Crawford Paul

7 Ways Elders Can Drive People Away From Church

Many of the most common reasons why people leave a church have to do with the leadership of the church. Sadly for some of the individuals who leave they don’t just leave the church but the faith altogether.

The hurts run deep and the hope is gone. It’s easy to criticise them, but instead we should be running after them with compassion.  Here are some thoughts on how leaders and elders can drive people away.

  1. A critical spirit.  If the elders have a harsh, rigid attitude towards the church it will most often result in people leaving.  Instead, elders should show care, concern and tenderness in dealing with the saints they are leading. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
  2. A lack of communication.  This is a complaint I hear so many times. “The elders don’t tell us anything.”  In order for leaders to lead well they need to be out in front where the sheep can follow. This involves keeping the church up-to-date on the decisions that are made.
  3. Acting like dictators.  People want to be included in what is going on within the church. They want to be a part of the family and treated with respect. If elders make all the decisions behind closed doors and don’t invite the input of the whole church, they will cause many to feel controlled. I have seen good leadership engage the church in decision making and the believers feel loved, respected and are far more willing to follow when the elders do give vision and direction.
  4. A lack of good food. Sheep go where the food is. It’s that simple. Elders are to feed God’s people. When teaching is not high quality on a regular basis the people of God will look for it elsewhere. One way elders can lead well in this area is to make sure that the main themes of the Word of God are taught on a regular basis. Plan what subjects are taught and put capable men on the pulpit to teach these truths. There is a place for developing gift within the church but not at the expense of solid food.
  5. Playing favorites. This is a challenging point. It’s easy to always give the eager and gifted individuals something to do within the church. But the good leader will work hard to include all believers in the service of the assembly. If a church grows to a size where there is not enough work for everyone, it’s time to consider a hive-off. Every member has a vital part to play in the body and should be encouraged to serve the Lord where he or she can be used effectively.
  6. Resistance to change. Statistics indicate that churches who refuse to change will slowly (or in some cases quickly) die. This does not mean compromising truth but it does mean applying the principles of God’s Word in a new and relevant way within the church. This includes embracing young people and allowing them to thrive in an environment they are excited about. The church should not cater to only one generation but should be considerate and flexible to every age group.
  7. Failure to pass the baton.  Good leaders work themselves out of a job. If a group of elders do not train and bring up younger men to come along side and help in the work, there becomes a gap between many groups within the church. Younger elders bring life, energy and new ideas that can help move the church forward. Elders who stay in the work too long often lose motivation and therefore resist new ideas because they themselves lack the energy to be involved.

There are many more reason we could mention as to how elders can drive people away. What things have you experienced? Please share them below without mentioning any specific examples.



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    What you say is so true, I have seem so many saints so hurt they are never the same. Three other matters I have seen are, jealousy of another’s gift and thus seldom using them, sloppy decision making resulting in poor quality of food for the saints and being unapproachable with any suggestions for Bible Studies, or they are just ignored.


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    Excellent article that details many concerns. I would add that there may very well be elders who are not protecting the flock from false doctrines and the New Age invasion into Christianity. An example is the inability to discern the dangers associated with CCM and newly released movies such as “War Room” and “God’s Not Dead.”

    War Room is a tool of Ecumenism in preparing “Christians” to accept Contemplative Prayer through the development of closet shrines.

    God’s Not Dead attributes to the Holy Spirit the character of Satan, as if God is on the inside roaring like a lion. The movie also misrepresents the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    If this perversion is allowed into the Assembly, big trouble lay ahead. We must hold to every Word of God and be led by the Holy Spirit. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”


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      Don, while I don’t necessarily agree with your specific examples, you are right that it’s important for the shepherds to protect the flock. I’m curious as to whether or not you have seen the movies you refer to?


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    The thing is, we have the elders we have. They are sinners. Every single one of them. That our elders fail does not necessarily mean that the assembly fails. We are the Church of Jesus Christ, not the church of the elders.

    There isn’t much I can do about my elders (other than pray for them and keep communication open). But I have a great deal more prerogative regarding my own attitude and actions.

