December 1, 2021

How to Find & Measure Leaders in Your Church – Episode 222 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

how to find and measure leaders

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Healthy Church by the Numbers (Part 3)

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“Churches in decline tend to have more people sitting in committee and board meetings talking about ministry. Healthy churches, on the other hand, tend to have more people in serving roles actually doing ministry.”

In Part 1 of our “Healthy Church by the Numbers” series, Amy and I walked through healthy numbers for staffing and salaries. Then, we discussed the “what” and the “how” of tracking your front door, connections, and discipleship. In the final episode of this series, we’ll unpack another key differentiator in church health: volunteer leaders.


Leadership can feel abstract and hard to measure. So this week, Amy and I will break down:

  • How to identify and define leadership
  • Why volunteer leadership can make or break church health
  • The best way to track leadership in your church (and why you should)
  • 5 next steps for empowering more leaders
It’s always easier to hire people to do ministry than it is to build volunteer teams to do ministry. [episode 222] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet If you want to see more people say yes to Jesus and experience life change, you need leaders more than you need money. [episode 222] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. It’s no surprise that the benchmarks for a healthy church are changing. During this podcast series, Tony and Amy have explored new financial, staffing, reach and discipleship metrics for the season that we’re in. On today’s podcast, we wrap up our series by exploring the health of a couple of metrics not often monitored: boards and leadership. Before you listen today, though, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes in your email. Each week, you’re going to get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including the leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to and subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy as we wrap up our series on Healthy Churches by the Numbers.

Amy (00:57):

Well, over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about new benchmarks for a new season of ministry, and Tony, before we jump into today’s topic, why is it so important for churches to do this right now?

Tony (01:08):

Well, I think bottom line, it’s just not helpful right now to be comparing where we are today with where we were two years ago before the pandemic. I mean, this is a new day, and whether you realize it or not, you’re leading a new church. And we need to set new baselines for our ministries and begin to move forward from here. And so, rather than trying to get people to come back, people who haven’t been back in two years by the way, we need to focus on reaching new people and helping those folks who are back to take their next steps towards Jesus. And Amy, I don’t know. I think you’ve been on the road, too. I mean, I’ve been working in just recent weeks with churches in Texas and London in the UK and the West Coast and a denomination on the East Coast. And I think ministries are finally starting to realize this is a new day. We need to look at this as being our church, and we need to figure out from here how do we reach new people and how do we help people that are connected to our ministry take their next steps towards Jesus. So I’m encouraged. I think churches are finally starting to turn the corner in their mindset at least. So I’m looking forward to what the future is going to bring for us as a team as we help churches take those next steps but also for the pastors and church leaders that are listening today. And in recent weeks, related to this, we’ve talked about benchmarks for finances, for staffing, for our reach ministries, for discipleship strategies. And I’m looking forward to our conversation today, as well, Amy,

Amy (02:46):

Well, today, we’re going to talk about healthy numbers related to church leadership, and Tony, it sounds like you’d like to break this conversation into two segments with the first segment here focused on leadership boards and committees. So is church governance really that important to the future health of churches? And specifically, why is it important for this current season?

Tony (03:05):

Yeah. So let me respond to your first question. Yes, we have found governance structure really does matter. In fact, what we’ve seen is churches in decline have 40% larger boards than healthy churches, and they have twice as many committees as healthy churches. So if you’re wondering, you know, why are we experiencing a plateau? Why are we not seeing any life change? Why are we actually seeing a decline in our ministry? Well, one of those factors may actually be your governance structure. Churches in decline tend to have more people sitting in committee meetings, board meetings and talking about ministry. And healthy churches, on the other hand, tend to mobilize more people into serving roles and actually doing ministry. And so that’s one of the key differences we find between healthy churches and stuck churches. Now, let me respond to your second question. You ask, why is it so important for this current season? And I think the challenge here is when more people are involved in decision-making, it actually creates more complexity and slows down the decision-making process. So the more people that have a voice in decisions, generally, when that happens, churches tend to avoid making the necessary changes so that no one gets upset. And the challenge, of course, is that sometimes the decision that God wants us to make isn’t necessarily the most popular decision among the people in our congregation. In fact, many times, the 99 sheep who aren’t lost and frankly are very comfortable with their own circumstances aren’t very inclined to vote for trying to find that one sheep who did take a wrong term somewhere in the past and is lost. And frankly, the 99 often think, “Now that that one sheep isn’t around, there’s more food for me. So that’s a good thing.” So, given the disruptions we’ve experienced in the last couple of years, now isn’t the time to preserve the status quo. If our ministry strategies weren’t working in 2019, if people weren’t saying yes to Jesus a couple of years ago, going through the pandemic certainly isn’t going to magically help churches drift back to health. And so bottom line here is we need to make some decisions that will very likely involve change. And because of that, getting the governance, getting the structure right, is going to help us begin to take steps in a healthy direction.

Amy (05:48):

Yeah. And as you were talking about that, I was thinking, you know, most boards or committees, they’re always trying to get to consensus, and a consensus decision, right, takes a long time. Because you’re not saying, I mean, we like to have voices, right. That brings wisdom into decision-making, but you need to allow these pastors to make some decisions and get input but not create that complexity through consensus.

