What I am about to share with you is the single most important church growth principle I have ever learned for senior pastors of churches under 1,000 in size. I call it Leadership Evangelism.
Leadership Evangelism is the process by which senior pastors single-handedly ignite a movement within their church that will cause it to double in size in three years or less.
Here’s a common occurrence:
A senior pastor leads a church that hasn’t grown in five years. Funding is tight. They have board members who don’t really get the larger vision. Their staff, if they have any staff, are underpaid, overworked, and just as frustrated as their leader. The senior pastor has tried everything to catalyze growth – drafting a new vision statement, tweaking the worship services, starting a new outreach program, trying to get people to invite their friends – all on top of working to the point of exhaustion. Yet, nothing to date has worked.
The majority of evangelical churches in English-speaking countries around the world are in this exact same boat.
“What would you do if you were me?” some have asked.
That’s when I tell them about Leadership Evangelism.
All senior pastor can lead their church to grow. Regardless of age. Regardless of education. Regardless of whether the pastor has the gift of leadership or the gift of evangelism or whatever “gift” they think they need to have, but lack.
Five Foundational Principles for Leadership Evangelism
There are five foundational principles one must understand before the process of Leadership Evangelism will make sense.
1. The Principle of Leadership Multiplication
The principle of leadership multiplication is as follows:
- Evangelize non-leaders and you add people to your church.
- Evangelize leaders and you add everyone under their influence to your church.
The first effort is simple addition.
The second is multiplication.
When you add non-leaders, your church grows one person at a time (while simultaneously dealing with a near 20 percent attrition rate every single year). This explains why most churches never grow. You keep adding people, but at a slower rate than they’re leaving.
When you add leaders, your church still grows one at a time, but soon after a leader begins attending they often bring a whole row with them.
Senior pastors have bought into the myth that only extroverts or people with the gift of evangelism bring newcomers. Not true. In my experience, leaders bring newcomers. Why? Because they are the only people in your church who have the most potential to affect wholesale change for dozens of people.
When a leader says “this is a product to buy,” the people they influence will buy it. In droves. When a leader says “this is the best little league to have your six-year-old join,” that’s where everyone in their office ends up joining. And when a leader makes it known that they’re attending your church, everyone with whom that leader has influence takes notice.
2. The Principle of Selection
To lead a church in growth, a senior pastor must spend a disproportionate amount of time with those with the greatest leadership skills, and delegate the rest to other leaders in the church.
When we look at Scripture we see three types of kingdom leaders:
A Leaders (leaders of leaders)
B Leaders (leaders of followers)
C Leaders (followers)
Every senior pastor has a limited number of A Leaders in a 10-mile radius of their church building. Your job is to find them, lead them to Christ, and deploy them into leadership in your church community.
A Leaders are leaders of other leaders. Who are the people most like Paul, Peter, Phoebe, James, or John in your area? Where do they work? Live? Play? These are the people you’re going after.
B Leaders are leaders of followers – these are the Barnabas types of people who can lead the John Marks in the pews, but not the apostle Peters of the world.
C Leaders are people who don’t like to lead anyone – think of John Mark or Martha. These are incredibly important servants in the Kingdom, but they wouldn’t want to be thrown into a leadership position for anything. We call them “leaders” because everyone must lead themselves, their kids, etc.
This isn’t some classification system I dreamed up out of thin air. We see this all over Scripture.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), there are those who have been given five talents (A Leaders), two talents (B Leaders), and one talent (C Leaders). In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23), there are those who hear the Word of God and produce 100 times (A Leaders), 60 times (B Leaders) and 30 times (C Leaders) what was sown in them. In 1 Timothy 3:3-7 the apostle Paul outlined the requirements for those who should be elders (A Leaders), then in 1 Timothy 3:8-10 those who should be deacons (B Leaders), and then addresses everyone else (C Leaders) throughout the rest of the letter.
While I recognize these categories are very rough equivalents, what is clear in Scripture is that God views people differently when it comes to their Kingdom leadership potential. This gives us the permission to do the same.
I’ve found that churches have roughly the same breakdown of leaders attending their services:
5 percent – A Leaders
15 percent – B Leaders
80 percent – C Leaders
That means if all things are equal, your church of 250 will have 12 A Leaders (including staff) who lead the remaining 95 percent of the attendees. We had 1,903 last Sunday, which means one would assume we have roughly 93 A Leaders.
Hopefully, you’re starting to see that the future growth of your church is to be found in finding and attracting more A Leaders, not getting your B and C Leaders to bring more B and C Leaders.
A Leaders can lead Bs and Cs, while Cs and Bs cannot lead A Leaders.
Quick question: where do senior pastors of stagnant churches spend the majority of their time? You guessed it: fielding endless requests for pastoral counseling and crisis management from the C Leaders in their church (80%). Care for these people must be delegated to the B Leaders (who in my experience make outstanding small group leaders).
C Leaders always demand your time, but rarely demand your vision.
3. The Principle of Going
If the Great Commission begins with Jesus commanding his followers to go, wouldn’t it make sense that the leader of a community of Jesus followers should spend a large chunk of their time “going” in order to help their body reach their full redemptive potential?
