Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Cooperating University

Western Kentucky University

Department (Legacy)

Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resource Education

Committee Chair

Spall, Sharon

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Keaster, Ric

Author's Keywords

Turnaround leadership; Church revitalization; School turnaround; Church leadership; Organizational renewal


Christian leadership--Case studies; Rural churches--Kentucky; Clergy; School improvement programs; Educational leadership


This qualitative study sought to illuminate successful practices of a turnaround leader in a rural church that are applicable cross-contextually, so as to inform the leadership efforts of various organizations seeking to reproduce organizational renewal on a wide-scale basis. Utilizing the principles of case study research, the researcher conducted participant observations, mined documents, and interviewed the pastor, three part-time staff members, and 24 members of a rural congregation in a South-central Kentucky congregation that had grown 289% in active membership over the last 14 years. Proceeding with the assumption that leaders can, by the practice of specific, intentional behaviors, positively impact the ability of a congregation to reverse its path and experience turnaround, and seeking to illuminate those behaviors, this study was guided by the following research questions: (a) In a rural church that has experienced revitalization ("organizational turnaround"), how do the pastor and congregants perceive the experience? (b) How do they perceive the characteristics and behaviors of the pastor as "catalysts" in this transformation? (c) What leadership principles of successful turnaround church efforts can be extracted from their experiences that are comparable to those reported in the literature on school revitalization efforts? The data from the study revealed that members did not recall specific events that led to turnaround so clearly as they recalled unity and harmony; this was contrasted to the period of turmoil and split immediately before the turnaround and the initial, devastating split it endured 20 years prior. They did not describe events as much as they did their pastor who helped bring peace and a culture that was conducive to revitalization. With perhaps some credit to a youth program that was started under a previous pastor, and reinstituted by under the turnaround pastor's leadership, responses to the question of precipitants to growth essentially described their pastor's personality-a) a people person and b) a detail person-and five intentional behaviors-a) developing a community presence, b) providing quality, meaningful worship, c) educating and equipping members, d) providing a vision for the future, and e) empowering and mobilizing the laity. This study revealed consistent themes that existed in the theoretical framework on schools provided by Kouzes and Posner (1987) as well as in the church and school turnaround lore. These findings propagate the notion that turnaround leaders often bear striking resemblances to one another, exhibiting many of the same personal character traits and intentional behaviors. These findings also suggest that turnaround leadership is not so much a product of individual, charismatic leadership as it the product of consistent, sustained attention to sound leadership behaviors.