Tony (06:11):

Yeah, absolutely. So let me give you a perfect example. One of the churches I was at recently, new pastor came in, I think it was six or seven years ago, and he said, “Tony, I walked into this place. Everything was painted beige.” And I thought, “Well, that’s what happens when you get a lot of people involved in a building committee and designing facilities and then choosing how we’re going to decorate. You don’t get people thinking about the extremes, if you will, of the color palette. You get beige.” And unfortunately, that’s kind of an illustration of what we see in churches is when you get too many people involved in making critical decisions about ministry direction, you get beige.

Amy (06:55):

That’s right. Well said. Alright, let’s go on to the second part of the conversation. This has to do with tracking ministry leaders in our church. So let’s begin by addressing the question everyone always asks us, Tony: what’s a leader, and who should we count for this benchmark?

Tony (07:09):

Yeah. So let me say that you know, being on a board or committee doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is a leader. Many times it just means they have a vote, and you’ll have to ask the question, “Do our board and committee members really lead other people to engage the church’s mission and help people take their next steps towards Jesus?” And if the answer to that is yes, then yeah, we should count them as leaders in the church. But if all they’re doing is talking about ministry and then periodically voting on a decision, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re leading other people, especially leading people in a discipleship journey to take their next steps towards Christ. But that’s the defining metric. Is the person in a role where they’re actually leading other people? And so, because of that, I would say with some ministry teams, there are people that are in leadership functions with that team that are helping the team actually accomplish the church’s mission. And then on that team are team members that are actually doing ministry. They’re engaging the mission. But those team members aren’t the leaders. Likewise, in small groups, home groups, very likely there is a leader of that group. It may be a husband and wife. It may be a couple that are leaders of that group. And then there are also a lot of people probably that are participating in that home group. There are group members. And so we should start tracking the number of people that are leading a group like that and having influence and other people’s spiritual journeys. And then I think there are also leaders of leaders in our ministry. Sometimes I’ve heard churches call these folks coaches or directors or even pastors. But the key here is that we need to start tracking as ministries, the people that are leading other people in our churches, whether that’s a ministry team or some part of our discipleship process. And again, good example of that might be leading a small group. And the distinguishing thing here is we need to start counting those folks that are volunteer leaders in our church, not the folks that we’re paying to be on our staff teams. And yes, there are some paid staff that also function in leadership roles. But the key here is that we need to start looking at the volunteer leaders in our church, the lay leaders in our church. And hopefully, by the way, you’re also hiring staff who are high-capacity leaders. But this metric that I’m talking about in this segment is really more about the volunteer leaders that your staff is equipping and empowering to engage your mission. And the other key here is only count people who are actually engaging in a relationship with others and not just sharing content with others. In other words, teachers may or may not be leaders. I mean, it’s very possible to teach a class, to teach content without actually leading other people in that class. So, hopefully, that helps clear up the question, Amy, because you’re right, we get that question many times.

Amy (10:24):

All the time.

Tony (10:24):

“If we’re going to start counting leaders, what’s a leader?”

Amy (10:28):

Well, I’ve heard you say that this benchmark, the number of volunteer leaders that we have at our church, may be one of the biggest differentiators between healthy and stuck churches. Just explain that. Tell us a little bit more about that. Why do you say that?

Tony (10:40):

Yeah. And that’s why it’s so critical to monitor this benchmark so closely, Amy. Healthy churches we have found have about one lay leader, again think team leader or a group leader, one lay leader for every 10 people in attendance at their churches. On the other hand, declining churches have about one lay leader for every 20 people in attendance in their churches. And so, healthy churches have about twice as many lay leaders as declining churches. And so what I think that tells us, of course, is the smaller the span of care in our ministries, the healthier the ministry. And frankly, this is one of the primary reasons why many times large churches tend to get stuck around this. Rather than hiring high-capacity leaders who know how to identify, equip and empower other leaders, volunteer leaders in the ministry, larger churches sometimes gravitate towards just hiring more and more staff to assume leadership roles that previously were handled by lay leaders. And then, because it’s always easier to hire people to do ministry than it is to build volunteer teams to do ministry, the staff team just continues to grow. And then, over time, you end up with lay people who are consuming the ministry that the paid staff is doing. And in case you’re wondering, that doesn’t end well.

Amy (12:08):

Yeah, what I’ve seen there is that the church then actually can take on this mindset of, “Do church the way I like it. That’s why I’m giving my money so that we can hire people to do ministry the way that I want it.” Right?

