A Church Won’t Grow When Led by a Superstar


Churches stop growing or they plateau for several reasons, too many for one blog post. So I’m tackling them in a series of posts featuring growth barriers for churches I have encountered during years of strategic consulting. I’m calling these posts “Churches Won’t Grow When.”  While some of the issues that keep churches from growing can be classified as communication barriers, in my experience, the most debilitating ones are leadership and systematic mistakes that will derail growth or even kill a congregation. Interestingly, these apply to business and ministries as well. Your church will stop growing when its leader put his or her interests before what’s best for the congregation. I call it the superstar syndrome.

All about me Superstar Pastor Maurilio Amorim

I have seen this one play out time and time again. These are gifted communicators who are able to draw large crowds but can never get past making personal sacrifices for the sake of the organization. The superstar pastor bent is to grow the congregation to serve his need for a larger audience–not because a larger audience means a deeper reach for the gospel, even though that’s how they frame the strategy.

I’m not saying that all gifted communicators, pastors of growing churches, or popular leaders fit in this category. While we should never judge a leader’s motive, we can and should consider his or her decisions. Given the chance, the superstar will take the spotlight every time. They will justify unreasonable time away and expense on the premises that “what’s best for me is best for the church.” They will say “yes” to opportunities that tax the church’s staff and volunteers because it might given them more exposure. They will leverage the church for their personal interests given the chance.

Great people don’t stay around the superstar for long. High-capacity volunteers and top notch staff eventually figure out that the superstar only truly cares about himself and will abandon ship. After all he seldom gives credit to the rest of the staff because, well you’ve guessed it, it’s all about him.

So the church led by the superstar grows and implodes, or it attracts a lot of people but can’t keep many of them long term. One of the signs your church might be led by a superstar pastor is staff and leadership turn over. If you’re always seeing lots of new faces but not many familiar ones, or the church seems to always be on the verge of a breakthrough but never quite there, you might just be led by a superstar.

Have you been around the superstar pastor? What happened?

  • Bob Mills

    I was a member of a church that had great a great preacher and lots of people coming but we couldn't keep staff and key leadership. The church did just what you described, it grew and then it would top at around 800 but it would never get beyond that. The pastor is still there, but we aren't.

  • Jim Kane

    Your good comments reflect a perspective that I have had for a while. It comes as a result of watching a church decline after a gifted and strong pastor leaves a church. The vacuum it leaves cannot be filled for a long time, if ever, and I think that it has an impact on those who remain. The supporters (which are more like fans) measure everything and everyone else against this person. And congregational health is deeply affected.

  • You don't have room for all my comments! 🙂 Let's just say I've also seen the Superstar "Wannabe" Syndrome…it's all about me, WITHOUT the huge crowds but with everyone saying there were. Also known as the Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome.

    In either case, it ultimately hurts the cause of Christ – the very thing the church exists for.

    • I might have to write a post on the Emperor's New Clothing Syndrome. Thanks for the idea.

  • Johnna Bigelow

    Oh my….you just described our PREVIOUS church experience. In our planning meetings I would, half-jokingly/half-seriously remind our pastor that too many viewed him as a Rockstar. He would just chuckle. After 12 years of service, we saw the writing on the wall and tearfully left. Within 6 months, more than half of the staff left and there have been multiple staff changes since. After two years, my husband and I are still trying to heal from the experience. We are currently, cautiously, serving in another church. I long for the days of serving with reckless abandon. I pray they will come again.
    Thanks for putting words to my experience. It may be one more step in the healing process.

    • I hate to hear that, but unfortunately your story is not uncommon. I'm glad you're serving in a local church. Many have walked away and have not gone back to a local church because of experiences like yours. Keep moving forward.

  • I recently attended a training event at a large megachurch (interesting that we must now qualify "megachurch"; this one numbers around 20K). I kept waiting for the "big personality" to take the stage, but he or she never did. The pastoral team were all rather normal. I have seen this in the business world too. The most successful enterprises are not led by high fliers but by a strong team of sold, not necessarily exceptional, people.

    • I've seen that as well. A bunch of faithful men and women led by a Godly leader can change the world.

  • I have. They left their church for a bigger one, and left a lot of confused people behind. It was really sad.

    • At least they left. Let them be a "blessing" elsewhere. Sometimes they stay and continue the cycle of abuse.

  • I believe most pastors start out with great intentions but get derailed by believing that they have achieved whatever success they found by their own cleverness and that they must continue maintain control.

  • "I’m not saying that all gifted communicators, pastors of growing churches, or popular leaders fit in this category." but so many do.

    I used to be a part of a church 10 years ago that border cultism, the pastor exercised too much control and any dissenting view points from a congregation member was simply viewed as someone who was "missing God" and our lives weren't together. Needless to say I am no longer a part of that and that church has failed tremendously. The pastor calls us all prodigals to this day. It's sad, because as you say – it was never about Jesus, it was about the pastor.

    I praise God for this series of posts Maurilio, you have my prayers as always.

    • Thanks for sharing your story Chase. I hope you're able to get past beyond that pastor and found another place to heal and serve.

  • Ashley Jensen

    This subject always hits a nerve with me. The church I am currently on staff at is huge… 8k or so, but the cool thing is when I tell people who the pastor is… hardly anyone has heard of him. That's the way it should be. I love that I serve in a place where the focus is on the Cause not the man. Jesus said in John 12:32, "If I be lifted up, I'll draw all men to myself." I'm all about personalizing scripture but some guys take this one a little to far! They 'appropriate' this promise to themselves! ha! Seriously though, the church should be lifting up Jesus, not it's leaders. The man of God should be honored, but then again shouldn't we all honor one another?
    Great post Maurilio!

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