What’s Your Church’s Biggest Strength:  Management or Leadership?

Orginally published on Monday, March 10, 2008 at 7:02 AM
by Todd Rhoades

Leadership and management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right things.” When I read that recently, I thought that this statement could be very true in today’s American church. Here’s my theory: Could it be that while most churches are ‘doing things righ’t, a smaller group of churches are ‘doing the right things’?

The percentage of churches in decline is America is substantial.  (I’ve heard as high as 90%!) It’s my hypothesis that each of these churches (and if you take the conservative church count in the country of 200,000 churches, 90% would be a whopping 180,000 American churches!) have to be ‘doing things right’ to some degree.  Doing things right means things like conducting weekend services, maintaining property and facilities, making payroll, and caring for their attenders.  In essence, as long as there are still people attending most churches, the churches, by and large, are ‘doing things right’, at least from a management standpoint.

But what about the other 10% of churches in America that are growing and vibrant?  Could it be that they have moved beyond ‘doing things right’ to ‘doing the right things’?  Every single one of the growing churches I’ve seen are very outwardly focused.  They reach out and specifically target reaching their communities.  They move beyond ‘management’ to dare to try new things; new programs; and new approaches.  They are not afraid of change.  They are not afraid to confront the culture.  The are leaders.  And the result is a growing and community-changing church.

What’s your church’s strength?  Management or Leadership?

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  There are 33 Comments:

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    Leadership. Definitely.

  • Great question. While I would like to believe our greatest strength is ‘leadership,” the evidence in our growth track points toward a hybrid of both ‘leadership’ and ‘management.’ We’ve been on a very slow and steady incline in attendance, but I would be hesitant to say we’re blowing the doors off its hinges.

    But what do I know? ... I’m only the Communications guy.

  • Posted by Bryan Craddock

    I’m not even sure that you can say that the 90% are doing things right.  A lot of churches lack both leadership and managment.

    I’ve also met fellow pastors who have a desire to do the right things but don’t have the organizational, managerial skills to make them happen - leadership (to some degree) without management.

    As I understand Drucker’s idea, you’ve got to have both.  That’s what we find in the 10%.

  • Posted by Ken B

    Is it possible to do the right things and do it right?

    Maybe the declining churches are doing the right thing poorly, and people are leaving to find a church that is doing the right things right.

    Turning the churches that have been around a LONG time into churches that are willing to try different means to reach the unchurched and the lost (not the same), and even to fail while looking for the “right things to do”, when in the past the majority of ministry was maintainence of the present membership, is a long, slow deliberate process.

    To do so takes both good managerial skills and spiritual leadership.

  • Posted by Tye Male

    I am in a church is that is doing the right things and we are constantly evaluating our progress in this area. And as a result we have continued to grow at a very steady rate of 10% per year for 10 years.

    I know of churches that are in steady decline and they are doing things right. I think the hardest thing to do for a church in decline is admit that change is needed. They often say “this is what has been working for us so why change.” This is the reason it is so hard for Super Bowl champions to repeat.

    How do you identify the right thing to do? In our context it ministry is always done in the context of teams and I think this really helps us discover what that right thing to do is.

  • Posted by Phil DiLernia

    Being the senior pastor of my church ... I’ll say LEADERSHIP!!  smile just joking.  A good article that I’m going to send to my congregation today!  Leading up to Easter we spoke of Our Mission last week, Our Vision yesterday and we’ll do Our Values next week.  A perfectly timed article!

    Thanks God!

  • Posted by

    Whoever is leading without anyone really following is just someone taking a walk.

    Leadership starts the race. Management clocks the progress of the race. Together we win the race!

    Leadership plants the seeds, management waters the planting, God gives ALL the increase.

  • Posted by

    I agree with the posters who said its not an “either - or” but both simultaneously.  Would you choose a hospital that was only doing one or the other?  “Hey Bob, this guy needs surgery, but I forget why… just give him a top quality appendectomy and we’ll hope for the best.") Hospitals do lots and lots of caring for illnesses they have already seen, and also research that advances the field of medicine—which is good becasue some doctors have some doctors have great bedside manner, and some are… House!  Reference Bobb Biel and his continuum of leadership—there are designers, developers and managers, and the church can use all three, no?

