Pastors and leaders all want to see their congregations grow. This is a primary reason why leaders read certain books, go to certain seminars and work on certain skill sets. Deep down, leaders measure their effectiveness in ministry by their church’s ability to make and retain more disciples. While growth is not the only standard that leaders use to measure their church’s health, it is motivational. So let me share a truth that matters. Growth is not about getting more people through your doors. Growth is about getting more leaders who are prepared to connect with those who come through the doors. Without more leaders, the waves of visitors that come through the front doors of your church will largely exit out the back door.
Yet the reality for you as a church leader is you probably do not have enough of the leaders your church needs. Even if your leadership training system is operating at its optimum, a growing church will usually need to double the amount of leaders it needs right now. The reason why you need to double is that when the leaders you are training now are ready to lead, if the church is growing, you will already need more. If fact, the day you feel that you have enough leaders, you have put an invisible lid on your growth.
For example, say that your goal is to get at least 80% of your current congregation of 150 people into small groups because they help people make new friends and also help retain them as part of the church. To have leaders enough to handle the 80% (120 people), you will need probably ten leaders. But at this moment, you have only five such leaders. How many leaders will you need to train? Your mind says five more, but the real answer is fifteen—five for the immediate need and ten more for the growth that will follow. While this may seem an impossible suggestion, it will keep you from thinking too small and hindering your church’s ability to increase capacity. If you only train five, you have put making and retaining more disciples on hold for the foreseeable future.
This is why the leadership training system is the most critical focus in order to grow your church past the 125 level. It is a task to which ‘already’ leaders must give at least 25% of their time. If not, the church will remain a single cell church, with the pastor, instead of the vision, being the focus of your systems. Leadership training is relevant to growing a congregation regardless of size.
The central function of this system is to allow leaders to embrace their biblical function of equipping others for the works of service so that the body of Christ might be built up (Ephesians 4:12). There is an emphasis on on-the-job training, as new leaders are not made in the classroom, but in the field. This is the one system that has to be directed by the pastor and the top leadership of the church and not assigned to a coordinator. It is from the leaders of the church that new leaders learn how God wants them to lead.
The best place to find good leaders for your church is from among the people who attend, particularly those who have come to the church through conversion and have gone through your Discipling System. These are the ones who should share the DNA of the church’s vision and continue to come because they want to accomplish that vision. Growing leaders from among your attenders protects the church from depending on leaders developed by other churches, leaders who may be committed to a different vision for the church.
Start building this system by defining the finished product of leadership training. You have to begin with the end product in mind. Write out a description of a maturing leader so that you can shape the training process to facilitate the development of such leaders. You also need a spotter’s list which will guide your mature leaders in identifying a potential leader.
The three necessary qualities for a potential leader you are looking to spot are: 1) Others do follow them, 2) A growing passion for God, and 3) Agreement with the vision of your church. This last one is non-negotiable for the health of your congregation. It is possible to help potential leaders develop their leadership skills and their spiritual life. They may already be mature in the spiritual life, but need to hone their leadership skills. Or they might be excellent leaders, but lack depth in their spiritual life. These can be addressed. But even if they excel in both of these areas, yet lack agenda harmony with your vision, they should never be developed as leaders in your church. Spiritual life and leadership skills can be taught, but agenda harmony is a philosophical difference. Allowing someone with this characteristic to train as a leader will at some future point bring grief to you, the church and to that person.
Building the rest of the leadership training process is much easier than many who do not have one might think. The three major components of a leadership training system are mentoring, training classes and a regular meeting of leaders together for the purpose of vision casting, cross-pollination and strategic planning.
Actual leadership training starts with a mentoring plan. Leaders learn to lead on the job, not in a classroom. In your congregation, you will need every leader to be engaged in mentoring one or more people who could be his or her replacement. This will prevent a crisis if a key ministry leader leaves, as someone is ready to take over immediately. Also, if your church is to engage in expanding the Kingdom through planting more churches, these churches will need leaders to guide them. A rule of thumb is the Jesus model of mentoring—1) I do and you watch. 2) I and you do it together. 3) You do and I watch. 4) You do with someone new watching.
Although leaders do not learn to lead in the classroom, important information and ideas are best passed on in a class to potential leaders. Classroom training should address three areas—spiritual transformation, leadership skills and people skills. Always assume that people know little about their faith journey and you will probably hit the target for these classes. Remember that people lead from the inside out, so whatever is not addressed spiritually and surrendered in their lives will affect those they lead.
You may wonder why you need to train new leaders in people skills. I knew of a youth pastor who regularly burned out his co-workers, both people in the church and those he recruited in. In spite of his personal popularity with the teens, there came a point when there were no more adults willing to work with him. What he lacked was the skill of empathy. Other skills include: 1) dealing with difficult people; 2) communication; 3) conflict management and reconciliation; 4) valuing taking care of those you lead (learning to say “thanks!”); 5) being assertive (when people try to run you) with kindness; and 6) empathetic listening. This is not an exhaustive list, but it will help guide your thinking in this area.
Finally, a regular meeting should be planned to bring all current leaders and trainees together. There is an important reason to huddle. All leaders need to see their ministry as part of the whole so they will not think theirs the most important ministry in the church! More positively, leaders need to see how their ministry is part of the whole in fulfilling the vision and have a regular place to come and listen. Some portion of this time needs to be led by the pastor. He is the vision carrier and must plan to influence the leaders he is leading. This meeting is the place to do that and should also bring these developing leaders together with maturing leaders so that they can encourage and learn from each other, as well as strategize together. This meeting cannot be optional to have a healthy leadership training system.