John Maxwell has shared many times that everything stands or falls on leadership. I agree. However, not just any leader, but the right kinds of leaders invited to be on the team, and making sure that they are in the right seats that fit their competency and capacity. Carey Nieuwhof shares 7 ways to build teams of great leaders when you feel like your team is lacking.

Originally posted by Carey Nieuwhof

Ever done this: looked at other churches and organizations and thought to yourself “I wish I had their leaders?”

And then you look around your church and think…”But I don’t have leaders like that. And I have no idea how to get a great team to take us into the future.”

If you’ve thought that, you’re not alone. In a connected world, it’s easy to look at churches that have amazing leaders and then focus on the leaders you don’t have.

According to a survey I did of over 1400 senior church leaders, developing teams was their #1 pain point. They just don’t feel like they have enough great people.

Not having enough people and not having the right people also keeps your church from growing. It’s almost impossible to reach more people without the right teams.

This impacts church plants, existing churches, stuck churches and churches in transition alike. Not having enough team or the right team is a significant mission-inhibitor.

I can empathize.

I started ministry by pastoring three very small, declining churches with average attendances of 6, 14 and 23 (not making this up). Needless to say, they weren’t exactly overflowing with leaders. And none of the churches had grown in literally a generation.

I’ve also been in the scramble of a start-up church, launching locations and rapid growth. That’s another kind of pressure entirely, but again, you can easily get to a point where you feel like you don’t have enough leaders and you also need more leaders who can take you to the next level. But you just don’t see any.

While it can feel like all is lost in situations like that, it’s not.

Wherever you find yourself (and I’m guessing most of you lead churches or organizations larger than 6 people), you can find the future from where you are in the present. You have to. It’s the only way forward.

Great leaders don’t randomly assemble.

The reason your people aren’t like the people of the churches you admire is that you haven’t led them there.

Get on your knees, look in the mirror and start leading or find someone who can. When you lead with all diligence, you call something out in people that God planted within them. People who have lived ‘ordinarily’ can begin to live ‘extraordinarily’ under the right leadership.

So how do you do it?

Here are 7 keys.


As difficult as this may feel, you need to start where you are, not where you want to be.

Starting where you are means starting with who you currently have. I know, that’s difficult.

But too many leaders get lost in a world where they think they can’t do anything with their current situation. They focus on what they can’t control, which is terribly unwise.

Smart leaders focus on what they can control, not on what they can’t.

Building a team starts with who you have, not with who you don’t have. So look around and honestly assess who you have.

Resist the temptation to live in the imaginary land where you have different people, a different church and even a different you.

If you start where you are, you have a much better chance of getting where you want to be.


Believe it or not, you have leaders in your church. Maybe not Fortune 100 leaders or start-up entrepreneurs who are going to light the world on fire. Maybe not (yet) the kind of people that can lead great movements.

But you have leaders. I promise you, you do.

You know how you can tell who the leaders are? They’re leading something. Maybe they’re not leading at your church, but they’re leading somewhere.

They’re running a shift at the local coffee shop…and doing it well.

Maybe there’s a mom in your church who is running the whole neighborhood…the playgroups, organizing the moms and kids and getting play equipment installed at the local playground. She’s definitely a leader.

Or there’s a 21-year-old working a minimum wage job who keeps winning employee of the month at a big box store.

There’s a guy in your church running a small business or a woman who owns a thriving music studio.

Bottom line…look for the people who are leading something—who are leading anything.

How can you tell if they’re leaders? When you look behind them, good people are following.

These are the kinds of people who make things happen in life. And they’re the kind of people who can help make things happen in your church.

You’ve got one or two…engage them.


Just a point of clarification: the best leaders you have may not be on your board or on your current team.

So this conversation could be an awkward one. I get that.  One of the realities of small church life and stuck church life is that leaders don’t always end up in positions of leadership.

In smaller or stagnant churches, board positions and volunteer roles often aren’t always filled by people with the gift of leadership.

Often, they’re filled by people who have simply been around a long time, or by someone who didn’t even really want the job…it’s just nobody else stepped up.

Don’t blame them. It’s admirable in one sense that when nobody else wanted to do it, so some good-hearted soul stepped in to fill the void.

But here you are, a decade later and they’re still in the role, unable to handle the future.

