Leadership exists in some form throughout most of the arenas of life. For the church to be healthy, leadership needs to do more than just exist. It should be dynamic. It should lead people into the mission of God.
From 2008–2010, LifeWay Research conducted an extensive study on the health of the church in North America. At the time, I was a a member of team at LifeWay Research team and helped to process the data. In the end, Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer used the information to write the book Transformational Church. In the book, they wrote about the seven factors revealed through the study of approximately 7,000 Protestant churches that are indicative of a healthy congregation. The churches in the survey came from 123 denominations, while 6 percent of the survey group indicated they did not affiliate with any denomination. All of the churches surveyed were within the contiguous forty-eight states of the United States of America.
One of the seven factors identified as statistically significant for church health was eventually labeled as “vibrant leadership.” The chapter from the book by Stetzer and Rainer on this factor described the type of church leader in the top 10 percent of the study, based on numeric and spiritual growth markers determined by the research group. The authors wrote, “Transformational leadership is more than the traditional, compartmentalized approach to ministry in the church. The mission of God is a priority rather than just one thing among many things.” (TC, p. 75) Throughout the research, it became apparent that leadership was the key factor that influenced all other factors. Lizette Beard, one member of the research team, stated, “No matter what study we do, what research project we are in the middle of, leadership is always the issue I see rise to the top.” However, through the Transformational Church study, it is seen that, for the majority of members in churches, leadership is not strong.
At the time the book was published, church members had completed approximately fifteen thousand church health surveys. The survey included twenty test statements regarding leadership. Church members participating in the survey were given statements to which they responded with their level of agreement or disagreement, using a 5-point Likert scale. In the group as a whole, the respondents generally gave tepid responses to having effective leadership in the contemporary church.
When dealing with passion or spiritual concern by the leadership of the church, the members were more confident. When asked to respond to the statement, “Our church leadership inspires our church to pursue God’s direction for our church,” 66 percent strongly agreed, while 21 percent mildly agreed. Similarly, when faced with the statement, “The leadership of our church leads with passion and conviction,” the survey revealed that 58 percent strongly agreed, and 23 percent mildly agreed. However, most of the other eighteen test questions did not fare as well for the leaders of churches.
One set of four statements presented to church members regarding the direction given by leaders, and the embrace of that direction by the people, shows a precipitous decline in members’ confidence in their church leaders. First, the statement, “The leadership of the church deeply believes in the mission of our church,” received strong agreement by 65 percent and mild agreement by another 21 percent. The next statement, “Our people are committed to the vision God has given our church,” only received 35 percent strong agreement and 33 percent mild agreement. Another statement related to this set was: “While people may have different preferences, the vision God has given our church overshadows the different preferences.” This statement had strong agreement by only 33 percent, and mild agreement by 33 percent of church members. Obviously, the results quickly declined when moving from the subject of passion by the leaders to fulfilling the vision of the church by the entire membership.
In reviewing the research, I believer the responses to a fourth statement give context to the three just presented. The fourth statement was, “The leadership of the church has given us a clear direction for the future.” To this statement, 41 percent strongly agreed, and 30 percent mildly agreed. Whereas, this may seem to constitute a pattern of overall agreement, it is important to note (as with all the examples given thus far) the high number in the “mildly agree” response category. With 59 percent of church members not strongly agreeing that they are receiving clear direction, church leadership is not fulfilling the responsibility to move people toward their ideas or activities that will cause growth in the church.
Another area noted regarding the research regarding leadership is the work by church leadership to produce new leaders. Members were asked to respond to the statement, “Staff members at our church personally invest in future leaders.” To this statement, 31 percent strongly agreed, and 29 percent mildly agreed. A second statement regarding the same topic was: “Our church has a system in place to raise up future leaders.” The research revealed that only 20 percent agreed strongly, and 23 percent agreed mildly. The responses to these two test statements indicate that the church leaders in America are not effectively working to produce leaders. It would seem safe to deduce that if they are not working to produce leaders, then they will not, in fact, produce leaders. So, not only does the research reveal a lack of effectiveness by leaders, it also reveals a lack of effectiveness to provide leaders for succeeding generations of believers.
The final area regarding leadership worth observation from the Transformational Church study is in regard to test statements about the spiritual lives of leaders. Members were asked to respond to the statement: “Our leaders remind me of Jesus.” Only 30 percent strongly agreed, and 35 percent mildly agreed. In a second question about the leaders’ personal lives, members were asked to respond to the statement: “I have seen our church leaders growing spirituality.” A slightly better response was given of 38 percent strong agreement, and 31 percent mild agreement. However, the responses to both of these statements give the picture of a tepid view of the personal spiritual maturity among church leaders.
The LifeWay Research study revealed a less than stellar quality to the leadership in churches of North America. Church members have shown that they are receiving direction, but that leaders are not providing the ongoing mechanisms to develop new leaders. Perhaps, most disturbing is that church members see a lack of spiritual maturity among their current leaders. On the whole, the study reveals a less than desirable status for leadership in the church.
Research such as this brings clarity to our current circumstances. However, it does not usually bring about change. As the church, we must – absolutely must – focus our attention on leadership development. It will look differently in different cultures. However, leadership will always show up in growing organizations. If you are a leader, find a way to multiply.