Developing vs. Stifling New Leaders in your Church

     I’ve never heard a pastor say, “I have more leaders than I know what to do with.”  Every pastor wishes that they had more leaders in their church.  But sometimes they unintentionally stifle the very leaders they wish for.
     Let’s take small group leaders as an example.  You wish you had more.  So, you start looking for the ideal candidate: a long-time Christian, someone you know and trust, excellent grasp of the Bible, great communication skills, and everybody’s best friend.  There’s no doubt about it, that person has the potential to be a great small group leader.  But how many people do you have like that in your church…who aren’t already serving in multiple places?  See the problem?  So, what can be done about it?
     You need to lower the bar.  Although your intentions are good, your high standards for leaders can keep new leaders from emerging in your church.  People can only become the dream leader described above through experience. When you lower the bar, you allow potential new leadership the opportunity to get their start and grow into the polished leader you desire.
     Before you stop reading in disgust that I would suggest a lower standard for leadership, let me make clear that I’m not saying drop the bar – just lower it.  I’m also not talking about senior leadership positions, but new “starter level” leaders.  
     So what should you look for in a potential new leader and how do you recruit them?  I will use small group leaders as my example, but you will be able to take these lessons and adapt them to other areas of leadership as well. 

Look for Minimum Qualities
What minimum qualities does a new small group leader really need to have to get started?  Basically, they need to:

  • Have a commitment to Jesus Christ and a commitment to growing in their faith as evidenced by a good character. 
  • Be committed to the ministry of the church. 
  • Have experience participating in a small group (but not years, one year could be enough). 
  • Have basic biblical knowledge (the key word is “basic.” They don’t need a thorough knowledge of the Bible if they have small group Bible studies to use and if they know where to go to find answers.  You can help equip them with both those things.  Leading a small group is one of the most effective ways to get motivated to learn more Bible.). 
  • Be friendly, but they don’t have to be extraverts.  (I’ve seen introverts make great small group leaders.  They attract all the other shy people who are intimidated by the extraverts.) 
  • Be able to read a question from a study guide and encourage people to give an answer. 

     That’s about as high as the bar needs to be set to let someone get started as a small group leader.  Once started, they’ll be able to grow into the polished leader you’ll love having in your church.  So, as you look for new leaders, identify the basic qualities that are needed, rather than the ideal qualities; that way you’ll be less likely to stifle leadership development in your church.

Recruiting New Leaders
How do you recruit potential leaders?  I suggest you do the following:

  • Create a picture of the difference they can make and why the area of ministry you are recruiting them for is so vital to the bigger mission of the church.  People will commit themselves to what they see as valuable.
  • Address their fears.  Let them know the bar isn’t set too high for them.  They don’t need to be a scholar.  They just need to know the basics and have a hunger to learn.  They don’t need to be everyone’s best friend, just friendly.
  • Let them know they have support.  Think through what you will be able to provide in terms of training, resources, and oversight to help them succeed.  This is a critical area.  The more support you can provide, the more willing they’ll be to risk being a leader and the more likely they’ll succeed.  For small group leaders this means, offering basic training, pointing them to (or providing) good, easy-to-use studies, and checking in with them periodically.
  • Give them, and yourself, permission to fail.  This one hurts.  You’d rather not see failure anywhere in your ministry, but the reality is that not everyone will succeed.  You’ll stifle the emergence of leaders at the beginning leadership level by trying to pick only those people you are confident can’t fail.  That will scare some people away from getting started and it will prevent others from becoming the “diamond in the rough” who blossom against all odds. 
  • This means you need to take some risks on people that may not seem like ideal candidates.  God constantly surprises me.  Time and again I have seen people, who I thought were less than ideal candidates, become really effective small group leaders. 
  • This also means you need provide an environment of grace that will allow potential leaders to risk leadership.  In recruiting small group leaders I tell them up front that there is no guarantee that people will flock to their group.  All I ask is that they take a step of faith, take a risk, and then trust the results to God.  If a group doesn’t come together, it doesn’t mean they failed, it suggests that God has a different plan for them.

 I hope you have found this article helpful as you seek to raise up new leaders in your church this year.  At we offer a number of articles that can help you train and develop your small group leaders as well as excellent, easy-to-use small group Bible studies that will create stimulating and transforming small group experiences.  If you know someone who will be helped by this article please share it with them.  And add to the conversation, your comments are welcomed.

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