Rawlings School of Divinity


Doctor of Philosophy


Gary Bredfeldt


strategic leadership, pastors, ministry leaders, mission, perceptions, church membership growth, church service attendance


Leadership Studies | Philosophy


This qualitative multiple-case study aimed to explore pastors’ perceptions of strategic leadership at churches in Virginia. This researcher sought to understand the strategic leadership of pastors with mission and purpose ways of growing thriving churches. This research defined strategic leadership as “the capacity to learn, change, and have managerial wisdom” (Boal & Hooijberg, 2001, p. 515) based on the Strategic Leadership Theory (Finkelstein & Hambrick, 1996). Declining church membership, attendance at services, or even closures is alarming (Felicetti, 2021), and this research may help churches facing such problems. A rationale for this study was to explore pastors’ viable avenues that may help improve church membership or attendance at services for others growing God’s Kingdom. Christian universities train individuals who are: Champions for Christ (Liberty University); Strengthened for lives of purpose, services, and leadership (Pepperdine University). Some individuals plant and grow various membership-size churches in the United States. Why do some churches grow extremely large numerically, and others do not? What are pastors’ perceptions of strategic leadership for the church regarding membership growth and attendance at church services? This researcher conducted a study at 11 purposively selected churches to try to answer these questions and others. Within the population, 19 participants through face-to-face interviewing provided essential data. The analyzed data revealed five themes as beneficial for how pastors may improve church strategies to grow thriving churches. This study’s strategic leadership data analysis allowed for advancement to the leadership study field of churches and Strategic Leadership Theory.