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6 Warning Signs of a Toxic Church Culture

toxic church culture

Every church has a culture. But how do you know if your church culture is toxic? More importantly, how would you know whether you’re creating a toxic church culture as a leader?

I’ve interacted with many church leaders (and readers of this blog), and the sad reality is that there is no shortage of toxic church culture stories and experiences. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it certainly isn’t always that way.

Leaders are the architects of culture. You create a culture whether you intend to or not.

Part of shaping a healthy culture is being aware of the signs of toxic culture and the signs of health. I blogged about the early warning signs that a person may be toxic here. But organizations have different signs than individuals do.

So how do you know if your church culture is toxic? Believe it or not, the Bible gives incredible practical advice. The longer I lead, the more I use Galatians 5:16-23 as a health check for me personally and for anything I lead. It describes what’s healthy and what’s not, for me as a leader and for the church.

Below, I outline six warning signs that are practical applications of that text.

By the way, this is part 1 of a two-part series on culture that I’ll conclude later this week.

My next post will be on how to create a healthy church culture, and later this week, I’ll email a free PDF of our mission, vision and cultural values at Connexus Church, where I serve, to everyone on my email list. If you want to connect by email, you can sign up to my email list for free here.

6 Signs of a Toxic Church Culture:

1. The politicians win

One sure sign of a toxic culture is that you have to play politics to get anything done. You know things have gotten political in your church when:

  • Decisions rarely get made the way they’re supposed to be made.
  • Most decisions happen outside of meetings or any agreed-upon process.
  • You can’t get a yes without offering something in return.
  • You have to continually lobby to be heard.
  • If you’re always jockeying, lobbying and courting favor to get the right decision made, it’s a sign your organization is unhealthy.

In the local church, having to play politics to win is a sure sign there’s sin. When you do what you say you’re going to do the way you said you’re going to do it, you bring health to an organization.

2. What gets said publicly is different from what happened privately

Another sign things are becoming toxic is when what gets said publicly is different than what happened privately.

When there’s spin on every issue and nothing can be said publicly without ‘agreeing’ on what gets said first, things are bad.