  • Posted by

    Sadly, once again, another example of a well-meaning attempt but unbiblical advice from a Christian ministry.

    First, there is the problem of over-assumption by the statement, “The percentage of churches in decline is America is substantial.  (I’ve heard as high as 90%!).” If you’re going to give statistical facts, then make SURE it’s a statistical fact and not mere unverified gossip or rumor. There is an excellent article entitled, “Evangelicals Bad With Statistics” about how evangelical leaders as guilty of throwing out statistics without verifying or giving away the source of their statistics. Todd Rhoades at least gives Peter Drucker as the source to the Leadership vs. Management phrase. But he needs to do the same when throwing out statistical quotes. Otherwise, it only makes Todd Rhoades appear disingenuous about whether what he has to say really is worth reading.

    And then the second problem with this article, which is a bigger problem than the previous one, is the utter sadness that for Todd Rhoades, and for many evangelicals out there (dare I say 90%?), the solution to church decline is not about “obedience vs. disobedience,” “repentance vs. unrepentance,” “faithfulness vs. unfaithfulness,” etc., but is about “leadership vs. management.”

    Third, I find it ironic that Todd Rhoades uses Peter Drucker and the “corporate business” concept as the answer to evangelical churches’ problem, but fails to apply another “corporate business” concept of decision-making, “Identifying the problem.” Todd Rhoades doesn’t even identify the deadly disease that has stricken the bloodstream, muscles, bones, nerves, and senses of evangelical churches. Instead, he merely sees a symptom and thinks his “Peter Drucker” bandaid will cure the problem. If we are to see an example of what is the problem with American evangelicalism, it is right here with Todd Rhoades’s entire faulty perception of identifying the problem and faulty solution. The disease that has incubated in the church is not that 90% of the church are failing to grow numerically and failing to be vibrant (whatever Todd Rhoades means by vibrant, I have no clue, as he fails to define what he means by it), but that the deadly disease is the failure to uphold the word of God as the only test for truth and as the only solution for the church to “be growing and be vibrant.”

    It seems to me that Todd Rhoads should read less of Peter Drucker and read more of Peter the Apostle.

  • Posted by Todd Rhoades

    Thanks Will, for reading the blog of Todd Rhoades.

    Todd Rhoades never said that 90% of churches are in decline, but that Todd Rhoades had heard that cited.  This is Todd Rhoades’ blog, not the New York Times (but Todd Rhoades is probably 90% more accurate than the New York Times most of the time).

    “Otherwise, it only makes Todd Rhoades appear disingenuous about whether what he has to say really is worth reading.” Todd Rhoades probably wouldn’t know what ‘disingenuous’ even means, so yes, Todd Rhoades is probably very ‘disingenuous’ (and a lot of other five syllable words).

    Your recommendation that Todd Rhoades reads more Apostle Peter than Peter Drucker is troublesome at best, since Todd Rhoades only said he read one quote from Drucker.  And unless you can prove that Todd Rhoades has read more Drucker than the “real Peter”, you really should back-up or foot note that statistic, lest you, yourself appear more ‘disingeuous’ than Todd Rhoades.

    Todd Rhoades’ ‘Peter Drucker Band Aid’ can only be taken with a grain of salt, because there are many people out there (yourself included) are obviously much smarter than Todd Rhoades.


    Todd Rhoades

  • Posted by

    In a culture that is not Christian, that is not biblical, that is not evangelical and not that interested, certain gifts of God’s Holy Spirit show themselves to be missing and much needed.  I believe that never in the history of the church in this country has this been more evident and I believe one gift the church has flat out overlooked is the gift of leadership.  To assume leadership is unspiritual is a mistake, since it is also a gift of the Spirit.  The problem is that we have far too many churches with leaders leading without that gift.  We have far too many churches that never seek to develop that gift in others.  Far too many churches are hoping that the good old days will come back, instead of figuring out how to engage this culture. 

    The church needs leaders and a management does not develop leaders rather keeps what is going on, going on.  Leaders develop leaders.

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    Will writes “...that the deadly disease is the failure to uphold the word of God as the only test for truth and as the only solution for the church to “be growing and be vibrant.””

