Congregational Conflict: Common or Uncommon?

Has your church ever experienced conflict? Perhaps people disagreed about budget priorities, a speaker for a special event, a change in worship schedules, or even the color of the carpet! If so, you’re not alone. Was it so severe that people—or even the pastor—left? That’s relatively rare.

Church conflict is common. Eight in ten pastors (79%) report that their congregation faced conflict in the past two years. In most cases the conflict didn’t escalate beyond minor (56% of pastors report minor conflict). Yet one-quarter of pastors serve congregations where the discord grew and was termed “major”—sometimes so severe that a church leader or worshipers left. This pattern remains about the same regardless of church size or faith group.

Leadership and finances top the list of conflict topics. Pastors indicated which of 13 possible sources of conflict described the situation in their church. Pastoral leadership style and finances emerged as the most common issues. About three in ten pastors report conflict in each area.

The sources of major and minor conflict differ. What caused the disagreement varied dramatically, though, based on whether it was described as major or minor conflict. Where the conflict was minor, pastors mentioned finances, building and renovation issues, and pastoral leadership style most often (each by more than 20% of pastors in churches experiencing conflict). Yet pastoral leadership style contributed to the conflict in one-half of churches experiencing major conflict.

Building issues and changes in music styles lead to more minor than major conflict. Leadership issues such as pastoral leadership style, lay leadership style, conflict between staff and/or clergy, and women in leadership positions in the congregation more often contribute to major conflict.


Conflict about 110

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how congregations handle conflict.

Other looks at congregational conflict:

Faith Communities Today

National Congregations Study