How to Build a Customized Leadership Pipeline
for Your Church

Published by Leadership Network | Jun 20, 2019 | 6 min read

Churches that are working on leadership development dream of the day when they’d have more leaders than what they need. Wow! Wouldn’t that be a nice problem to have? 

In that pursuit, it’s important to remember that there are many things to work on. An attractive big vision, a senior team member who wakes up every day thinking about it, a culture that rewards and champions leadership development as well as regularly and systemically develops the staff team, and key metrics that allow people to know if we’re making progress – all of these things contribute to creating a great leadership development church.

One of the most helpful systems that serve robust leadership development cultures is the concept of a Leadership Pathway or Pipeline. This concept really helps the current leaders, paid or unpaid, understand the kind of leaders that they’re being asked to develop. 

Typically, if you ask church leaders to describe the attributes and competencies needed to lead well in their context, you get many different answers. The idea is to get everyone on the same page regarding the key areas of development that each leader needs at each step of their leadership journey.

How do you effectively build your Leadership Pathway or Pipeline? There are two key steps to start well.

Step One: Determine Your Levels of Leadership

First, you need to determine the levels of leadership you have in your church. You need to customize what works for you.  Many people decide to start with Team Members, then Team Leaders, then Coaches, then Ministry Directors, and finally Senior Team members. Multisite churches would have Campus Pastors between Ministry Directors and the Senior Team.

It is important to keep in mind that, while not everyone will have the gifts necessary to fit every level of leadership in your church, ALL members have the capacity to lead themselves well as team members and should be given the tools and opportunity to be great at that level.

Step Two: Decide What ‘Great’ Looks Like

The second step is to decide what a great leader looks like at each level. I often ask church staff to think of their 5–10 best leaders that are leading a team of 8–10 people. If they could clone then, what would be true about them? You need to work at it until you have 4–5 key things you’d like to be true of every leader of 8–10 people, regardless of where they serve. 

I argue that 80% of what you’re building in every small group leader, small group coach, ministry director, etc., in your church needs to be the same, regardless of where they serve. Twenty percent of their development should be unique and customized by the ministry area that they serve.

For example, you’d want a similar commitment to your vision and values, and similar competencies in leading people. Yet, in the 20%, the context of where they serve, you’d want unique things for students or children’s ministry, small groups, or the serve team.

Once you’ve completed the team leader level, you should repeat the process with ministry coaches. Think about your 5 best ministry coaches. What makes them great? What are the 4–5 things in them that you wish you could clone in each of your coaches? Eighty percent would be the same across the church while 20% would be true to the context of that ministry. This should continue for every level of leadership in your church.

As you build your own customized pathway, let me share with you the characteristics that the leadership team at Cedar Creek Church, a multisite church in Toledo, Ohio, came up with for their 80%:

Leading Others (Do and Delegate) – Examples of these are life group leaders, student group leaders, teachers in children’s ministry, etc. Some of these characteristics are:

  • Recruiting – Identifying and asking self-led people to join team/organization
  • Training – Ability to demonstrate, coach, and train others on the mission and objectives
  • Delegating – Gives responsibility for tasks to others and provides adequate feedback
  • Influencing – Helping people feel motivated and inspired to be a part of the team
  • Shepherding – Taking responsibility to help others grow spiritually and personally

Leading Leaders (Some Do, Delegate, and Develop) – This level of leadership attracts, empowers, and develops other leaders in ministry. Some examples of these are life group coaches, leading teams of student/children teachers and leaders, hospitality, etc.

Characteristics of Leading Leaders are:

  • Being a Developer – Recruit, influence, and train leaders utilizing the tools listed above
  • Being a Team Builder – Creating synergy through leaders/teams working together
  • Provide Shepherding – Taking responsibility to help others grow spiritually and personally
  • Remain Focused – Learning to “do what only you can do,” delegating and developing the rest
  • Modeling and identifying the critical “4-Cʼs” of team synergy: Character, Competency, Chemistry, and Commitment

Leading Ministries (Less Do, some Delegate, more Develop) – These leaders lead and direct ministry teams at local campuses. Examples include Arts, Students, Children, Hospitality, Spiritual Formation, Operations, etc. They’re usually on staff from this point on and are described as leaders who:

  • Take Ownership – They’re responsible to seize opportunities, solve problems, and implement ministry strategy/plan.
  • Empower Others – They will equip and release leaders to execute the ministry plan.
  • Value Collaboration – They seek to learn best practices through sharing ideas.
  • Maintain Strong Convictions – They pay attention to the spiritual health of their ministry, volunteers, and team.
  • Embrace Creativity and Innovation – They discover new ways to create excitement and momentum.
  • Are Strategic – They place the right people in the right places.

Leading Campuses and Church-wide Ministries (Less Do and Delegate, most Develop) – This level of leadership will lead from a platform of strategically and intentionally developing other leaders. Examples of this 5th level of leadership are Campus Pastors, Associate Pastors, and Executive Leaders. These leaders are described as:

  • Strategic – They communicate for, align, and execute specific and/or multiple ministries through teams of leaders.
  • Organizational Developers – They will recruit, equip, and empower people, putting the right people in the right place doing the right things.
  • Culture Builders – They can create an identity for community and are the gatekeepers for organizational DNA.
  • Clear Communicators – They are able to articulate the big picture and motivate people in that direction.
  • Responsible – They will ensure that the organization’s metrics and goals are achieved.
  • Spiritual Directors – They lead by example and verbally keep the team spiritually focused and accountable.

I hope this will give you a great starting point for building or evaluating your church’s leadership development pipeline or pathway. As an added bonus, I’ve included a PDF of Cedar Creek’s pipeline that also includes some of the resources they recommend to help leaders at each level reach their full potential. Simply click or tap on the button below to begin the download.


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