How Even Healthy Churches Can Spiral Quickly into Dysfunction


Churches are more like organisms than they are organizations. Of course, organizational management is important in churches. Financials, staff reviews, and operations are among the many management activities in the church. Ultimately, however, churches are alive. Biblically, the church is a body. As a functioning organism, the church body is always changing. Like our own bodies, the church either becomes healthier or less healthy. Churches grow. Or they start dying. Congregations may plateau for a season. But no church remains static in perpetuity.

Like an organism, when church health declines, it typically does so slowly. But there are cases when an otherwise healthy person experiences a sudden deterioration. Healthy churches can also experience a sharp decline in health. There are cases of healthy churches quickly becoming dysfunctional. Below are five ways I’ve seen churches spiral downward quickly, almost overnight. 

  1. Killer gossip. There is a reason gossip and murder are listed together in Romans 1. Gossip kills. While every church probably has a gossip or two waiting to ambush an unsuspecting soul, killer gossip is a more sinister monster. Killer gossip is more than a Twitter rant or an intentionally misleading question. Killer gossip has as its goal the complete destruction of another person. This kind of gossip destroys families, careers, and churches. It’s viral and can spread so quickly through the church body that it leaves a permanent sickness—one ultimately resulting in death.
  2. A silent majority during a moment of crisis. A small group (it’s usually less than a dozen) can do a lot of damage in any church. Healthy churches can spiral quickly, however, when this small group takes advantage of a crisis in the church to get their way. The crisis magnifies their voice and power. If the silent majority does not speak out against this kind of power play, then a healthy church can become dysfunctional in a short time period.
  3. Moral failure of a pastor. Few disasters affect a healthy body like the moral failure of a key leader. Indeed, even the healthiest of churches will likely struggle through the after-effects of a leader’s moral failure. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of healthy churches becoming dysfunctional following a moral failure in leadership.
  4. Force majeure event. Force majeure is often used as contract language to free both parties from liability or obligation in the event of a major natural disaster, like a hurricane or flood. When these types of events affect entire communities, churches suffer. For example, when a large manufacturing firm left a small town, it meant most of the community was either unemployed or had to move. Every church in the community struggled. Some became dysfunctional quickly.
  5. Ignoring evil. Evil is real. And it’s not a vague concept. People sin. Sin hurts other people. Not every sinner is a snake, of course. On occasion, however, an evil person enters the body. When you have an unwanted snake in your house, you don’t pet it and ask it nicely to leave. You strike it. Don’t play games with evil. Get rid of it or your church could quickly spiral into dysfunction.

 The powers of darkness will attack. In fact, healthy churches should expect evil to oppose an expanding gospel work. Most healthy churches are prepared. But no church should get comfortable. Satan’s goal is to make healthy churches fall . . . quickly. However, God is infinitely greater. Even the most disastrous of situations do not necessarily lead to dysfunction. In fact, it is the body that will determine whether the infection will spread or cause a response that leads to greater health.

Posted on November 25, 2020

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Hi Sam,
    Have you read Healing the Heart of Your Church by Dr. Kenneth Quick. It addresses how to facilitate healing from corporate dysfunction.

  • Pastor wife says on

    We are currently living this as a pastor was fired from a church because of slander and church politics and the session did very little to protect him and his family. I have to believe this is happening across the country this year and many are either walking away from ministry or getting kicked out when they don’t fall in line with all the social issues, regardless of whether or not it even affects their preaching or ministry activities. Church members are pressing pastors into corners they should never have to be in and it is disgraceful.

  • No matter often churches are cautioned to not permit such behaviors we see them repeated over and over. For some reason these churches believe they might be the exception. They are not.

  • There are times the leadership needs to be removed and aren’t. Bad leadership that will not fix problems but who get to stay in control just makes a mess of things.

  • Mount Holly says on

    I have to say this is certainly true. My previous church suffered from 1,2,3,& 5. In a difficult time the “spiritual leaders” remained deadly silent while participating in gossip behind the scenes. The ignored the moral failure of the previous pastors while the remaining leadership chose to ignore the power plays in hope of “unity”. New staff has been hired but the same problems exist. It is difficult to watch a church go from healthy to the open acceptance of sin.