Five of the Most Frequent Issues of Conflict among Church Members


If you want to hear the reasons for a church fight, you are likely to encounter one of these five. Let me be clear. I do not think all church members are fighting all of the time. But the sad reality is that it only takes one real issue of conflict once a year to do serious harm to the unity and health of a congregation.

I’ve addressed issues of church conflict in different ways on this blog. This particular post is an update based on issues I’ve heard, or those in which I have been a mediator the past year. They are listed in the order of frequency I’ve heard them.

  1. The corporate worship time is changed. The church may be adding a service. Another scenario is that current worship times are modified for a variety of reasons. Some members simply do not want to give up a cherished time slot for “their” worship service.
  2. Members disagree how to deal with a pastor or staff member involved in moral failure. I’m serious. I recently was in conversation with leaders in a church where a staff member was dismissed due to clear and flagrant moral failure. The terminated staff person was treated with grace and generosity. Still, some church members thought that Christian charity and forgiveness demanded that the staff member not be dismissed.
  3. A number of members complain about the length of the worship services. Their issue may be the length of time of music in the worship service. Or it may be the length of the pastor’s sermons. Or it could be other issues. Perhaps some of the members are frustrated that they get to the restaurants later than members of other churches.
  4. There is lack of clarity and disagreement about who makes decisions. Most church documents are not clear on this issue. How much independent authority does the pastor have? Or the staff? What decisions should be made by congregational vote? How much authority do the elders or deacons have? Or committees or boards?
  5. The conflict over worship style is still present. I have noted in other posts that this issue has not been as prominent as in recent years. Yet it is still present. I would surmise that it would have been the number one issue five to ten years ago.

If you have read any of my writings, you know I have a heart for revitalizing churches. Ultimately, church revitalization is about the revitalization of Christians. It is my prayer that church members will seek to be last and not first, that the needs of the church and the community will come before their own preferences.

“I give you a new command. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35.

What do you think of these five sources of dissension among church members? What would you add?

Posted on July 23, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • So many things. At my church, which is a struggling church, there are a lot of fights. We had fights over whether we should change the name of a certain room from Fellowship Hall to Phillips Hall (long time custodian/beloved member of the church who died), over whether deacons or elders are to lead (Scripture says elders but we had people said deacons should lead because it’s more “practical,” even though it is a clear violation of Scripture), sermon length, and one of the biggest things was number of baptisms. People made a big deal out of the fact we had only baptized 2 people in 3 years (I was one of the 2), they blamed it on the pastor when it wasn’t his fault the congregations. Thanks for the article Thom.

  • Add to the list…facilities – how to use them, who can use them, and renovations.

  • Sunday school classes are also sacred. When the need arises to birth new classes often members are not willing and conflict arises.

  • You can’t have a list about church conflict without mentioning
    1. Inner family squabbles. In small churches (what make up most of our dying churches) having a family disagreement can split a church.
    2. Fights over Janitorial/cleaning service issues. I’m not being funny. This issue has split more churches. There should be a class devoted to handleing this in seminary

  • Jerusha says on

    Underlying all of this is a deep spiritual immaturity or “carnality,” whatever you want to call it. Professing Christians living for whatever reason in a prolonged state of spiritual immaturity, who have never progressed to true surrender and discipleship, embracing the mission of the church both inwardly and outwardly. For those active, growing Christians in touch with God there is enough potential conflict but normally that is over the mission, the methods and healthy questions of growth, outreach, etc.

    The fact that there is so much conflict is evidence that our churches are in deep need of revival and many, many Christians either need to come to know the Lord in a real way or have a fresh, humbling, pride-breaking experience with him.

    • Experiencing that here, it is a painful and tiring process to bring change and maturity in those areas.

  • Jim Garner says on

    Large bequests that are not stipulated. I have experienced multiple situations where how the money is to be used or regular donations are impacted by “gifts” that were not given as trusts.

