Growing Pains: Leadership Development Lessons
from Growing Churches

Published by Leadership Network | Jun 21, 2019 | 5 min read

What do you do when church multiplication or community impact or campus growth leads to this crisis, “If we don’t develop more leaders we’re not going to be able to do all that God has given us the opportunity to do?”

Our Director of Leadership Development, Brent Dolfo, recently joined the UnSeminary Podcast with Rich Birch to talk about how growing churches can avoid the leadership development crises of tomorrow by addressing some key questions today. This post is a summary of that conversation.

Have you answered your unique ‘why’ question?

Why do you want to create more church leaders? It may be that you want to plant new campuses or start up a new branch of ministry within your existing location or make an impact in your community. These are important reasons to develop leaders, but the stress from pursuing these goals can also cause the process of leadership development to be put on the back burner along the way. 

So explore why you are doing this in your particular church, what God has called you to do, and keep those reasons at the forefront of your mind so leadership development stays a priority.

Be specific! Every church has the Great Commission. Every church is building more ‘fully devoted followers of Christ.’ Every leader wants to change the world. But defining your ‘why’ too broadly will create a crisis of scope, meaning your scope is too big given the number of leaders you currently have. 

Growing churches that do a great job in leadership development have a narrative that’s very personalized towards their unique ‘why’ behind the need to develop church leaders.

Do you have an apprenticing model?

Growing churches that do a really good job developing leaders have created an effective apprenticing model for leadership development. In the old days, it used to be, “Go to this class or go to seminary, be a part of this training and then you’re going to be a leader.” 

What everybody has now realized is, this wasn’t the way Jesus developed his leaders. Jesus’ approach was, “Come with me. We’re going to be involved in ministry together, and that’s how you’re going to learn to lead. Oh, and one more thing: now I’m going to actually send you out to do it yourself.”

Growing churches who are successful with leadership development do a great job of apprenticing their potential leaders. In these churches, every leader has an apprentice, and that becomes a part of their culture.

How do you do it? The first step is to develop a model of what apprenticeship looks like and call people into it. Let potential leaders know what you see in them and why those gifts are important.

Apprenticing isn’t a new concept, and most churches are doing some form of apprenticing. But does everybody know what the model is? What are the intentional steps in the process? And does it start at the top? (Which leads us to the next question)

Is someone on the senior leadership team focused on leadership development?

Here’s what we’ve observed: leaders staff to what they believe is important. All churches that do a great job in leadership development have a senior leader who is focused on developing that apprenticeship model. That person’s job must be at least 70% leadership development in order to get the best results. 

It doesn’t have to be a full-time person, but churches do need someone who reminds the rest of the staff how many leaders are needed for a particular task or idea and keep the team focused on why they’re doing this project. Churches that realize leadership development is critical to the accomplishment of their vision will staff to it at the highest level.

If you think about strategic planning for a church, we plan how much money it is going to take and how many strategies we’re going to implement, but very seldom do we think about how many leaders we are going to need to get that vision accomplished. 

That’s what excellent churches do because, as we all know, Sunday comes along with alarming frequency. The urgency of the weekend always screams loudest. The importance of leadership development doesn’t make a sound. So you need someone at the head table who is keeping it front of mind.

Are you building your model with the end in mind?

Here’s a question that I usually ask pastors: “For those in your church that are leading a small group of leaders, a group of eight to ten people in any ministry, what do they need to be great at, in your model, to be a great leader?” The most frequent response I get is, “I don’t know.” I would argue the answer to that question needs to be crystal clear. 

Whether someone is serving in the first impressions team or leading an adult small group or leading youth ministry or a team of ushers – anywhere someone serves as a leader, those key things that need to be true about that person need to be true across the whole church. It’s the leadership development 80/20 rule:

80% of leadership is the same in a church; 20% is just the context in which I do it.

And churches can’t build leaders with the end in mind if they don’t know what the end is. A church can’t effectively build leaders unless they know what the four or five key characteristics are they are trying to build into all leaders. 

Churches that are doing a great job in leadership development have done the hard work of staff alignment across departments so they are building leaders with the same end in mind. They may do different functions in terms of where they serve (the 20%), but what they’re great at is the same.

Have you established measures around leadership development?

Growing churches that do a great job in leadership development measure what matters. There are two important metrics that will help a church reframe its scorecard and increase its leadership development effectiveness.

Metric #1: The percentage of current leaders that have apprentices – This is what we refer to as a lead indicator or lead measure because it gives leaders an indication of where they will be in the future. Tracking this data point will tell you where you’re going to be in two years regarding your number of leaders.

Metric #2: The percentage of staff you have raised up from within – This metric is a lag indicator, telling you how well you’ve done in the past. Use this data point to benchmark your efforts and project what will be needed to achieve future leadership development goals.

To hear the entire interview, visit the UnSeminary Podcast.

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