Jan 16, 2001

From the Archives

Unleashing the Church Through Lay Leadership

Moses and his team of leaders directed the people of Israel in their circuitous march toward the Promised Land. Joshua helped the people of Israel take possession of that land in the company of a team of gifted leaders. The Apostle Paul always traveled with a team of leaders who directed his itinerant ministry. Even Jesus devoted Himself to creating teams of leaders who would serve the kingdom through interdependent leadership. “Why is it, then, that Christian churches in America have majored on solo-based, rather than team-based leadership?” asks George Barna. This is just one of the leadership questions Barna addresses in his new book, The Power of Team Leadership, and in a seminar that will take the California-based author and researcher to 45 markets across the nation within the next ten months.

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The book draws upon extensive nationwide research conducted by Barna during the past two years as he attempted to discover the appropriate role of leadership teams in church ministry. One of the key conclusions, which resulted in the new book, is that lay leaders are not being adequately used in church leadership, and that those churches which partner small groups of lay persons who have complementary leadership skills – i.e. leadership teams – experience the most dramatic ministry outcomes.

Identifying the Need

Barna’s research found that most pastors do not view themselves as being called or gifted as leaders. His recent national survey of pastors revealed that less than one-quarter of them believe they are leaders; most say they have been gifted to teach and preach. That self-image affects the tasks pastors embrace and the energy they devote to leading the church.

The study also discovered that only one out of every ten churches has viable teams leading the church’s ministry. Although one might assume that a pastor who is a leader would be more likely to rely upon leadership teams than would pastors who are not leaders, the opposite is true. Pastors who are leaders are somewhat less likely to use team leadership than are other pastors, striving to provide all of the leadership by themselves or appointing other individuals with leadership capacity to supplement their own efforts.

The value of leadership teams was demonstrated in a variety of churches studied by Barna that rely upon teams rather than gifted individuals working alone. Among the benefits of using lay teams are reduced dependence upon the pastor; elimination of the need for leaders to be broadly skilled superheroes; diminished stress experienced by leaders; and heightened synergy. Barna also noted that teams provide a means of reducing leader burnout, which is a substantial problem in most churches.

Why Teams Work Well

Churches that use lay leadership teams are more likely to experience a broader base of changed lives as a result of the church’s ministry, according to Barna. “The bottom line in ministry is whether people accept Jesus Christ as their savior, and how devoted they are to becoming more Christ-like. Lay leadership teams facilitate such commitments and the resulting life change because the church becomes more ministry-minded but less dependent upon the pastor, it releases a greater wealth of gifts and talents through the lay leaders God brought to the church, and the church’s ministry vision becomes more central to the daily operations of the ministry.”

The ideal scenario, according to Barna, is when the leadership team combines four different types of leaders: a visionary motivator, a strategic decision-maker, a team-builder who mobilizes people around vision and tasks, and one who oversees the operational aspects of the team’s work. Working as a close-knit unit, such a partnership maximizes individual capabilities while compensating for individual weaknesses.

Making the change to a team-based ministry is not simple. “It may take two or three years to complete the transition from solo-based leadership to team-based lay-driven leadership,” explained Barna. “The church’s culture must change, people must understand and own the change, key leaders have to model the practice, and the implementation has to be carefully constructed to facilitate effectiveness. The church must have a well-conceived strategic plan for making that transition – and the patience to allow the plan to work. I found that internal politics, the fear of change, congregational impatience, and pastoral resistance have undermined the process in many churches. Those ministries that gave completed the transition, however, have been transformed by the shift in leadership. In some cases it has truly saved the ministry of the Senior Pastor who, not being a leader, was constantly frustrated by the demands of leading a church, but who was freed to support church leaders through teaching and preaching once leadership teams were in place.”

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Books Related to a Seminar

The Power of Team Leadership is the third in the trio of books Barna wrote last summer that relate to the nationwide seminar tour that he began in September, and which continues through November of 2001. In the seminar, Barna describes new research related to four topics of concern to church leaders: ministry to the unchurched, effective discipleship, building teams among lay leaders, and evaluating the success of a church’s ministry. The previous books related to the unchurched population and models for effective discipleship. (You can learn more about both of these books, Grow Your Church From the Outside In and Growing True Disciples, by clicking the links.)

The Power of Team Leadership, can be ordered online through this website.

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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