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I was working with a church a few years ago that was facing a growth barrier. They had experienced rapid growth, but the staff was stretched beyond what they could do. There were holes of responsibilities not being filled. My opinion, and they agreed, was they couldn’t continue growing unless something changed.

The “genius” suggestion I gave them is not genius at all. It’s commonsensical. They needed to find new leaders, empower them with authority, and spread the load of responsibility.

Duh! And, to think I sometimes get paid for this stuff.

Yet, in every church, sometimes finding volunteers feels like searching for a needle in a haystack.

The obvious question: Where do we find these new leaders?

And, that’s a great question!

I suggested they look for 3 types of people:

People currently “doing” who need to be leading.

These are people who are consistently serving. They are the reliable people you couldn’t do without. They have been given responsibility, but never been tapped for authority. Not all “doers” have the capability of being leaders, but many do if given the opportunity. Seek them. Recruit them. Empower them.

People serving in one area, who could lead in another area.

These are people who are serving in the children’s ministry, for example, who could be leading in the parking ministry – or vice-versa. Many times people are serving in one area, because there is a need, but they could easily be stellar leaders in another area. And, it might even build new enthusiasm to them and their service. In fact, discerning these type people early enough often keeps them from burning out where they are currently serving.

People leading outside the church.

This is absolutely my favorite, yet one I don’t see many churches doing. There are often people in the church who are tremendous leaders in the secular world, but they’ve never been given an opportunity to lead in the church. These are sometimes “big asks”, but in my experience they won’t often get involved until they are asked. In my last church, some of our best leaders on our finance committee, for example, had never served in leadership in the church. They were, however, tremendous leaders in their careers.

The final thing I would say is you have to be intentional in leadership recruitment. People come to your church and see things working. They don’t know you need help, because everything appears to be working. There doesn’t seem to be a place for them. Again, in my experience, you’ll have to ask the best leaders to join your team.

How do you find new leaders?  What would you add to my list?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Steve Darnall says:

    Re: Leaders who have led outside of Church.
    I have observed, and even experienced what seems to reflect a lack of recognizing gifts in non church staff people. I know men and women whose impact in raising leaders is profound (and measured, in the workplace if the assertion “they are a great leader” is made, there is the question, “How do you know?” “How is it measures.”
    In church we use labels such as “great leader” or “great teacher” when the evidence indicates the person is a great presenter, a dynamic speaker.
    But effective teaching and leadership is seen in the development of those around the leader.
    By that measurement, I’ve known some amazing leaders in the work place, they are interested and effective in recognizing and helping others draw out the gifts God has placed in them.
    They are secure enough in the Lord to intentionally be less impressive and more effective.
    Some are invited around the world to do leadership development, but their churches rather invite a guest pastor who is young and dynamic to talk theory, rather than make room for those who have lived it for decades – and have long term track records of developing others.

  • LM says:

    Get out of the way. Many people are holding on to their role with clenched fists and leaders will walk in to their organization, serve for a while, see the reinforced concrete ceiling, and walk away or are driven out (even if they are serving within the vision b/c someone is threatened by their growing relational leadership).

    So get out of the way. The great thing about Sunday is that it happens 52 times a year and if something happens (barring pathology or criminal act… but I don’t think that is what you are referring to in your post) in the service that results in what you might perceive as a train wreck, someone else who is visiting or is a regular attender may be strongly encouraged by the event. And it gives the leader something to grow the new leader with regard to training.

  • I can't express enough how important vision is to leadership. Without casting a compelling vision on a consistent basis you will never have enough leaders. People are busy. Those who have the gift of leadership, they are really busy. So, if you're going to convince them to lead the vision has to be incredible, and as soon as the vision starts to fade or grow dull, those leaders will fall away.

    This isn't something that can be delegated to ministry leaders and forgot about. The Senior Pastor has to be the vision caster for the church. Ministry leaders can help, but they complement what the Senior Pastor is already doing, they can't be a replacement. I've seen many church staffs that are frustrated with the lack of progress in their ministries, they're working as hard as they can, but they can't gain traction in their ministry areas because the Senior Leader isn't communicating the vision well. Until this happens, you'll have a revolving door of leaders and volunteers.

  • jimpemberton says:

    I know this: a healthy church must expect change. Some churches are so set against change that they fall apart when someone in leadership dies or retires. They didn't have a plan even for this most obvious change that has to happen. But if a church is going out into the community proclaiming the Gospel with the expectation that people will come to Christ, the church will change without a doubt. On the one hand, you can't know exactly how the church will change. On the other hand, you know it will.

    So a healthy church culture will include a) grooming leaders from the current congregation and b) plugging new members into the ministry of the church. Just to say, if there's nothing for someone to do, that's an opportunity for the church to do more. What that opportunity entails requires living in a tension between two factors:

    1) Identifying the gifts of the people God has given you.
    2) Identifying the needs of the people God has given you.

    You may have needs that don't quite match the gifts. You will need to look outside the church for your leadership for those people.
    You may have gifts that don't have an obvious application. Look for the less obvious applications for those gifts. But also look for how to apply those gifts in outreach to the community or in various missions. Trust me, there's a need for every gift.

