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6 Warning Signs of a Toxic Church Culture

For sure, there are times where a situation is delicate and you will want to ‘agree’ on what gets said publicly to honor everyone involved, but in too many organizations few things that get done privately can be announced the same way publicly.

And to be sure … when you’re crafting any kind of a public statement, you want to pay attention to the words you use and perhaps even find agreement on them.

But the end product should never be the opposite or even different than what actually happened.

I have the good fortune of being part of several healthy organizations. I love it when people pull me aside and ask (in hushed tones), “So what’s the real story?” and I get to tell them, “Actually, that is the real story.” Living in that kind of non toxic church culture really helps you sleep at night, too.

3. You deal with conflict by talking about people, not to people

The golden rule of conflict is this: Talk to the person you have an issue with, not about them. In too many churches and organizations, the opposite is true.

People talk about people rather than to them.

The church should be the BEST organization in the world in dealing with conflict. Often, we can be the worst. The next time you want to talk about someone (i.e., gossip), talk to them instead. If you can’t or won’t, there’s something wrong. Pay attention to that.

Want to know what’s wrong most of the time? You’re gossiping. That’s what’s wrong.

Trying to resolve conflict by gossiping about the person you’re angry with is like trying to extinguish a fire with jet fuel. It only inflames things. Sure, occasionally you need advice from a friend about how to approach a situation. When I’m in that situation, I try to assume the person we’re talking about will hear everything I say. Even if they don’t, the fact that they could speaks volumes.

Do I always get it right? No, but it’s a great integrity check, and I try to live by it.

4. Church fights are normal

Conflict is normal. Church fights shouldn’t be. Yet so many congregations are in perpetual fighting mode. One day it’s the music. The next it’s the carpet. The next it’s some staff member everyone ganged up on.

Failure to get point #3 is the way churches come to see fights as normal.

Another reason churches fight regularly is because personal preferences have trumped organizational mission. Essentially, members decide that what they want is more important than what others want or the church needs to make progress.

When that happens, it essentially pits one selfish person or group against others. And when that happens, everything dissolves. If your church is in conflict, there should zero mystery as to why it isn’t growing.

5. There’s an entrenched ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

The church should always be a ‘we,’ not an ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Fundamentally, being a Christian causes us to die to ourselves and rise to something bigger than ourselves. Some Christians forget that.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.