    To your point 1. We all can guard against a critical spirit.
    To your point 2. We all can take care to communicate.
    To your point 3. We all can stop trying to control what belongs to the Lord.
    To your point 4. We all can tend to our own ears, minds, mouths, and daily study—to see to the doctrine we receive, believe, share, and teach (when given the opportunity).
    To your point 5. We can all guard against our own tendency toward nepotism and cliques.
    To your point 6. We can all seek to balance the old and the new in light of Biblical truth, and be intentional about discerning truth from tradition.
    To your point 7. We can all take time to cultivate in our younger brothers and sisters a love for the Lord, a love for the Word, and a love for the Saints.

    This would make the assembly a lot stronger, regardless of the elders. And it would make the work of an elder a lot easier.


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      True comments James although we could pretty much take any article written and make it a broad application to everyone. The point still stands that the Lord has given the leadership of the church to a group of men and they are to lead like Christ. There are applicable truths that apply specifically to them that don’t apply to others. 🙂


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    Funny you are called ‘James’ See James 3:1 – specifically about teachers but applicable to elders – ‘you will be judged more strictly’. Essentially a higher standard is required for these positions…and most church leadership is falling short – too busy looking at themselves and not doing the real work. Wondering why church attendance is falling? Look no further!


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    Mark, I find that there are several ways that Christians in fellowship look at oversight of a local assembly.

    In a “hierarchical”/quasi-clerical model, the elders are a separated class, answerable to a higher standard. That it is an office, given by the Lord, with authority over other Christians.

    For me, this position is more clerical than I would be comfortable with. But if you hold this position, then you either are an elder, and therefore have the authority and responsibility to rule the assembly as you see fit, answering to the Lord (with fear and trembling), or you are not an elder and are responsible to do (and only do) what the elders instruct you to do. If you believe this, then you only have the right to criticize if you are an elder. And if you are an elder, it would be bad form to criticize except behind closed doors.

    Sadly, this is appears to be the state of many of the assemblies. So, it becomes necessary to get the elders to change, if you are to have the liberty to use your own gifting on behalf of the Lord and His people.

    Personally, I reject this notion. But if you hold to this, then all you can do is pray for your elders, that you would have permission to serve as the Lord has gifted you.

    Some subscribe to a “corporate leadership” model, which is more similar to management theory than to anything I see in scripture, in which the elders have authority over the Christians in fellowship, but only with their permission.

    So, the overseers must continually sell themselves to the believers, as a CEO must sell himself to shareholders. And shareholders (Christians in fellowship) may only affect change by either agreeing with and implementing executive policy or firing and replacing the “leadership team.” Common on Wall Street. Sadly, becoming more common in churches (and even New Testament assemblies).

    If this is your view, then you have a responsibility to “call out” shortcomings and mismanagement of “leadership,” in order to affect a change (either in the individuals’ policies and actions, or in the makeup of leadership itself). One may not believe he is following this pattern. But when we loudly voice dissatisfaction with sitting elders, believing we are making positive change by doing so, it is likely that we are affecting change in the model of corporate governance.

    If you subscribe to an “organic oversight” model, in which the shepherds are also sheep, then you see that the work is more important than the office. In fact, many of the most effective elders I know have said that the first thing you do in recognizing elders is to look for a man who is already doing the work of an elder, without regard for recognition. In this model, all Christians have gifting and concurrent responsibilities and opportunities before the Lord, with the overseers providing oversight over the leading, feeding, tending, and defending of the flock.

    You can probably tell that this is the model to which I hold. I do get frustrated with elders. I do occasionally believe that it would be a lot better if the elders were different in some way. But at the root of the matter, I can only do what the Lord has given me to do. And I must trust that He is overseeing His assembly.

    So, my challenge to you is this: what are you doing about the problem you perceive — “church attendance falling off?” There isn’t a lot you can do about the elders (in any model). We know that the elders will fail. We know that the Lord will not fail. So…what are you (and I) doing?

    In Acts 2: 46-47, as thousands were being added to the Church, were the new converts drawn by the capability and dedication of the elders? Or was it something else?

    Also, I don’t see the humor in my name being James. But I do see this in that wonderful epistle: James 4:17. Again, what are you doing?


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