  A teenage believer raised in a non-Christian home, I just assumed things like divorce didn’t happen among church people. I also recall the devastation I felt as a pastor the first time a couple whose wedding I had officiated divorced. Now, many churches hardly pause when another home falls apart – and the enemy is pleased when the marriage picture of Christ’s love for His church (Eph. 5:25) gets distorted.
  1. Hidden sin– The story is tragic, but true in more than one situation. The church is not growing, and they invite consultants to help them recognize their obstacles to growth. Attention is given to infrastructure, programming, staffing, and facilities. Sometime later, the truth comes out that a more significant obstacle had existed: someone in church leadership had been living in sin for months, if not years, even while doing his day-to-day ministry.
  1. Transfer growth diversion – Let me summarize this point: the enemy is seldom threatened when churches grow only by “swapping sheep” with other churches down the street or across the city. I have worked with churches that brag about their growth, but never ask the question whether they are seeing non-believers turn to Christ. Transfer growth often distracts believers from doing evangelism – and thus plays into the enemy’s hands.
  1. Self-dependence – Some churches, I am convinced, would continue to exist for some time even if God withdrew His presence. That is, they operate in their own strength and ability, but they do it well. Often they have enough size that decline is almost imperceptible. Their leaders are natural “fixers,” and they tend to fix first and pray second. Though these churches may speak passionately about the “power of God,” they rely more on their own power.
  1. Discipleship distraction – The enemy delights in churches that have no strategic, effective discipleship strategy. After all, these churches have no plan to teach believers how to wear the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11).  They frequently leave new believers to fight battles on their own, select unprepared persons for leadership, and then provide no training for those leaders. Because no one discipled them, their members often lose battles in a spiritual war they did not know existed.
  1. Hopelessness – It’s easy to get here. Church leaders give all they have to give, yet with few results. The church is dying but unwilling to change. Lay leaders protect their turf. Staff members sometimes battle among themselves. Seemingly, no lives are experiencing transformation. “What’s the point?” the enemy asks. “Why not just give up?”

We do have hope, of course, in Jesus’ words: “I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18b). The enemy is viciously strategic against the church, but we need not let him win.

In what ways have you seen the enemy attack churches?

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.


Posted on August 5, 2014

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Thom,

    Your article titled “8 Ways Satan Attacks the Church” is very good but you left out way number nine.

    An issue that plagues many churches today is the lack of church discipline which is nearly non-existent in most churches today. And the will of leadership to exercise any form of it nearly non-existent as well. I once heard an elder in a church quite vocally state that he would resign the eldership if Biblical church discipline were ever to be put into practice within the church.

    Since church discipline is nearly non-existent in the American church today, this opens the doors for creating situations where churches have members serving in positions within the church that should not be because they are living with blatant un-confessed sin in their lives. The Sunday school teacher that is living with her boyfriend out of wedlock, the nursery worker that is a social drug user and drunk, the man that helps serves communion and take up the offering that is cheating on his wife. The man that sings in the choir that that is living with his girl-friend out of wedlock. Etc. Etc.

    It’s these kinds of things that shepherds are supposed to be watching for among the sheep and restoring them to the Lord through repentance and restoration.
    Paul’s example in 1 Cor. chapter 5 for one example.

    Leaderships failure to exercise church discipline for the purpose of restoring lost sheep and allowing those who have laid down in their sin is one way for a church to have its candle stick removed.

  • Good article regarding Spiritual Warfare. I feel that the enemy attacks both collectively as well as individually. One example of the collective attack is Satan using tunnel vision effectively. In some cases spiritual leaders are so busy chasing new congregational members, that they simply can not see the needs of those who have been steadfast in their attendance for years. This often results in an individual attack, leaving the steadfast feeling unwanted, unfed and uncomfortable in their church home. We all know that if a house is swept clean of demons and God isn’t invited in, the demons come back tenfold.
    Satan will use the hunger of those not being fed to gain a foothold in both the individual as well as the collective church.

  • Although I agree with all eight of these attacks, I think number 6, self-dependance, is the most serious. Every since the beginning, Satan has been tempting God’s people to operate independent of God and His Word. That temptation continues in the church when church leaders settle for the latest trend, or approach, or program instead of relying on God’s power and presence in their lives. I think this kind of self-centeredness lies at the heart of many, if not all the other weaknesses that you listed.

  • Prentiss Yeates says on

    Thank you for your article , “hidden sin” is an element most troubling. Though it should alarm any leader , I do think that most issues may constitute a need for a “basic church membership ” class to be instituted and reviewed yearly for the church in general. Otherwise, the lack of member/leadership accountability and church discipline is at the core for attack. Thank you.

  • Number seven address a church’s lack of intentional discipleship. What resources do you recommended for a church that has no intentional discipleship process in place? Could you list three and list them in the order of importance, with number one being the highest.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Here are some potential resources, though there are many more:

      Robert Coleman, MASTER PLAN OF EVANGELISM (a classic which really deals with how to disciple)
      Chuck Lawless, MENTOR (sorry for the personal plug, but I really believe mentoring someone is the first step toward strengthening a church’s discipleship strategy)
      Jim Putman, DISCIPLESHIFT (deals with a churchwide strategy)

  • This is a great article! However, I do believe that over emphasized focus on spiritual warfare and the devil many times detracts us from being able to and as leaders demanding that others take 100% responsibility for their own actions and behavior. The devil only uses willing vessels.

    So I have no problem with spiritual warfare, but let look at the correct battle field, which us the mind, and place more responsibility on flawed characters and motives and not use the devil as an excuse for everything that happens in the church.