You can build some side teams and fill new roles with the leaders you’re finding.

But at some point, you’ll have to have an awkward conversation with your existing leaders about who is best positioned to lead the church moving forward. It can be hard. I actually shot a video in my Breaking 200 Without Breaking You course for church boards to watch where I explain that some of them may need to step aside for the church to thrive in the future (seriously, I did. May as well make me the bad guy who tells them this. And besides, the healthy people will understand exactly what we’re talking about).

You have to build the church of the future in the present, and you do it by finding the best leaders you can find whether they’re officially in leadership or not.

As your church grows and pushes past 500 or 1,000 in attendance (which I know sounds impossible right now…hang on), one of the things that will happen is that leaders will take up positions of leadership.

And when that happens, the church will thrive.

But if you’re not there, start by getting real leaders into as many positions of leadership as possible, even if you need to create some new ones.


As your church grows, you may have a little money for the first time. The fantasy is that you’ll buy amazing talent from outside your church.

That may be a wise move from time to time, but for the most part, it isn’t.

You will never have enough money to buy a team. Besides, most of your church will always run on volunteers. First, it’s biblical. The job of the staff is to release and empower the gifts of the congregation (volunteers).

And second, no matter how large you may grow, even megachurches have the vast majority of their ministry done by volunteers, not by staff. You will never have enough staff to outperform a highly motivated, gifted core of volunteers.

Occasionally you may be able to hire a great leader from the outside, but 99% of your day to day leadership will come from building leaders on the inside.

And that’s the secret.

Great churches don’t buy great leaders, they build them.

Building leaders will always get you far more results than buying them. First, it scales.

And second, outside people take a long time to learn your DNA—your unique way of doing things. And the failure rate for an outside hire is always greater than for people who were raised up from the inside.


How do you attract the best people you have in your church, especially if you can’t pay them?

First, realize that great leaders aren’t attracted to stagnant, chaotic or dying environments. 

Even if that’s what you have now, you have to show them that’s not what you intend to have in the future.

The journey from where you are to where you will be always starts with vision.

Great leaders love a clear and compelling vision of the future.

If your vision isn’t clear and compelling, your future won’t be either.


Another awkward reality of small church is that you often have non-leaders leading, non-singers singing, non-musicians playing, non-communicators communicating and so on.

One of the dynamics you have to wrestle down is whether you value inclusion over excellence.

Most small churches choose inclusion, not excellence.

Someone auditions for the music team, but he can’t really play well. What do you do? A lot of leaders flinch. They can’t bear the thought of hurting someone, or of angering their friends, so they cave, even though he’s mediocre. 

Theologically, putting people in positions for which they’re not gifted is a denial of the diversity and giftedness of the body of Christ.

God designed some people to sing. Get them singing. He gave others the gift of rhythm. Get them drumming. He gave some the gift of leadership or communication. Get them leading and communicating.

You wouldn’t buy a cell phone designed by non-computer engineers, or bad computer engineers. You’re not going to get your heart operated on by a non-doctor. You want the best.

It’s a mistake to dismiss that as entertainment. It’s called gifting. And the body of Christ works best on gifting.

And the people who want to do what they’re not gifted at? Place them in the area of their gifts. Long term, they’ll be much more fulfilled and will be leading from their strengths, the way God actually designed them.


I don’t say this lightly. Often I get criticized by people for not putting ‘prayer, God and scripture’ into every post. But if I did, every post would sound the same.

I’m trying to point out the non-obvious, not the obvious. And prayer, God, and scripture should be the foundation of all you do as a Christian and as a church.

However, prayer deserves special mention when it comes to building the team that will carry you into the future.

I knew early on in the life of those little churches that if we were going to fully realize our mission, we needed a whole new set of skills and talents. Chief among them—musical talent.

And we didn’t have much.

So we started praying for guitarists and keyboardists and drummers, and amazingly, they started coming.

You may not get pro-musicians right away, but as we grew, we found more and more musically and creatively gifted people in the crowd and we moved them into leadership.

Now, I’m blown away by the talent we have.

Prayer was (and is) an essential ingredient.

Some leaders ignore the practical and focus on the spiritual. Others ignore the spiritual and focus on the practical.

The best leaders ignore neither.

If you don’t have enough leaders or the right leaders, make sure you pray for God to send more.

And then get to work with those you have.