    Do you have statistics to back that up, Will?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    (Well handled, Todd Rhoades!)

  • Posted by

    Hmm …. Okay

    Having been employed in both the business and ecclesiastical world (often at the same time) I find this discussion interesting.
    I have been apart of churches well led and well managed. I have found that in both world experiences that management usually trumps leadership out when critical decisions need to be made. Let’s see in if I can get Donald Trump into the discussion.
    Having said that I am presently serving in a management environment church where everyone wants to be the manager. Traditionally the role of the church “leadership” has been to serve as the Pastoral Break Society.
    And I have read both Peter Drucker and the Apostle and found them both applicable to serving in the church.
    Thanks Todd

  • Posted by Ken B

    I have only pastored one church that never grew and in fact declined all the days I was there.

    If the path to growth is “upholding the Word of God as the source for truth”, then that church should have been vibrant and growing.  I certainly didn’t change the message I preached in the other growing churches.

    I do however think that the lack of growth was due to not doing the right things, which we are not even discussing this week - what those right things are.

  • Posted by

    Certainly, as has been posted, both are very important.  If I had to choose between excelling at one at the expense of the other, I would definitely pick leadership (during the right things).

    I would, however, respectfully challenge the notion that the churches that are growing the most (numerically & financially at least) are the ones that must be doing both well.

    I don’t doubt that it is true in some cases, but I think it is dangerous to assume that they are automatically linked.

    For example, I’m sure we can all think of at least a few churches that have grown large but have done so while compromising certain Scriptural principles and doctrines. 

    I would suggest that some (by no means all) of the ‘fastest growing’ churches are in fact examples of organizations that excel in management but not leadership (at least that which is Scriptural).  In other words, they ‘succeed’ on the strength of their management (doing things exceptionally well) even while failing in Biblical leadership (doing the right things).

    Does anyone else see this?

  • Posted by Tye Male

    Leonard Lee said:

    Far too many churches are hoping that the good old days will come back, instead of figuring out how to engage this culture.

    That is what I was trying to say earlier. I couldn’t agree more.

    Todd - You go man. Jesus constantly engaged the culture by doing the right things, not doing things right - just ask the Pharisees.

    Great subject today. Thanks!

  • Posted by

    I believe the biggest miss in almost all churches is the ability to manage the organization (the local body of believers).

    Those that say they do a good job of managing their church have church blindness and/or a totally skewed picture of what management is.

    The most biblically sound church is the one where the leadership understands that the growth and stability of the local body they are accountable for is dependent totally on understanding their role as steward leadership in Gods church as directed by God.

    Growth does not come from management or local leadership; the success of both come from our accountability and to the degree in which we disire and obey the direction of the leadership head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

  • Posted by PrSheepherder

    Thanks, Todd for taking the risk of allowing a secular source to provoke the thinking of church leaders.  (I love conversations in the vernacular, don’t you?)

    Fellow bloggers:

    Todd’s presenting question invites church leaders to delve deeper into matters like defining the right things and identifying how to do them right.  To answer Todd’s question without going deeper is to commit the secular equivalent of proof-texting of scripture.

    If you had a conversation with Drucker or those who have taken his work into the voluntary sector (check out Frances Hesselbein’s work and writings), you’d find them agreeing that both leadership and management are important. The need is to know which is which, not to confuse one with the other, and to apply both. 

    And as Frances herself would tell you (as she’s told me in our times of working together) , answering the primary question correctly (What is our mission?” ) is the starting point for discussing questions like the one Todd is proposing today.

    As a student of both sacred writ and secular writings (particularly in the area of leadership and management) since (egads!) the 1970s, I’ve gleaned considerable, church-applicable wisdom from encounters with Drucker and others who have applied his work in the voluntary sector.  They’ve been profoundly influenced by the Judeo-Christian scriptures. 

    Whethr it’s Drucker or any another source, the key here is to consider the source and to test the source’ s thinking against The Source (The word of God, including but not limited to those texts attributed to the Apostle Peter.)

    Speaking of which ... Is anyone up to a discuasion of leadership, management and the “right thing” re: the episodes of judaizing in the Acts of the Apostles?

