Leadership in American Evangelical churches
: an explanatory theory

  • Jesse Blasongame

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This study is about leadership in American Evangelical Churches, which as a sub-set of American Christianity, are growing, while American Christianity as a whole is in decline. As a result evangelicalism is quickly becoming the dominate iteration of American Christianity. It is anecdotal that well led churches grow while poorly led churches do not, yet no one has identified what leadership, in the evangelical church context, is. Researchers have investigated a number of aspects of church leadership (much of it without identifying whether or not the churches under investigation were evangelical or not) but no one has put forth a unified theory linking these aspects together. The purpose of this research is to address that gap and develop a theory that explains how evangelicals view leadership in their local churches. In this study of three churches, dissimilar in size and governance, a purely qualitative approach to data collection and analysis was employed. The study involved 60 interviews that sought points-of-view from top and mid-level leadership along with congregant followers. The study borrowed heavily from Glaser and Strauss (1967) Grounded Theory approach to data analysis. The results developed a theory which provides a unified explanation of how leadership actually works in the three evangelical churches. Several implications for practice are discussed as to the theory's usefulness as a method of leadership education and evaluation. An original discovery was found that an individual's incumbency within the organization was identified as a social power.
Limitations to this research are the limitations generally imputed to purely qualitative research in that questions are raised about the theory's applicability to evangelical churches beyond the three studied. The suggestions for further research involve addressing those limitations
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorVincenza Priola (Supervisor) & Margaret Harris (Supervisor)


  • qualitative research
  • grounded theory
  • case study
  • power
  • incumbency

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