  • It seems to me that many of these issues could be solved with better communication.. Sometimes it seems like pastors or staff don’t care how their people feel. I think people just want to know that their staff have heard and considered their opinion. If there is truly a valid reason for change, many times it is not communicated. There are many messages where we are told “we are the body, we are the church”, but then we are dismissed when it comes to decision making. It makes us feel like doing our part is futile.

    • And when teenagers are smart enough to figure out that most secular organizations tell their members more and receive suggestions better than the church leadership does, we have a problem.

      Also, when parents will not allow their children to ask questions of church leadership (or try to get the largest donors who call the shots to support them) that too is a problem.

      • I believe that churches should be fully self supporting decline any and all outside support.. then it’s just god without the controversy

    • In my law practice I’ve observed that people who lose a vote after a fair debate will typically accept that they lost and move on. But if they feel ignored or railroaded, they get mad.

      If that becomes a recurring theme, it will lead to an explosion, no matter how silly the triggering event.

      • I think the evidence of said explosion is the lack of the younger generations in many churches.

      • jonathon says on

        >In my law practice … if they feel ignored or railroaded, they get mad.

        Years ago, in a psychology class, one of the handouts the instructer passed out, was the synopsis of a research paper that demonstrated that all medical malpractice lawsuits were due to a failure of the medical practice to communicate with the patient. It did not matter what the speciality was, poor communicions meant a lawsuit waiting to happen. (The study I wanted a copy of, compared midwives, ob-gyn practioners, and MDs that specialize in delivering babies. The latter had the worst communication skills, and were sued the most. Midwivs had the best cimmunicaton skills, and were sued the least.)

  • Ron Engler says on

    Another is the chaos and frustration through the lack of vision and movement. Leadership’s inability to communicate the churches mission and purpose, or even the importance of doing so.

  • Lori Metevia says on

    Church conflict usually involves selfishness. It is almost identical to marital conflict. The root is we want what we want when we want it. We also all want to be in charge having our own way. Marriage does not work like that. Neither do churches. Success is considering others more highly than ourselves and looking out for the interest of other: these are the very two things that none of us want to do. Yet, these are the very two things that we were meant to do.

    What does selfish Christianity look like? I was in a bible study and this lady who survived cancer just had to be the center of attention. Whenever something was shared by me, she would interrupt with a rude remark. One of her interruptions was so rude that the Holy Spirit had to minister to me to hold my peace. If I would have said something, I could have destroyed the faith of the new believers.

    What does unselfish Christianity look like? I was at a small group meeting and one of the women shared her plans for divorce. Three of us each shared our stories of marriage and divorce and the lady considering divorce cried that she would now fight for her marriage. What each of us shared was a missing part of the puzzle that this woman needed. We all hugged afterwards and thanked God for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit flowing through us. Obedience and humility are the keys to miracles.

  • Conflicts about how the money is spent.

  • It’s interesting that none of these issues has to do with the mission or vision of the church, nor even with it’s ministries (other than morning worship). How would you interpret that?

    • Some churches have become the local religion club where membership and especially leadership is limited to certain people.

    • I was thinking the same thing and none dealt with doctrine

      • Jeanie Gohmert says on

        As a Worship Leader, my take on why these conflicts being primarily about “how” the church functions, either in woship service or the like, is because members get too consumed with wanting things done “their” way vs. God’s way! Jealously plays a role in conflict also. Also the main reason is, if Satan can keep us arguing among ourselves about these internal issues then we’re not available to be used to reach a lost & dying world! Satan wins the battle when we allow him to keep us in constant internal conflict! sadly through the years, I’ve seen it get worse instead of better. We, as the body of Christ, need to recognize it’s a spiritual battle & we need to start fighting on God’s side in our churches!!

  • Additions:
    Too many new members, especially of the wrong gender, age, marital status, political leaning, or socioeconomic class.

    Too many transient attendees (college, grad, med, law students) if said people ask for anything such as beginning outreach, social justice, or service projects.

    Anyone asking for any major changes in Sunday school or wanting the (senior) pastor to teach the university/graduate student Sunday school class.

    Any new person (not yet been there 10 years) asking to be involved in leadership.

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