By Brian Beauford
Every church needs a church leadership pipeline—a system for identifying, training, equipping, and empowering leaders. In my experience, a healthy leadership pipeline has six levels:
I have seen this structure work in churches from 60 people to more than 3,000.
At the church where I’m a pastor, planning, building, and filling our leadership pipeline has taken almost eight years. Through that time, we’ve learned a few things the hard way. Here are our biggest mistakes and the lessons we learned.
Mistake #1: Not building from the bottom up
When we built our pipeline, we had all the levels labeled and each position thought through. But when we started filling out the pipeline, we promoted people too fast.
Lesson learned: We needed to map out our pipeline on paper first and fill it from the bottom up, placing existing leaders’ names in all the levels until we properly trained our replacements. Yes, it takes longer, but the structure and culture that’s being built will be stronger.
Mistake #2: Requiring too many skills and expectations
When we started listing the different skills and expectations needed to be successful at each level of leadership, we had way too many! I’ve had the privilege of helping several other churches build their pipelines, and most tend to make this mistake. When the bar for being a leader is set too high, many people feel overwhelmed and choose to stay out of leadership. Others get stuck in weeks or months of training to learn the required skills.
Lesson learned: Level 1 should have almost no required skills and maybe just one expectation—two at most. When someone opts-in to serve, the onboarding process should be fast. The more skills and expectations you have at the bottom, the longer it will take to get people serving.
Mistake #3: Not supporting coaches enough
The transition from Level 2 to Level 3 is the most difficult. Moving from leading others to developing leaders involves a huge shift in values because the leader goes from doing ministry to delegating ministry. The leader also has to adjust their focus. At Level 2, their impact was found in their individual tasks; at Level 3, their greatest impact is in their relationships with the people they lead.
Lesson learned: Within the past year, we’ve really started to resource our Level 3 coaches better to help them work through this transition. Over several months, we held church leadership workshops focusing on delegation, time management, mentoring, and communication.
Mistake #4: Ignoring ongoing training
Learning our lesson from Mistake #3, we realized that we built our pipeline with an unintentional focus on training new leaders (onboarding), but we did almost no training once they were on the team (ongoing development).
Lesson learned: We created a system of monthly, ongoing training to help equip our members, leaders, and coaches.
Mistake #5: Failing to anticipate future development
At first, we focused on quality control, building in ways to ensure that each ministry would be run well even if its top leaders weren’t around. After a few years, our system had a high bar of execution, but we weren’t reproducing leaders. We were doing things well, but our leaders were burning out!
Lesson learned: When we focused on excellence, the by-product was burnout. But when we focused on developing stronger leaders, the by-products were quality, execution, and ownership.
This post is adapted from the original article that appeared in the July 2019 issue of Ministry Team magazine.