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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

By Sam Rainer /

President & Senior Coach

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.


Why I’m Going Back to Church After My Divorce

It’s hard to walk through the doors of a church when you’re going through a divorce. My pastor .....

Acknowledge Hidden Trauma in Your Church

You are safe; you are loved. You are safe; you are loved. That’s what I heard the foster .....

The Story of a Couple Who Met Because of the Persecution of the Chinese Church (Media Review)

Hao Guizhu's bride was a Christian from Guangdong province. Hao Guizhu's devotion to the Christian faith attracted the .....

Why I’m Going Back to Church After My Husband Died

After my husband died, it was difficult to go back to church. As I sat in the sanctuary, .....

No Michelin Stars for Pastors. Leaders Must Serve the Church, Not Glorify Themselves

The latest docuseries on Hillsong shows us our tendency to elevate pastors or preachers with charismatic personalities and good .....

When Church Members Are a Blessed Exit: 5 Thoughts

Perhaps one of the most under-reported issues about the post-pandemic church is how some churches are doing better .....

Lessons From the Church Under Caesar

We have been blessed with many liberties here in America, many of them unknown throughout human history. And .....

Oleg Shcherbakov: War in Ukraine and Israel, miracles of God, revival in the church and Bible prophecies

From October 30 to November 3, 2023. an annual international pastoral retreat took place in Kyiv. We spoke .....