Most congregations dramatically underutilize their leadership gifts. Stagnation of the leadership circle is neither healthy nor inevitable, and it does little to encourage the creativity that moves us toward God. Here are some ideas for expanding your leadership circle.

Reflect on the Current Leadership

Begin with the current leaders. Reflection on church leadership is often left to a nominating committee, but there is work that precedes recruitment. Take your current leaders on a one-day prayer retreat built around the following three inquiries.

  1. First, ask the leaders to reflect on what serving as a congregational leader has meant to them. Has it changed their lives? Why do they do it? What skills did they come with? What skills did they need? How would being a congregational leader enrich someone else’s spiritual journey? How can current leaders share what their service means to them with the congregation and let members of the congregation know what they need from them?
  2. Next, consider the leadership circle. Who is included? Who is missing? Look to see how well the genders and various age groups, viewpoints, and ethnicities are represented among the current leadership, as well as length of membership and ways of living one’s faith.
  3. Lastly, use your findings to create a plan to expand the leadership circle. Consider, for instance, what avenues the congregation provides for education and enrollment into leadership roles and who is best positioned to do this work or needs to be positioned to do this work.

Make Leadership Visible

Keep in mind that people will not volunteer for what is invisible to them. When church school teachers talk and write about why they find spiritual renewal in a class of second graders, more people sign up to teach. When clergy speak about what is sustaining in ministry, others consider their call. When congregational leaders make visible ways to be engaged in congregational life, people step up to leadership. So take some steps to increase the visibility of the congregation’s leadership: Publish testimony in the church’s newsletter about what it means to be a congregational leader, and include these testimonials and “how-to-get-involved” information in your newcomer packet. Ask congregational leaders to speak at new member classes, at church dinners, and at other gatherings, and encourage them to share the value of their leadership experiences in conversations with other members.

Clarify Your Invitation

Before inviting members to serve as leaders, clarify what it is you are asking of them. Why is this an important activity for them to be involved in? What is the vision or possibility for this leadership task? What will be different if there are excellent people leading? What important change will it make? Keep in mind that potential leaders will respond more positively if you provide them with a clear description of what the job has been in the past, how much of the leader’s time it took, and what the current goals are. They may choose to do it all differently, but without some framework it will be hard for them to say yes to a request to lead.

Support the New Leadership

Once you’ve found new leaders, take care of them. Provide them with a firm foundation through written guidelines and an orientation session, which provides a chance for leaders to meet one another, get a sense of who might partner on particular projects, and to share their hopes for their service. It’s also an opportunity to share the goals and focuses of the congregation as a whole.

In your written guidelines, consider covering topics such as how to monitor committee budget expenditures, how to keep the staff and the congregation in the loop, how to manage differences, and how to advertise a program for maximum participation.

Excellent leadership teams do not just happen, but with intention, coaching, support, and gratitude they can soar!

From the Spring 2005 issue of Congregations Copyright © 2005 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved. For permission to reproduce, go toour permission form.


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