By: Lindsay Nelson, Scott Barfoot, & William Stewart

Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) DMin announces a collaboration with Teleios Inc, a private foundation which conducts biblically based research using scientifically proven methods. Dr. Scott Barfoot, Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at DTS and Dr. William C. Stewart, co-founder of Teleios Inc, are collaborating on a novel approach to examine Biblically based leadership topics to better understand the function and well-being of the local church. This collaborative effort has completed two studies to date.

Pastor Survey on Local Church Leadership

223 pastors were surveyed. The highest percent of respondents were located in the southern portion of the United States (46%) and served primarily non-denominational churches (55%) almost always meeting in their own free-standing facility (84%).

Most respondents were senior pastors (67%) who had served their church for 11-20 years (30%); the most common degree was the ThM (70%) from DTS. Average weekly church attendance was between 200-500 (25%); however, some pastors reported attendance of more than a thousand (18%).

The most frequent form of church government was elder-led (43%; congregants electing elders), but pure elder-led (28%; elders appointing new elders) and congregational forms (24%) also were common. The average number of elders was 7, but a wide range existed among the churches.

Important findings:

  • The churches in this study generally employed an independent and local elder-rule form of government. Additionally, they utilized a small group structure to meet the leadership, spiritual and social needs of the church.
  • The job description of the small group leaders appear similar to those of elders, but these leaders often do not have the fully-orbed characteristics of elders.
  • A deacon structure is used less often (68%), and deacons receive more limited spiritual responsibilities, even less than small group leaders.
  • Training is derived from a variety of sources including, directly from the Bible, extra-biblical resources and from the material developed from the church staff.
  • The greatest complaint among pastors for all three lay leadership groups (elders, deacons and small group leaders) is the lack of leadership skills and biblical knowledge.
  • Summary: Elders are used by the vast majority of conservative evangelical churches, and tend to accept tasks delegated to them by Scripture. Pastoral leaders seem to consider their elder boards integral to the spiritual and administrative functions of their respective churches.


MacIlvaine WR, Stewart WC, Barfoot DS. A biblical theology and pastor survey on local church leadership. J Ministry Theology 2016;3:125-143.


115 congregants were surveyed. Participants almost all evangelical (97%) and agreed, or strongly agreed, they had good well-being (88%). Quality ratings for church leaders from congregants were generally positive with the best ratings for the pastoral staff and then progressively lower for elders and then small group leaders. Highest ratings for pastoral staff were knowledge of the Bible (98%) and leadership skills (95%).

Overall strong associations were found with well-being to church leadership quality. Respondents with the best well-being generally gave higher ratings to church leadership than those with lesser well-being. The greatest differences in quality ratings between those with the best and lesser well-being were effective communication and support of the member’s needs in small groups.

Important findings:

  • Congregants in evangelical churches generally have high self-perceived well-being.
  • Those with the highest well-being are more likely to rate their church leadership more positively than those of lesser well-being.


Stewart WC, Barfoot DS, Nelson LA, Stewart JA. Influence of Church Leadership on Congregant Well-being. In submission

About Teleios Inc. – This biblically based foundation seeks to demonstrate the truth of the Christian faith through the scientific method to provide evidence for the positive results of a Biblically-based lifestyle. Prior studies conducted by Teleios Research have shown that church attendance demonstrates improved well-being not only as a general parameter, but also with increasing frequency of participation and adherence to Christian principles which guide a believer’s faith such as praise, prayer, fellowship, service and Biblical study have been associated with improved well-being.

Future Research – The DTS DMin program and Teleios, Inc., look forward to continuing the research collaboration with a new church based survey examining perceptions of church leadership and church members personal well-being.

If you’d like to be part of this exciting effort to better understand the impact of church leadership on the congregation as well as congregational attitudes that should be considered by church leadership please contact Teleios at View our website and social media accounts for more information:

We pray that God will use these research efforts to better help pastors and lay teachers understand leadership challenges and needs.