Leadership pipeline development in churches isn’t a new fad or trend that only applies to multi-site or church planting contexts. A church’s leadership pipeline cultivates the God-given spiritual gifts and abilities each person has. It requires a redesign or reorganization of ministry roles, in order to not only accomplish ministry goals but also intentionally develop ministry partners. Are there challenges to developing a leadership pipeline? Sure. But the benefits far outweigh the challenges of implementing these steps to building a leadership pipeline in your church.

Does your church need a better process and plan for developing and multiplying disciples at all levels? If you are like most churches, you could benefit from a clear system that embraces leadership design and gives structure to leadership development.

The following 6 steps to building a leadership pipeline in your church will give you conceptual clarity, in order to cultivate the soil of leadership development and to drive a culture of execution.

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6 Steps to Building a Leadership Pipeline in Your Church

1) Cultivate the Mindset that Leaders Must Equip and Train

To see a change in praxis, you must start with a change in thinking. Intentional leader development involves a shift in thinking from a “doing” mindset to a development mindset, in order to accomplish your goals. Simply put: people matter as much, if not more, than production. You and those you lead must adopt an “equip and train” ethos, in lieu of the same people doing, hiring, and withholding responsibilities. To get started: begin implementing these “10 Ways Church Leaders Create a Culture of Equipping and Training.”

2) Define the Healthy Patterns Church Leaders Need to Adopt for Their Ministry

Church leaders establish patterns that facilitate or debilitate their ministry. What are the patterns that need a shift in your church? One common pattern is falling into the allure of hero mentality by teaching more than necessary, serving as the trainer for too many ministries, and allowing a culture of lowered ministry ceilings for volunteers. When this happens, lay leaders may do a few things, but are held back from increased responsibility out of fear of it being “something for one of the pastors.”

While coaching a pastor in New York recently, he shared the heavy burden of have to get innumerable things done, because of a lack of help. After participating in a leadership pipeline lab, he came to the conclusion that his problem wasn’t a volunteer problem. His unhealthy pattern of jumping in to “take care of things” without considering others or asking someone else to lead had led him to near burnout, frustration, and isolation from his staff and lay church leaders. He began shifting his debilitating ministry pattern from “taking care of business” to first identifying another leader to either take care of a need or to find someone else who would. Remember that ministry in the church is not just for the pastors.

3) Identify the Personnel Who Will Facilitate the Steps to Building a Leadership Pipeline in Your Church

You can’t have a leadership pipeline in your church without the leaders to oversee it, coaches to ensure leader growth, and mentors to disciple emerging leaders as they get their feet wet.

Who do you have in these roles? Who needs to move into these roles? Who could take on greater or different responsibilities, in order to better use their gifts and free up service opportunities for others? People won’t move “up” or “down” the church leadership pipeline without guidance, support, and clarity of how to do so.

4) Cultivate Coaching Positions and Provide Coaching Training to Ensure Development

Rarely do churches utilize people gifted in coaching. Coaching usually sounds odd in a church context. Why is it that we haven’t integrated coaching skills and roles into the church for discipleship? Who is someone that enjoys developing people, but lacks the coaching skills? How do you plan to get them the training they need?

You will likely find a need for educating others in the “why” of coaching, how it fits into your church’s ministry, and clarification of who will lead the effort. People gather experiences and insight when “doing” things; however when they receive coaching they can better assess, clarify, and develop. Make sure you have some form of coaching as a part of your leadership development plan.

5) Clarify the Proficiencies or Competencies Needed at Each Level of the Church’s Leadership Pipeline

At each level of your leadership pipeline, make sure you define the proficiencies or competencies needed for those roles. You will need to clearly communicate these guidelines to others, otherwise your people won’t know how to move “up” and your leaders, trainers, mentors, and coaches won’t know what’s required.

This can lead to great confusion as different leaders will approach things with different criteria and assumptions. What should your leaders be proficient in to move to the next level? How will you assess their competence? How often will you do so? Make sure you are consistent and clear, so your leadership is all on the same page.

6) Align Activities and Measures to Prioritize Leader Development and Achieving the Desired Ends

We often find that various ministries within the churches we serve lack alignment with the rest of the church. Delineate the levels of leadership across the different ministries in a consistent way to allow for alignment, cross-functional teams, and congruent progression forward.

Do the activities in each area and level contribute to the development of the same or similar competencies? When you measure development of competencies, you prioritize growth before results. When you prioritize growth, you develop maturing leaders and disciple makers who will see heightened results. If your priority is “doing” above developing, the focus becomes overly task-centric and potential leaders tend to lose opportunities they could have had if they were intentionally developed.

Which of these 6 steps to building a leadership pipeline in your church do you need to focus on this week/month? As you read the six steps above, you probably found a few of them more difficult than others. That is normal. In fact, many church leaders that our church consulting team has worked with start at #1 (cultivating the equip and train mindset). They find their church lacks the necessary theological and conceptual framework to begin an intentional process of people development with a solid church-wide leadership pipeline. Don’t let the size of the task ahead deter you from planning, communicating, and cultivating your leadership pipeline.

If you would like to speak with a member of our team about how our leadership pipeline labs might get things started at your church, complete the quick church profile below. While we may serve as the pipeline architects, our goal is to utilize the knowledge and pastoral experience of our church consulting firm to help you and your team discern what makes not only your leaders, but also your entire church unique. We collaborate with you and your leaders to craft a customized plan for taking everyone through the steps to building a leadership pipeline in your church. We find that it brings critical clarity to your leadership development, discipleship pathway, and overall church vision. Remember, as clarity increases, you maximize execution towards people development and missional measures.

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Brad Bridges is the Vice President of the Malphurs Group, the premier boutique church consulting firm. He is a leadership coach and strategy consultant at the Malphurs Group, blogger at bradbridges.net, husband to Lindsey, and father of 3. Contact the Malphurs Group team for questions about church vision consulting, strategic operations planning, or to simply get to know our church consulting firm. | @bradbridges | Website