Personality and church growth?

Here are the results of a survey of 1 66 Seventh-day Adventist pastors and their churches to determine whether there's a correlation between the pastor's personality and church growth.

Roger L. Dudley, Ed. D., is the associate director, and Des Cummings, Jr. the director of the Institute of Church Ministry, Andrews University.

According to C. Peter Wagner, "Vital Sign Number One of a healthy, growing church is a pastor who is a possibility thinker and whose dynamic leadership has been used to catalyze the entire church into action for growth." (Your Church Can Grow, 1976, p. 57). He further asserts that "the pastor has the power in a growing church." (p. 65). But a survey among Seventh-day Adventist pastors correlating church growth and pastoral personality tends to contradict Wagner's statement.

Are certain personality traits of the pastor more likely to be associated with ministerial success as measured by such criteria as church growth and a positive evaluation of the pastor by the member ship? Is personality related to the pastor's own sense of success or failure, his morale? We at the Andrews University Institute of Church Ministry sought answers to these questions among a broad sampling of Seventh-day Adventist ministers.


Early in 1980, pastors of 295 Seventh-day Adventist churches in the United States and Canada were randomly selected from a list of all Adventist churches in these areas and invited to complete a survey as a part of a study on church growth. (Results were published by the authors of this article in a paper: "A Study of Factors Relating to Church Growth in the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists," Andrews University, Institute of Church Ministry, 1981.) Usable surveys were returned by 238 individual pastors. Recently, it was decided to conduct the personality study using these same pas tors so that the new data could be correlated with the pastors' church growth survey. Also, in 129 cases, members of these churches completed a survey that included, among other things, a rating of their pastor on various behaviors.

The principle research instrument employed was the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) published by the Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, Champaign, Illinois. The person completing the 16PF responds in a multiple-choice format to 187 items. From this raw data, standard scores are obtained on each of the sixteen personality factors called primary source traits.

In addition to the primary source traits, a special computer program developed a score for each pastor on a number of secondary or composite traits by combining elements of the original sixteen according to a predetermined formula. Each pastor also completed a brief survey named "The Pastor as Person and Husband." This instrument furnished items for constructing a pastor-morale scale and a pastor-wife-relation ship scale.


The survey material, along with explanations and postage-paid return envelopes, was mailed to each of the original 238 pastors. After considerable follow-up, 166 usable 16PF's were received—a 70 percent response rate. The raw data was transformed into standard scores, and the pastor's average (mean) ranking on each factor was compared with the mean of the general population in order to determine to what extent Adventist pastors may differ from the populace as a whole.

The actual rates of church growth (or decline) in official recorded membership for an eighteen-month period were correlated with the various personality factor scores of the pastors. This was done by means of multiple regression analysis, a technique that allows a single variable (church growth) to be correlated with a series of variables (16PF scores) in a way that isolates the best combination of personality scores in terms of their ability to predict growth. A second multiple regression program used the same church growth rates as the dependent variable but adjusted them for gains and losses in membership owing to transfers to or from another Adventist church.

All of the personality factors on the 16PF were correlated with the pastor-morale scale and the pastor-wife-relationship scale as well as with certain items from the church growth survey of both pastors and members. These statistical analyses were performed at the Andrews University computing center.


Adventist pastors differed significantly from the general population aver ages on nearly every one of the primary and secondary personality factors. The differences were especially striking in the areas of abstract thinking, conscientiousness, tender-mindedness, shrewdness, self-sufficiency, self-discipline, discreetness, interpersonal contact preference, creative orientation, on-the-job growth potential, attention to details, regard for rules and regulations, and school achievement potential. In all of these the pastors rated higher than the norm.

On the other hand, the pastors were significantly lower in dominance (some what unexpected and not in the Wagner model of an ideal pastor), in happy-go-luckiness (more in keeping with the stereotype), and in experimenting behavior (Adventist pastors tend to be quite conservative).

But the greatest difference was in marital adjustment where Adventist pastors rate much higher than the norm. This is especially interesting, because 16PF scores were also gathered on most of the wives of these pastors, and 70 percent of the couples showed low similarity profiles. This combination— low similarity and high adjustment— reveals a flexibility, tolerance, and ability to adapt that is out of the ordinary.

The personality variables best correlating with actual growth were "suspicious," "venturesome," "outgoing," and "creative orientation." Those best cor relating with adjusted growth were "suspicious," "dominant," "relaxed," "apprehensive," "productive energy investment," and "outgoing." Yet the multiple regression analyses revealed only a moderate correlation between these optimum combinations of personality factors and actual growth (.335) or growth adjusted for transfer (.357).

Comparing the lists and examining the individual correlations reveals moderate relationships between certain traits in pastors and growing churches. Most strongly related is "suspicious" which the 16PF manual further describes as "self-opinionated, hard to fool, skeptical, and questioning." Apparently a certain toughness and lack of credulity goes with the pastor of a growing church. The trait "dominant" also occupies a prominent place. Adventist pastors on the average rate lower than the general population on "suspiciousness" and "dominance." To the extent that they do have these traits they are more likely to be pastors of growing churches. This lends some credence to the Wagner model.

Two other primary factors correlating positively with church growth are "out going" and "venturesome." Here Adventist pastors are higher than the population as a whole, and the relation ship to growth seems a logical one.

The member survey asked congregations to give an overall evaluation of the pastor as well as to rate his sermons on the basis of building faith, being Christ-centered, and being helpful. Pastors who were rated highly by their congregations tended to be conscientious, disciplined, independent and to have a high regard for rules and regulations.

On the pastors' church growth survey, items that revealed desirable ministerial skills and attitudes were more likely to be positively correlated with such 16PF factors as outgoing, dominant, conscientious, venturesome, disciplined, emotionality, extroversion, attention to details, and regard for rules and regulations. They were more likely to be negatively correlated with such factors as abstract, imaginative, self-sufficient, and subjectivism.


1. Adventist pastors differ significantly from the general population on nearly every one of the primary and secondary personality factors of the 16PF.

2. While more than two thirds of the pastors are quite dissimilar from their wives, yet more than three fourths rate high on marital adjustment revealing an unusual flexibility, tolerance, and ability to adapt.

3. The personality of pastors does not seem to be highly related to the growth of their churches although some significant relationships were discovered. Pastors of growing churches are somewhat more likely to be suspicious, dominant, and independent than pastors of nongrowing churches, although as a group Adventist pastors tend to rate lower on these traits than the general population. The pastor of a growing church is also more likely to be outgoing and venturesome.

4. Pastoral morale is related to age, concrete thinking, calmness, conscientiousness, venturesomeness, self-assuredness, being disciplined, being relaxed, having less anxiety, interpersonal contact preference, leadership role compatibility, and attention to detail.

5. Good pastor-wife relationships are related to age and concrete thinking.

6. Pastors who are conscientious, disciplined, and independent are more likely to have both their sermons and their performance rated high by their congregations.

7. Desirable ministerial skills and attitudes are more likely to be related to being outgoing, concrete in thinking, dominant, conscientious, venturesome, practical, group-oriented, and disciplined.

8. There appears to be limited sup port among Seventh-day Adventist ministers for Peter Wagner's assertion that a strong and controlling pastor is a vital sign of a growing church.

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Roger L. Dudley, Ed. D., is the associate director, and Des Cummings, Jr. the director of the Institute of Church Ministry, Andrews University.

August 1983

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