    Pr. Sheepherder

  • Posted by John Burton

    This issue demands that we really revisit the primary purpose of the church.  What are its biblical purposes?  This will help us with the issue of leadership (where are we leading toward) and management (what needs to be done to ensure we progress).

    A key issue here is that of vision.  So many leaders and pastors are in their roles because they are gifted to teach or nurture or disciple… but so few have precise vision.

    What exactly has God revealed that they are to give themselves to?  Write it down.  Clearly.  What geography?  What focus?  What is the goal?

    So many church planters tend to want to launch their church from Acts 2:43 instead of Acts 2:1.  Jesus detailed the process in Acts 1.

    So, again, what’s the primary purpose and what’s the specific vision.  That answer will demand wild leadership and strong management… though, I’d sacrifice management much quicker than I would leadership.

  • Posted by

    I suspect that some churches are too quick to chalk up their growth to ‘visionary leadership’ when it could very well be good management riding a demographic wave.

    Even a management-oriented pastor can post strong numbers in a high-growth residential area, Even so, plenty of churches still find a way to plateau or decline even in areas where everything else is growing.

  • Posted by Randy Cobb

    Grand thoughts on the macro level, now let’s talk about it on the micro. For those considering themselves among the 10%, let’s take it personal.

    Of the 10% who are leading “the Church,” are they “doing things right” as they “do the right things?”

    In other words, is the Church, once again, following the world’s standards [i.e. of “management"], or are we living into biblical principles and standards regarding “management” and in doing so setting the pace for the world to follow? 

    Let us not be so concerned with what we do that forget how we do it can be just as important. Both are an opportunity to honor Christ and be a witness for Him.

    As we let the Bible be our guide for determining “leadership” let’s let it be our primary resource for “management” as well. Having integrity and being fully-Christ-honoring means doing both.

  • Posted by

    I think my church does the right things, but doesn’t necessarily always do things right.  Administration is an area in which I think we still have a ways to go.  Working in corporate America, I have learned a lot and quite frankly, we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  There are some good business practices that can be adapted for use in God’s kingdom.  Paying attention to the details is one of the key areas that can often make a difference.  In business, neglecting the details can often result in costly mistakes for a business.  Why wouldn’t we think that neglecting the details would be just as important, if not more, in the kingdom God?

  • Posted by

    I have been a longtime reader of MMI, but rarely contribute to its forums.  I felt I had to chime in, because this topic is close to my heart.

    God has called me back to a book that has been on my shelf for years, “Developing the Leader Within You,” by John Maxwell.  He, too says that prosperous businesses (churches included) are headed by Leaders, not Managers. 

    People want to be a part of something successful, and follow people that are successful.  We see this in Hollywood, Nashville, etc.  But managers are only being followed because of their titles, and not success.  That is why the decline takes place.  They are nothing more than a title, and after the inital “wow factor,” the title gets old.

    But Leaders that have attained the title, established relationships, produced results, developed their people, and have gained the respect of their people are successful and have followers for life.  (Picture the Verizon network guys) When that is established, people want to be a part of something and have ownership in a successful business or church.

    Now, to answer your question, I am a youth pastor at a church with a manager for a pastor.  It is hard.  Managers typically lack vision, or at least what it takes to carry out that vision.  I, myself am very vision-oriented, but have found myself hitting a ceiling, so to speak, because my Manager will only allow me to go to a certain point.  I am committed to the church and love the community and the church, but I am saddened to see the church going this direction.  In fact if anyone has any words of wisdom for me, I am open to receive.


  • Posted by

    To Jeremy:

    I posted earlier my critique of Todd Rhoades’s article, which stands uncorrected. My uncouragement for you is to stop reading John Maxwell and other of these type of gurus because this is where your problem lies. Sadly, for Todd Rhoades and many I’ve seen respond to this article do not realize that they, themselves, are in that category of serving in churches that are stricken with the deadly disease that has infested evangelicalism.

    Jeremy, let me ask you to ask yourself what specifically is it that you feel burdened about your senior pastor? Is he not preaching and teaching the Gospel faithfully and expositionally? Is he not leading the church toward biblical fidelity and obedience?

    I guess another way to ask this is: what are the results you are seeing in your church causes you distress? Is your church family living unholy and disobedient lives? Is your church family ignorant of the truths of Scripture?

