How Do You Solve the Leadership Challenge?

By Kent E. Fillinger

Quality leaders and effective leadership can make the difference in whether a local church or any organization succeeds or fails. So we asked a few dozen leaders from churches of all sizes to tell us how they develop leaders where they serve. (The 43 congregations surveyed have average attendances from 275 to 8,500.)

Most of those surveyed (77 percent) said every staff member is responsible to train leaders and volunteers within each of their ministries. Four of the megachurches surveyed have a staff person focused solely on leadership development, yet these churches still rely on a host of leaders to reproduce more leaders. (But three churches have no one specifically focused on developing leaders.) Half of the churches indicated the lead minister plays a primary role in leadership development, and volunteer ministry leaders are encouraged to train and develop leaders at one-third of the churches.

The survey results indicate a relationship between leadership training and church growth. Churches with annual leadership training (33 percent of those surveyed) grew an average of 1 percent in 2011. Those offering monthly training (eight churches) grew 10 percent. Those with weekly leadership training programs (10 percent) grew 9 percent in 2011. Those with quarterly training (26 percent) grew by 8 percent.



All of the churches surveyed use a healthy mix of methods and environments to train leaders. Outside conferences and workshops ranked as the most common strategy used by 81 percent of the churches. One-on-one training or mentoring was the second most common leadership development strategy, and is used by 76 percent of the churches.

The least popular method was online training courses, used by only 26 percent of the churches. More than half of the churches use each of the following strategies to develop leaders: one-on-one training or mentoring, small group studies, corporate or large group training sessions, ministry-specific training sessions, retreats, and meeting or talking to larger churches to glean ideas.

Most of the churches (81 percent) spend the most time and money developing leadership skills among paid staff members. After paid staff, elders receive the second most leadership training. The churches surveyed also focus resources on training volunteer ministry leaders, volunteer staff, and ministry volunteers. Deacons received the least amount of resources for leadership training.

Leadership development requires a financial investment that seems to pay real dividends. Twenty-six percent of the churches surveyed spend approximately $3,000 to $6,000 annually on leadership development efforts. These churches had a better than average growth rate of 7 percent in 2011. Seven churches invested $10,000 to $20,000, with a growth rate of 10 percent. Five megachurches spend more than $20,000 annually developing leaders, and these churches grew on average 9 percent in 2011. But four churches invest less than $1,000 annually to train leaders, and these churches grew only 2 percent.


Goals and Challenges

Growing megachurches (2,000 or more worshippers weekly) work hard to develop enough leaders to keep pace with their growth. Steve Thomas, the couples, family, and spiritual formation pastor at Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, said, “Our leadership development is generally keeping up with the growth of our congregation, but it’s never very far ahead of the curve.”

Echoing that sentiment was Rob Kastens, executive pastor at Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland: “Raising up new leaders and coaches and pushing leadership downward at a pace that keeps up with our growth is our biggest challenge.”

A big challenge is “getting quality leaders to keep up with our growth,” said Steve Bostic, executive pastor at Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona.

And Steve Bond, senior pastor at Summit Christian Church, Sparks, Nevada, said Summit’s biggest leadership hurdle is “keeping pace with the rapidly changing context that we have in our church.”

Time is also an issue for these churches. Mike Long, executive pastor at Crossroads Christian Church, Corona, California, said his church’s challenges are “everyone’s busy schedules,” adding that “high-capacity leaders are invested in several areas.”

The same issue is present at Crossroads Christian Church, Lexington, Kentucky, where lead pastor Glen Schneiders said his challenge is finding the “time for people to be discipled and trained.”

On a different track, Jerry Harris, senior pastor at The Crossing in Quincy, Illinois, said his church’s biggest challenges are “recognition and placement.”

Among the emerging megachurches (average weekly worship attendance of 1,000 to 1,999) the big goal is developing next-generation leaders. Several expressed this challenge with similar phrases: Jamie Allen, senior pastor at Central Christian Church in Mount Vernon, Illinois: “finding and developing new, younger leaders.” Dale DeNeal, executive minister at Second Church of Christ in Danville, Illinois: “identifying emerging leaders and training them.” Senior minister Bill Thornton, Capital City Christian Church, Lincoln, Nebraska: “developing the next generation of elders and a sufficient volunteer pool.” Jeff Faull, senior minister at The Church at Mount Gilead, Mooresville, Indiana: “developing competent and character-filled leaders.”

