Addressing the Underlying Causes of Church Conflict – Part 1

church conflict

Last year I led a couple of breakouts sessions at a national pastor’s conference on “Addressing the Underlying Causes of Church Conflict.”  Over the next few days I will pass on the findings from thousands of congregational survey respondents, some startling assessments, and (hopefully) the biblical responses…


My story: A career interventionist serving 11 churches over the the last 19 years after 16-years of pastoral ministry and four years as the director of training for a mission’s organization.  I also lead the Diagnostic Division for VitalChurch and have led or participated in over 70 diagnostics in the US and Europe including two denominational district-wide diagnostics.

Core Passages

“For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you…” –Titus 1:5

“Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert…” –Acts 20:26-31a

At VitalChurch we identify as pastors not consultants.  We want everything we do to be pastoral in both intent and practice.

Diagnostic Survey Results Related to Conflict Resolution

Effective conflict resolution is a serious weakness in the U.S. and U.K. Evangelical Church. In VitalChurch‘s online diagnostic survey we (almost) always ask respondents to consider this statement: “Our church and its leaders are good at resolving conflict.”[1] The responses are sadly enlightening: An average of only 27% of thousands of survey respondents said that this statement is true of their church. In fact, the highest score ever received by a congregation on this question was 53% agreement (anything under 70% should be cause for concern). The second highest score was 51%. The third highest was 41%. Sixty-eight percent (plus or minus a standard deviation) of the scores were between 16% and 38%. Only about one church is six scored themselves higher than 38%. More than 97% (97.7%) of churches that have taken our survey scored less 50% on this question. Wow.

The current most common areas of struggle for U.S. and U.K. churches according to thousands of survey responses are:

  • Poor conflict resolution skills (see above) – consider the difference between peacekeepers and peacemakers. The N. American Church too often settles for the false peace of conflict avoidance.
  • Power issues — the poor use, misuse, non-use, and/or abuse of power.  The alternative is spiritual authority, which is based on character and flows out of deep experiences with God.
  • The theological bar has been lowered significantly – sadly, relatively few Christians have a strong undergirding of biblical theology, experiential theology is currently dominating within the Church.
  • IdolatryRomans 1:18-25 demonstrates that all personal, congregational, and societal breakdowns occur because we’ve worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator (cf. Jeremiah 2:25; Psalm 106:36; Ezekiel 6:9).  Idolatry results when good things become ultimate things. In congregations it can be the place, the past, the pastor, and/or the programs.

[1] Three possible responses: Agree, Disagree, and Not Sure.

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