    With this kind of organization, a principled expectation (verbalized or not) should be made in the culture of the church that each member is a follower-leader to some degree. Any area of responsibility, not matter how small, is someone's to lead. And all of us, even the highest leaders, are under authority. so we are all followers. If this is fleshed out effectively, most areas of responsibility will have people ready to assume leadership. If some new ministry is organized, any shortage of volunteers will be because people are already plugged in elsewhere. But change dictates that many ministries will have lifespans, even if they were indefinite when started. People will be coming off of ministries that are coming to an end and joining new ministries.

    This pattern should:

    1) provide regular leaders opportunities to rest from leadership if they need it,
    2) provide opportunities to identify people with leadership gifts,
    3) minimize the tendencies of some to become possessive over their pet ministries.

    You should know what I mean on #3 here: these are people who don't want anyone else to step on what they are doing, and likely the ministry they are leading has long ago lost its effectiveness. Their ministry has become their idol. But this also applies broadly. Some people are helpfully ambitious. Their ambitions drive them to lead healthy ministries. Sometimes, their ambition becomes an idol-maker. Consequently, some people will choose to not act on healthy ambition so that they don't make an idol of the ministry they serve and undermine the leader of the ministry they are involved in. These people often make fantastic leaders, but are harder to identify because they make it a point not to stick out. The kind of church that has changing opportunities will help expose these kinds of leaders and get them in the position of leadership where they will be most beneficial to Kingdom work.

    Sorry for the long comment, Ron, but your article here sparked a lot of thought.

  • Mike Paris says:

    A couple of other places to look for leaders are

    a. In the ministry areas you need leadership

    Look for people who have benefitted from this current established ministry. The best leaders are satisfied customers!

    B. In discussion times in meetings

    Look/listen for people who ask insightful questions. They are often looking for ways to improve their experience or apply what they already know to what they want to grow.

    C. In the library

    Leaders are readers. Listen for people who devour and digest good books. Suggest a couple on leadership and watch their reaction.

  • Scott says:

    I think you’re right on, Ron. I think the hardest thing here is discernment. How do leaders discern who on their team is right to take on my responsibility? For those that don’t feel confident in making those judgement calls, there has to be a way to equip them to make informed decisions about the volunteers they promote into leadership roles.

    That’s why I’m a huge advocate of regular reviews and assessments of every volunteer on your team. Just because they show up only an hour a week doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing the time to assess their buy-in, effectiveness, and passion on a regular (quarterly or biannual) basis.

    There are a ton of assessments out there to start with so you don’t have to start with a blank sheet of paper. Here are questions I like to ask my volunteers during an assessment.

    1. Why are you volunteering?

    2. What are your challenges?

    3. How is your walk with God? Is it consistent or sporadic?

    4. Is volunteering getting in the way of your community with God and your fellowship with others? Are you able to attend worship and participate in a small group on a regular basis?

    5. What one thing would you improve on your volunteer team?

    I find that those questions are great for finding out how they’re doing emotionally and spiritually as well as dig out whether they think like a leader.

    Thanks for sharing your awesome post, sir!

  • Geoff Lowe says:

    Regarding your last point, it could also be that the new leaders do come in but everyone in the church leadership is so comfortable in the status quo that no one pays any attention to the new folks – other than to greet them and say "thanks for coming" – and what they might be able to offer. I am relatively new to the Lexington area, but so far nearly every church that I have walked into has exhibited this specific behavior.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I would say reach out and make yourself known. One of my favorite things to do is connect people. I will say also, just being honest, make sure it's not your approach. Not saying it is but if it's happening in every church you have to ask. But seriously, if I can assist you let me know n

  • James Hooper says:

    It's been a month at my new home in BC, as the Student Ministry Pastor of a great growing church. In one month, I've added 3 new staff members (volunteers) who were serving in a (litte time needed) ministry. They were all blown away that someone asked them to join the student ministries a high time commitment). As a leader, volunteers are not always going to come running to you, seldom in fact. Asking for people to participate is a good strategy. Thanks Ron.

    • ronedmondson says:

      That's a great illustration. I was sharing these principles with a church just yesterday. People love to be asked!

  • tijuanabecky2

    Those are great places to find leader! I've found people who could be potential leaders or volunteers by watching them and asking them to serve. Sometimes you can also find them online by looking at who they are and sometimes you can just tell they'd make a great leader by what they are saying there.

  • I don't know a lot about leadership. But when you hit a wall and you feel that you need new leaders it may also be a good time to make sure you have current leaders in their best spots. Meaning someone who is a leader in children's ministry may be able to step in to a young adults ministry and grow it. This is something that could be done anytime though. Ultimately you would need to find more people to lead. Great post.

  • My one little thought — Church leaders can source new leaders from their reliable network of connections and close acquaintances. Many times, referrals bring in the best resources into a team.

  • Carlos Rizzon says:

    Ron that's a great insight and I heard something similar from a Brazilian pastor years ago from a Brazilian Church in Florida when a told them that instead of bringing somebody from Brazil they should get somebody that were part of their church. The pastor told me that there were no one on their church to be the leader of the youth and I have to mention their church is a large church with 2000 members. I like what you have written and keep up the good work!