Jerry Robertson is a real estate agent, motorcycle rider, and a cool guy. But let me tell you how everyone knows him. He leads the coffee ministry at 12Stone Church®.  Jerry wears a nametag that says “Chaplain of Caffeine.” Thousands of people get their caffeine fix at church and they love Jerry for it!  He recently lost a lot of weight and I asked him how he did it.  I leaned in and asked him in such a way that might suggest his answer would reveal a secret.  A secret that was powerful and well guarded, in fact, known only to Tibetan monks and a select few others.  Can you guess what he said?  “Well, I started eating less and exercising more, and I’ve been doing that for a long time.”  I almost felt like he was holding out on me!  But there is no secret to weight loss. It’s always the same, burn more calories than you consume, and you will lose weight – get up the next day, press repeat.

Pastors and church leaders ask me every week about the secret to church growth. They don’t always use that word, but they are asking for the “insider scoop” that apparently no one else knows.  When Outreach Magazine named 12Stone Church the fastest growing church in America in 2010 our phones rang even more. I remember meeting with a pastor in our coffee shop.  He leaned over, then looked over both shoulders, as if he was going to slip me some money and I would slide him “the good stuff.”  He had that look of – I want the secret. He asked: “OK, for real, what are you doing to cause this growth?” (There’s got to be a secret.)

I said to the pastor, I know you understand this, but this is all God’s doing. It’s His power, favor and anointing.  His response: “Yeah, Yeah, I know.  Now, what are you guys doing?” He had that look like I was holding out on him. I said: “Nothing different.”  I thought he would get up and walk out on me.  I said: “Really! Let me explain.”  “It’s NOT a secret!!” The problem is that many churches behave as if it’s a secret.

There are only three things that consistently drive any church forward.

  1. Prayer (This is about spiritual intensity and includes the worship service.)
  2. Evangelism (This involves reaching people who are far from God.)
  3. Leadership Development  (This is specifically about systematically raising up new leaders.)

There are a multitude of variations that impact, as I call them, The Big Three.  Things such as your church’s DNA and culture, the city where you are located, your history, the gifting of the pastor and the list goes on. But regardless of the size of the church, the essence of The Big Three doesn’t change. They just get more complicated as a church gets larger.

The curious thing is that as I consult with churches I find these three areas among the weakest in what they practice consistently.  Or for those who do them, it’s often program oriented rather than in the culture, organic and Spirit driven.

Leadership development is consistently the weakest of the big three in most churches. So, for the remainder of this article, I’d like to make that my focus. Candidly, I think some churches want “the secret” more than the practical truth. A secret carries the promise of something easy, like a new fad diet. The truth involves discipline and grind just like a real diet. You never escape the reality of “get up the next day and do it again.”

  • Good leadership is different than leadership development.

You can be a good leader and yet not develop other leaders.  You may be highly gifted, have a winning personality and be effective at what you do. But your church or organization will never grow beyond what you can personally carry if you don’t invest in and raise up other competent leaders.

If you don’t develop other leaders to help further the mission, you become the lid. Everyone has limits. Whether you are the pastor, CEO, or a department leader, your productivity will eventually stall out as you hit the ceiling of what you can do. When you develop other leaders you multiply, expand, and increase your potential.

Let me be candid. It takes more energy to develop other leaders than to develop yourself. That’s why so many leaders don’t do it. You are under pressure to make things happen and get things done. Your first instinct is “just do it” and you think, “I don’t have time” to develop others. Resist that instinct and commit to invest in your team!

  • It’s essential that you continue to grow as a leader.

How are you growing as a leader? What specifically are you working on so that you are a better leader? I mentioned that it takes more energy to develop others than to develop yourself, but it’s no small feat to improve as a leader.  And to be good at developing leaders, you must continue to grow yourself.

You first need to be self aware enough to know where you need to improve. Then you need to be willing to pay the price and dig in.  In most cases you need a coach. You need someone to tell you the truth, give you wisdom, and encourage you along the way. You don’t need to meet with this person as often as you might think. In fact, you could meet with a great coach 3-4 times a year for 2-3 hours of process and that’s it. It will usually take you several months to practice what you talked about in your coaching session. If you have multiple coaches, ones who cover different areas of your life, you can literally meet with each one only 2-3 times a year!  There are good coaches who meet much more often and that’s OK, but know that it’s not always necessary.

  • Focus on simplicity and consistency.

Let me leave you with a practical plan to get started developing others. First let me say that development is different than equipping.  Equipping involves training people for competence in a specific ministry task.  For example, training people in your children’s ministry so they know how to lead a child to Christ, or training your small group leaders so they know how to lead effective small group discussion.  Developing is investing in people so that they are “bigger, better and stronger people” regardless of what they do. There are two primary platforms for development – spiritual life and leadership.  Spiritual leadership is the ultimate outcome.

It’s important that you keep your plan simple.  Without simplicity it’s not likely that you will maintain consistency.  If, under the pressure of getting your work done, you falter in consistency or quit developing altogether, you will never realize the powerful long-term impact of leadership development. This is a lifelong investment, not just a weekend experience or one time conference.

So, start here. Choose a good leadership book. There are dozens to pick from. If you aren’t sure where to start, pick up The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell or The Truth about Leadership, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, or Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley.  All three of these are excellent books to train leaders with.

Then select the group you want to develop. Ideally, choose between 3 and 9 people to meet with once a month.  You can have a larger group, but the dynamic will change substantially with a larger group. Assign a section of the book and when you meet, do two things. 1. Discuss what you are learning.  2. Discuss how you are applying what you are learning. That’s it. It’s that simple. Yes, there is more you can do, but don’t rush to complicate it. Keep it simple and gain consistency before you make it more involved.

My prayer is that you jump in and go for it!  You won’t be disappointed at the results!