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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  • pastor Ofem, memmam says on

    some time when setting things are done unrighteously, like giving to make your big or selfish purpose, indicent dressing can give the devil opportunity in the church.

  • Great article! I am Catholic. We are attacked everyday for just being us.

  • anonymous pastor says on

    BTW, I just wanted to say again thanks. As I read through the comments, I got to thinking you all might tire of “great article but….” An all around great article. Period. Thanks for being such a pointed help in my time of need.

  • D J Davis says on

    Is there any church renewal material which also deals with how to simplify decision-making & still is acceptable to Baptist Polity? We literally cannot give-away leadership to those under 40 because they are not willing to attend com. meetings 3 months in a row in order to deal with one issue.

  • Doug Wilson says on

    Helpful article! I would add “Volunteer Burnout” to the list. Once a long-time volunteer gets to the burnout stage, they often (unfortunately) do not return to service.

    • Was that volunteer ever allowed to take a break? Or was the person told to continue to volunteer in a particular role to prevent someone else from doing the role?

      Certain volunteers will often push themselves to the burnout point to keep someone else from having their role out of fear that the new person would change what they had built or not do as good of a job.

  • Buckethead Baptist says on

    So many places to go with this… but anecdotally from my own experience… fixing #2.. would repair several others on this list… and in an age where we are producing the least biblically literate generation ever… I would think that perhaps a questioning of what we’re doing wrong hasn’t found an answer yet… not corporately at least.

    Fixing the Fatherless Problem (#3) is just as important.

    If it really was a movement of “reform” … we would have seen Revival broken out by now.

    But if we seek to “TRANSFORM”… than that suggests we’ve MISSED something.

    30 years of doing the same ol thing to reduce the outflow of Youth from the ranks should be held up as a textbook example of Einstein’s definition of “Insanity”, … and what it says about our leadership not recognizing that fact … well, … I leave up to others to form an opinion on.

    • Please define biblical literacy. I have seen it include the ability to proof text an argument,the knowledge of who wore a particular type of shoe, and the locations of all of Paul’s missionary journeys. None of this knowledge helped anyone teach the love of God, the messiahship of Jesus, and how to help a suffering human being. Perhaps what has been/is being taught is not the most beneficial information.

      • Buckethead Baptist says on

        The ability to present the Messiah from using the Old Testament like Jesus did on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24, or Phillip did with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, or how Paul did in Acts 28:23.

        One of the most profound examples of the Gospel that I’ve ever heard was in the law concerning the Cities of Refuge. Every time I see someone wearing an Avengers T-shirt… I get to share with them the story of The Avenger of Blood…

        If I hear someone talking about the show “The Walking Dead”… I take them to Ephesians 2:1-2 and share that.

        Knowing your bible well gives you head knowledge to share Christ when divine opportunities arise… that you might not be able to take advantage of if you are ill equipped.

        Now these are examples of Evangelism… but I sense Mark that you are more of a “Missions” oriented kind of person. Deeds… not words? I think James would tell you that to get the Deeds of Missions… you need to program (indoctrinate) your disciples with SOME amount of head knowledge before you send them out there…

        ” Observe and HEAR all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the LORD thy God.”

        I’ll leave you with this one Mark… Did you know in the presentation of the 3 accounts of the story of the “rich young ruler” in Matthew, Mark and Luke… a hint to his identity is given in one detail given in the account given by Mark? (chapter 10, verse 21… the first six words— How did Mark know?)