    The problem with Todd Rhoades, John Maxwell, and these type of individuals is that they assume that God promises the growth of His local church. And that’s the deadly disease that has infested in the hearts and minds of many. What God is more concerned about is that glory of His kingdom. I would submit to you to reevaluate your concerns and see how it aligns with Scripture.

    God does not call for neither leaders nor managers to lead or manage the church. Rather God calls for preachers who will proclaim the Gospel message. God calls for theologians who will guard careful doctrinal truths of Scripture.

    Remember that it is the gospel message alone about Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the Cross that is the power of the church for salvation (Rom 1:16). Only the Gospel message preached and taught faithfully is power for the church. Todd Rhoades, John Maxwell, Oprah Winfrey, and all these others who emphasize heavily on either corporate leadership or psychological therapists are the ones further spreading the deadly disease that suffocates and kills the church. How? More and more theologically-minded and Gospel-preaching and Gospel-oriented pastors are more and more being replaced by vision-oriented practitioners.

    There’s alot more to say on this matter, but let me defer you to one book that will help you on your way: James Montgomery Boices’s Whatever Happened To The Gospel Of Grace? The book itself, let alone the bibliography of other source material, will, I believe, help you with your concerns to see why ministries like Leadership Network and practitioners like Todd Rhoades are misleading the church: by coming up with wrong solutions that comes from asking the wrong question of: “Leaders vs. Managers.” Unintentional, I’m sure Todd Rhoades and John Maxwell and others are. But misleading, nonetheless…

  • Posted by Phil DiLernia


    While I agree with your seeming premise to Jeremy that we sometimes critique leaders or leadership in the wrong manner that does not mean that Jeremy doesn’t have some potentially legitimate concerns. 

    For instance, Jeremy may fee led to be more aggressive in his outreach to the teen community where he lives and his senior pastor may not have such a vision or worse yet may be afraid to ruffle the feathers of Mr. or Mrs. “so and so”, or may like things “just the way they are.” In either case that could frustrate someone like Jeremy.  In fact, too many pastors have been “program oriented” for far too long rather than “gift oriented” which I believe is more biblical and Godly.

    What I mean is this, if Jeremy’s Senior Pastor is blessed to have a Youth Pastor with a Vision to reach more youth is it possible that this Vision of spreading God’s truths to more and more people (Matthew 28) can only come from God because Satan would NEVER promote the spreading of the Gospel.  Then someone who is being prodded by God’s Spirit must deal with this seeming contradicion of Biblical purpose.  In an example like this you would have a Senior Pasor with a lack of Leadership and Vision and this will work against the promoting of the Gospel.

    Your premise that as long as the Senior Pastor is teaching the “right stuff” then everything is OK is way off.  The problem that MANY pastors have is that they teach the right stuff ... people like Jeremy respond to the prodding of God’s Spirit ... and then the TEACHER QUELCHES WHAT THE SPIRIT IS DOING IN RESPONSE TO THEIR TEACHING!  That is disasterous to the church.

    And PLEASE don’t become un-Christlike by comparing John Maxwell and Todd Rhoades to Oprah Winfrey.  John and Todd promote principles that are based on scripture and if they use examples from the non-church world what’s the difference?  Wouldn’t it be great if there were more examples to use IN THE CHURCH?  Oprah on the other hand promotes Humanism and Self-Righteousness.  Please don’t do Satan’s bidding by putting John and Todd in Oprah’s category.  That’s shameful and they are both owed an apology.

    Finally you stated that John and Todd’s problem is that they promote the idea that God promises to grow His local church.  My understanding of scripture moves me to believe that God does promise to grow His local church IF HIS PEOPLE ARE OBEDIENT.  Jesus says that He is building His Kingdom and Hell will not overcome His building.  Jesus tells us that we should go into the world and make disciples of His - baptizing them and teaching them to obey (which includes going out and making more disciples!) The book of Acts tells of God’s Spirit building His Church (and so and so many were added to His church, and more were added to His church DAILY!) I’m not sure what scriptural evidence you have that demonstrates that God is NOT concerned about the growth of His Kingdom (both numerically AND in Christ-likeness.)

    That’s why the church needs Biblical wisdom AND Visionary Leadership!

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