    • Chuck lawless says on

      I don’t disagree, Bishop. We battle our flesh, the world, and the devil — but our flesh is the biggest problem.

  • Busyness. You get a congregation so caught up in playing church they can forget their first love and the reason Christ established his church in the first place.

  • Tommy Mitchell says on

    You said these were some of the ways you have seen Satan attack churches. They were well thought out and I concur 100%! I think you could add one more – although it is an attack from a positive reality.
    9. Faithfulness! or When a Church Body is Turning The World Upside Down!!! Satan attacks the church that is faithfully serving Christ! Satan reserves his greatest fury for the church that is faithful in representing Christ to the world and declares the Gospel of salvation! All the attacks you mentioned are certainly those we invite upon ourselves through carelessness. But this one falls under the “I count it all joy” when Satan attacks for faithfulness. May more of our churches be attacked for faithfulness!!!!!

  • Chuck lawless says on

    Thanks, Robin. Praying.

  • Anonymous Pastor says on

    This is a good list but brings a question.

    If division is a sin which I think is clear from scripture then what ought a pastor is the church is unrepentant? I have a church this way and I will be forced to make a decision soon. Many of the things listed here this church does.

    I believe God cannot bless a church with unrepentant sin thus our problems. Therefore I’d also be wasting my time because I can give my best in praying, preaching and teaching but I fail to see how it could go anywhere. Or should I be Moses and lead along some stiff necked people?

    Also we have a vote coming up hoping to take first steps to bring repentance. We have some talks between here and the vote. Should I lay it all on the line then? Should I make it clear that unless we choose repentance that I believe this church will ultimately fail and that I cannot, in good conscious, stay for that?

    Any advice would be greatly!!!! appreciated. AP

    • Romans 10:14-15

    • Chuck lawless says on

      Praying for you, Anonymous, as you seek God’s direction. If you’re not already doing it, you might think about investing in just one or two people — including, perhaps, one of those folks in sin. When we see just 1 or 2 lives changed, it’s easier to deal with the larger body.

    • anotheranonymous says on

      I understand what you are saying and where you are coming from. However, and maybe I misunderstood you but true repentance comes from the Holy Spirit. It is not something that can be voted on. The vote, per say, puts all the power of repentance in man’s hands and takes the true power away from God. Just something to consider. Prayers for you aND your church.

      • Anonymous Pastor says on

        I agree with you wholly. A vote cannot bring about repentance. However the issue has been avoided for over a decade and nothing has come from the wait. We’ve run out of time as a church and don’t have the luxury of logistics.

        We’ve not dealt with it because we’ve not had to. This vote will put us into the position where we basically have to get on board together or the ship is going to sink. That may seem like a dire/drastic dichotomy but the church is going to sink if we did nothing at all.

    • jonathon says on

      What to do depends upon:
      * What the sins are;
      * How aware the congregation is that the sin is a sin;
      * How unrepentant the congregation is;

      Ponder on whether the congregation’s denomination helps, or hinders in maintaining the unrepentant status of the congregation.

      The simplest/easiest solution is to work with a small group — no more than ten people — bringing them into fully repentant mature Christians. Then work with a second group, whilst each of those individuals works with a group.
      * Year One: Your group of ten people;
      * Year Two: Six groups of ten people. (I’m assuming you will lose 50% of the people in the first group);
      * Year Three: Thirty-one groups of ten people. (Keeping your loss ratio at 50%.);

      A. B. Bruce’s _The Training of the Twelve_ is the granddaddy of modern discipleship.

  • A denomination can also produce educational material and worship resources that promote false teaching and denominational leaders may require local congregations to use such material and resources. Due to the polity of the denomination local congregations may have little choice in the matter.

    For example, the Anglican Church in North America, a new North American denomination, has produced a catechism, or statement of faith, and worship resources that are not agreeable to the Scriptures and to the Anglican formularies–the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571 and The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, which for Anglicans have historically formed their standard of doctrine and worship and set out the protestant and reformed principles of the Anglican Church, which are based on the Scriptures. The Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops have endorsed the catechism and the worship resources and appear to be intent upon making their use mandatory throughout the denomination.

    At the same time the Anglican Church in North America in the preface of its constitution and on its website affirms the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration, which sets out the tenets underpinning Anglican orthodoxy. These tenets include upholding “the Thirty-Nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s word and as authoritative for Anglicans today” and “the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.”

    Among the clergy and congregations of the Anglican Church in North America are congregations and clergy that identify themselves as protestant and evangelical and which accept the authority of the Scriptures and the Anglican formularies.

    The Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops has in its actions in the five years of the denomination’s existence not only demonstrated a consistent movement away from the teaching of Scriptures and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies but also a pattern of increasing usurpation of the role of the denomination’s official governing body–the Provincial Council, which the denomination’s constitution vests with sole authority to make canons (laws and regulations) affecting the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the denomination.

    In this case the enemy is attacking the churches in a denomination through the actions of one of the denomination’s bodies. The very body that the Anglican Church in North America’s constitution envisions the denomination’s main defense against false teaching.has become itself the nexus of false teaching.

    • jonathon says on

      >A denomination can also produce educational material and worship resources that promote false teaching and denominational leaders may require local congregations to use such material and resources.

      This is why a congregation needs to reviews is denominational affiliation every three or so years. I do, however, recognize that such a procedure may result in dismissal of the congregation from the denomination, with the consequent loss of all property.

      • And that is not a death sentence for a congregation as evidenced by an Episcopal church in Falls Church, Virginia, which maintained its membership and likely grew.

      • joanthon says on

        How survivable the loss of all of the church property is, depends upon whether or not the real property is owned free and clear. (Foreclosure of church property is now standard practice.)

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