One of Minnesota’s fastest growing churches is now in eight locations, and one of their growth challenges is the lack of enough volunteer leaders. That need led them to be part of a Leadership Development cohort that centered around building a customized leadership development pipeline and a leadership-rich culture. (See bottom of this article for more on how your church can be part of Leadership Network’s HUB experience.)
“How do we develop more leaders, faster, and cheaper—and all in light of people’s busy schedules?” That in essence was the question River Valley Church based in Apple Valley, MN, brought to HUB. One of the great ideas that resulted through Leadership Network’s unique process was creating an online leadership portal that put all of the church’s leadership content in one place (leaders.rivervalley.org), where volunteer leaders could learn at their own time and pace, rather than having to come to a class. It was so successful that ultimately the church moved its entire small group training to that approach as well.
Here is the story as it unfolded….
The site started as a leadership blog only, and elements have been added along the way as leaders express a need, or the team determines the site needs expansion.
One of the inspirations was a leadership website created by North Point Community Church in Atlanta, triggering church leaders to create one of their own. The team studied lots of websites from lots of churches, made phone calls and asked questions before launching just one phase of the River Valley site.
“We didn’t try to add everything at once,” says Clark Strasburg, Resource Manager of River Valley’s Connections Team under senior pastor Rob Ketterling. “The blog was more about leadership in the context of real life, and from there we just listened to leaders and added parts as we saw a need develop.”
Since they launched in January of 2015, the website has had 26,000 page views and we an average audience of 500 leaders each month. It is now a fleshed-out tool with:
- The blog – which contains interviews from leaders in the church on topics such as “Personal Leadership”, “Spiritual Growth” and “Building Teams”.
- Podcast episodes that can be accessed and downloaded directly from the leader site at rivervalley.org/podcast, or downloaded from iTunes by going to the podcast section and searching “River Valley Leadership Podcast.”
- A resource page, which contains sermon discussions, Bible study training, and an in-house small group curriculum written by the Connections Team.
“Rather than teaching and lecturing about leadership, we do a podcast that is a casual conversation about leadership,” Clark adds. “It’s a casual approach to talking about leadership—we laugh a lot and leaders have a lot of fun with it.”
Virtual Leader Training
Initially, the biggest hit on the site came when River Valley moved all of its Life Group leader training online. Now, the leader training is hosted on the main church website (rivervalley.org). Potential leaders can get information in a 30- to 40-minute video that used to require multiple sessions in-person. This streamlined the process, and made it even easier and more convenient for our leaders to get trained and ready to lead.
Since going to its virtual leader training model, River Valley has seen its Life Groups grow from 292 groups in 2013, to over 400 groups —with most of the new leaders trained through the website. “It’s becoming a super-cool, very useful tool for our leaders to use,” says Clark.
The next big thing planned for the site is to go online with the church’s new member process—where people who are new to the faith and new to the church can find a place to plug into the life of River Valley.
“Rather than having a backlog of people waiting to be trained and approved as new leaders,” Clark says, “now we are commissioning new leaders every month, sometimes every week.”
The Leader Guides serve as an “online Toolbox” designed to help River Valley Leaders with answers to common questions.
Info Tech Degree Not Required
One pleasant surprise about the leadership site for Clark is that it didn’t take a technology whiz to put it together. Without any formal education in web design Clark was able to build the site himself, but says “I had lots of help and did lots of Google searches.”
The site was developed on a platform called “SquareSpace”—which offers several templated pages to get started but customizing them can be a bit of a process. Clark also stresses that he took it upon myself to learn and get better and for others not to get discouraged by their own learning curve.
Clark likes to say, “If I can do it, anybody can do it.” He goes on to say. “I built it, but I look at it every day and it’s so easy to manage, I’m usually tweaking it every day. I’ve shown it to developers and gotten feedback on maintaining it.”
Be Willing to Evolve
A nice by-product of the site is that it gives River Valley’s interns who have an interest in writing a place to try their hand at producing leadership development material.
Clark’s advice is to research, research and research some more what other churches are doing before setting anything in stone. “We made lots of phone calls,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to call another church and ask them how they did things.”
And, learn from River Valley to be OK with starting small.
“Don’t try to add everything at once, or feel like you have to have everything a site needs on Day One,” Clark says. “We just started with the blog, and added things as we listened and saw a need.”
“A website can always evolve and change with what your church and its leaders need.”
But overall, he says, “the leadership site is a great way for us to inspire and equip those leaders to step into their calling and their ministry, at River Valley Church and beyond.”
Developing leaders is one of the most critical needs of a growing multiplying church. If your church is interested in new ways of replication, multiplication and developing a customized model for Leadership Development go to www.leadnet.org/leadershipdevelopment for more information.