Tony (12:22):

It could be. And maybe Paul, the apostle Paul, was foreseeing the future. And that’s why probably he advocated so strongly for pastors and teachers to be equipping the saints to do God’s work. But for this benchmark to really help you, and again, this is one of the most critical benchmarks, I think, when it comes to looking at the overall health of your ministry, you need to know how many leaders are actually leading other people in your church. And so this is something you should be tracking in your database. Just like you track people that are connected to volunteer teams to small groups and just like you track people’s giving to the church, you should also be tracking the number of leaders you have in the church. And so, you know, this is going to sound probably very basic, but as you’re tracking ministry teams and, you know, small groups in your church and other ministries of your church, you should not only indicate who is connected to what team or what group, but you should also identify in your database what role they have in the team or group. So, as an example, is this person a team member or are they a team leader? We should identify that in our database. Is this person a group member or a group leader? We should also identify that. And then, what we can do is over time we can monitor the number of leaders in our ministry and the number of group leaders and so on. And we can compare that just like we do group participation and serving engagement and try to monitor this key metric over time. We need to monitor leadership like we monitor our giving, and that’s because actually the data indicates there’s a stronger correlation between the number of lay leaders that you empower and the overall health of your church when compared to the correlation between giving and church health. In other words, if you want to see more people say yes to Jesus and experience life change, you need more leaders than you need more money.

Amy (14:32):

Well said. And you know, if some of our listeners might be challenged right now because maybe they’re not leveraging a lot of lay leaders in their ministry, and when I do staffing and structures, Tony, it’s common for me to challenge the team to actually whiteboard out, build your team with coaches in place with team leaders in place. And the easiest place to start is in your guest services or first impressions because you’ve got ushers, greeters, parking lot people. Well, start to build a one to 10 correlation there and find roles for team leaders. And, you know, when you find high-level leaders who want to get engaged because you have a role for them or a problem to solve, again, it just increases their engagement overall in the ministry of your church. You know, Tony, would I get asked all the time, I’m sure you do, too, is just, “How do we find more leaders?” It begs that question.

Tony (15:23):

It sure does. And by the way, I have had on occasion some churches recognize this as the most critical issue that we’re facing for the long-term health of our ministry. And they’ve kind of just cleared the deck and said, “Over the next 12 months, we are all going to focus on this one priority initiative.”

Amy (15:45):

That’s great.

Tony (15:45):

So that may be the first thing you need to consider is if you’re looking at your current data and recognizing we have a leadership shortage in our church right now, you might need to do the same thing, kind of clear the deck and just focus on this. Let me just rattle through, though, maybe some helpful advice when it comes to finding more leaders. I mean, first of all, although I’ve kind of downplayed in this episode, staff leadership because we’re focusing on lay leadership, you do have to hire leaders who know how to find leaders: folks that know how to identify, equip and empower other volunteer leaders. We need to focus on hiring those types of staff leaders. Second thing, we need to let leaders get shaped through relationships. So we need to get leaders around other leaders. I mean, this is where real leadership development happens. It’s not going to be through a curriculum. It’s not going to be through, you know, training sessions necessarily. It’s going to be when leaders get around other leaders—that’s when real development happens. A third suggestion, leaders need to learn to lead by leading. Did you catch all that, Amy?

Amy (17:00):

A lot of Ls there.

Tony (17:00):

Leaders need to learn to lead by leading. In other words, we need to learn how to empower leaders. We need to learn how to give leadership away. It’s always going to be uncomfortable, by the way. You will make some mistakes along the way. You may give leadership away too soon in some instances, but we have to learn how to give leadership away. Fourth idea, skip the bulletin or the platform announcement. What I’ve learned is potential leaders need a face-to-face challenge. We need to help them just hear firsthand how their leadership could potentially impact the overall mission and vision of where the church is going into the future. And lastly, let me just say this: leaders are more likely to say yes to a challenge before they will say yes to a position. In other words, leaders are problem solvers, and they love a new challenge. And so if we approach somebody about a potential leadership role, we should go to them, rather than describing, “This is what the position is.” We should go to them, explaining, “This is the challenge we’re facing; help us figure out a solution to this challenge.” And I guarantee you, if it’s a true leader, that’s going to be the hook. And if you can get them to join you to solve that problem in the long run, you’re going to increase the odds that they’ll also want to help you execute the solution. And that many times will include leading a team of people to see that solution actually implemented.

Amy (18:42):

That’s really well said, Tony. Well, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (18:46):

Yeah. So I want to double down, Amy, on the two benchmarks we talked about the last couple of weeks. Every church I’ve engaged with measures attendance and giving, but every church also needs to begin to measure new people, new contacts, people making themselves known to the church for the very first time. We need to start tracking, “Is our reach strategy working in addition to is our discipleship strategy working?” And then the second key metric, the one we just talked about today, we need to start measuring the number of leaders in our church: people who are leading other people in the mission God’s called us to. And I firmly believe as we begin to monitor those critical benchmarks over time, we’ll have better information to make better decisions about our ministry strategies going forward. And then let me add this. We’re trying to encourage as many churches as possible to take our vital signs assessment. And the reason why is we know many of you are trying to get a sense of how are other churches doing, especially now that we’re two years into the COVID pandemic. And so I want to encourage you check out at this free assessment that will help you not only learn where you are in your ministry, but also help you get a sense of where other churches are, as well.

Sean (20:15):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Like Tony said, don’t forget to access your free vital signs assessment by visiting At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. With every tool and process we develop, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. We’re here to help you get your church unstuck. You can start a conversation with us by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So, until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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