The leadership challenges in the large churches (averaging 500 to 999 each week) were more varied. Brian Gorman, lead minister at First Christian Church, Kenosha, Wisconsin: “helping our business-minded leaders grow in spiritual depth, and helping our godly people grow in leadership ability.” Don Mechem, associate minister of involvement at Clifton (Colorado) Christian Church: “Finding men who desire to lead and who will devote the time, energy, and resources to make it happen.” Phil Scott, senior minister at First Christian Church, Dodge City, Kansas: “keeping leaders focused on understanding and reaching the lost.” Jon Taylor, lead pastor at First Christian Church, Phoenix, Arizona: “discipling people to the point of being ready for leadership.”

In the medium-sized churches (averaging 250 to 499 weekly) there was a diversity of response regarding leadership challenges. Todd Frenier, minister of involvement with Northwest Christian Church, Acworth, Georgia, admitted, “We have no strategy for developing leaders. Right now if we need a leader, we just hope and pray one will emerge somehow. And if someone is willing to lead, we give them just enough training to do the task they are undertaking, rather than developing them as a leader.”

Jim Dalrymple, senior minister with First Christian Church, Monticello, Illinois, said his greatest challenge is “developing new and current leaders fast enough for the growth and changes that continue to shape our needs.”

Troy Borst, Christian education minister with New Beginnings Christian Church, Tampa, Florida, expressed some understandable frustration when he shared, “People don’t come to trainings! They want to lead, but won’t put in the time to get better. Perhaps it is because we are better leaders in our heads or on paper than we actually are in real life.”



Church leaders continue to search for effective solutions to solve the leadership challenges they face. Five churches noted an increased emphasis on one-on-one mentoring to encourage and train leaders. Jerry Harris at The Crossing said his church is “leveraging multisites to create plenty of places for people to play.” Wayne Kent, lead pastor with First Christian Church, Decatur, Illinois, said all of his staff members now have recruitment as part of their annual evaluations and they specifically ask staff members, “Are you recruiting leaders?” Eric Keller, lead minister with Oakwood Christian Church, Enid, Oklahoma, said his leaders “are reading and discussing books, attending conferences, and really focusing more on leadership development.” And Kastens said his Maryland church is “encouraging apprentice development at every level of volunteerism and leadership. And we are increasing our frequency of leadership development and moving toward shared language and expectations to increase accountability.”

One final thought comes from Dan Reiland, known as “The Pastor’s Coach,” who said, “If you are growing, your people will too. Your personal progress, productivity, and passion matter.” In other words, for the leadership developer, perhaps the biggest leadership challenge is within himself.


Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.


Resources for Developing Leaders

We asked the 43 churches what they’re using to develop leaders. Each resource was mentioned only once unless a higher number is indicated by the parentheses.



The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni (2)

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni (2)

Sticky Teams, Larry Osborne (2)

Simple Church, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger (2)

Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Who: The A Method for Hiring, Geoff Smart and Randy Street 

Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen

Multiplying Missional Leaders, Mike Breen

The Making of a Leader, J. Robert Clinton

Leadership Excellence, Pat Williams

S.H.A.P.E., Erik Rees

The Church Leadership Series by Gary Johnson, David Roadcup, and James Estep (the four books in the series are Answer His Call, Reflect His Character, Lead His Church, and Enjoy His People)

Set Free! What the Bible Says About Grace, Jack Cottrell

Leading Life-Changing Small Groups, Bill Donahue

Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders

Radical, David Platt 

Radical Together, David Platt 

Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley

The Quest for Authentic Manhood, Robert Lewis

The Measure of a Man, Gene Getz 

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath

The Resolution for Men, Stephen Kendrick, Alex Kendrick, and Randy Alcorn

Fathered by God, John Eldredge

When God Builds a Church, Bob Russell

Confessions of a Reformation Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, Mark Driscoll

Killing Cockroaches: And Other Scattered Musings on Leadership, Tony Morgan

NewThing Apprentice Field Guide (see

NewThing Coaches Guidebook (see

How to Grow a Church, Donald McGavran

The Externally Focused Church, Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson

Courageous Leadership, Bill Hybels

Lead Like Jesus, Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges

LEAD . . . For God’s Sake, Todd Gongwer

Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch

Leaders Who Last, Dave Kraft


Conferences and Workshops

Willow Creek Leadership Summit (3)

Catalyst (2)


3DM Discipleship Learning Communities


EntreLeadership (Dave Ramsey)

DiSC Communications training

Immersion 1 Training at Real Life Ministries (Post Falls, Idaho)


DVDs and Online Training

The Power of Momentum series, Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel

RightNow Training (

Seacoast Church ( 


In-house Training Materials

Propel (The Crossing, Quincy, Illinois)

Ministry Development Institute (The Crossing, Quincy, Illinois)

Eight-week Leadership Program (Churchill Meadows Christian Church, Toronto, Canada)



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