The Kingdom of God is fueled by movement, so when I find a senior pastor frustrated, depressed, and anxious because the church they serve isn’t growing, I know for certain it is because their rear has grown calloused instead of their feet.
When I say you have to “go” I literally mean getting up out of your seat, walking to your car, driving across town, walking into an Applebee’s, and having a conversation with the mayor of your city. Then doing the same thing with the superintendent of your school district, and then with the owner of that amazing pizza shop that everyone in your area loves.
Let’s call that a typical Tuesday.
Two days later you get up out of your seat and meet the president of the Rotary club for breakfast, then the CEO of your local YMCA for coffee, then your dentist for sushi, and then the chief of police for coffee at Starbucks.
We’ll call that a typical Thursday.
Jesus’ ministry in Mark’s gospel begins with Jesus going to Peter’s place of employment. Paul’s ministry in Corinth began by him going to Crispus’ workplace.
Why would we expect our ministries to have the same impact if we can’t look back on the last 90 days of our ministry and see countless examples of us doing the exact same thing as Jesus and Paul?
4. The Principle of Inverse Priorities
The reason I call this entire process “Leadership Evangelism” is because in a transient society we don’t have time to wait to begin leadership development until after someone becomes a Christian.
We see this principle operating in Jesus’ ministry.
When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he did not demand any “confession” of faith on their part until well later in their time together. Until that confession occurred, he focused on teaching and developing them as leaders.
In Matthew 4:18-19, for instance, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him, but it wasn’t until Matthew 16:15 that Jesus finally got around to asking them, “Oh yeah, I’ve meant to ask you. Do you have any idea who I am?”
Connecting with people and getting them to follow you, so to speak, is all about converting people to a relationship with you first, then slowly building up enough credibility to begin asking penetrating evangelistic questions.
In the interim, we focus on working with them to develop them into the best leaders possible, in part because that is something we know they’ll be interested in, but primarily because this is what Jesus did.
In churches committed to growing through conversion growth only (which hopefully you are), leadership development is always relational, and it always precedes confession.
There is no “class” that develops Kingdom leaders. Once someone is already a Kingdom leader, a class can be supplemental, but senior pastors of growing, outreach-focused churches know that classes do not cause leaders to develop.
5. The Principle of Suffering
The last principle is the most important.
Leadership Evangelism is a ton of work, and it is very difficult.
One reason is many pastors feel uneasy walking up to a lunch meeting with the most powerful and influential people in their region. I get that. I’ve felt that way before. You’ll get over that.
Another is because this is physically and emotionally demanding work, especially for pastors who are introverts like myself.
You must be organized because, as you’ll see in a minute, you are going to have to juggle a ton of names, details, dates, etc.
You must be persistent. You are going to be rejected; soundly sometimes. But keep in mind that many of the same people who reject you at first will become some of your best leaders down the road.
Finally, expect to be criticized by the C Leaders in your church for not paying enough attention to them. The 80 percent are loud and needy, not because they don’t love God, but because they are limited in vision. They are always the last ones to see the benefit of what you are about to do.
Leadership Evangelism – Step by Step
Here’s the step by step process for fully implementing Leadership Evangelism into your weekly rhythm.
Step 1: Identify the 100 Most Influential People in a 10 Mile Radius
In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons identified seven distinct streams of cultural influence:
Business (e.g., corporations, technology, advertising, commerce)
Media (e.g., publishing, television, internet)
Arts and Entertainment (e.g., film, music, sports, classical arts)
Social Sector (e.g., nonprofits and civic organizations, foundations)
Government (e.g., judicial, executive, and legislative branches, military)
Education (e.g., schools, sciences, medicine, research)
Church (e.g., churches, para-church and religious organizations)
What I want you to do is gather your staff and key leaders and come up with at least 20 names of people in each of those categories who live or work within a 10-mile radius of your church building (excluding “church” obviously). This will comprise your “Top 100 Community A Leaders” list.
Step 2: Identify the 100 Most Influential People in Your Church
Next, generate a list of the 100 most influential people in your church.
For some senior pastors, that number will be more than their entire church. I get that.
I’m not just talking about people who are already serving in some capacity. I’m also talking about the “sleepers” who lead in some capacity in the marketplace but aren’t actively involved.
Step 3: Keep Both Lists Before Your Eyes at All Times
For the next three years, you will be working on those two lists.
Keep them in front of your face, and get used to the idea that you will be opening those lists, refining them, removing names and adding others, for the next three years.
Preaching killer sermons, leading this effort of Leadership Evangelism, and delegating other responsibilities to staff and volunteers will take up 90 percent of your time every week.
Step 4: Clear Your Schedule for 10 Meetings Every Week
That’s ten meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
Remember, Mondays are blocked off for sermon writing. Fridays and Saturdays are your days off. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays will be blocked off for breakfasts, lunches, meetings at Starbucks, and drop-by appointments (except for your staff meeting and service design). Advance sermon planning will take place early in the morning on those days.
Remember when I said this would be all you would be doing for three years? I wasn’t kidding.
Step 5: Learn How to Become a World-Class Networker
As soon as you’re done with this article, I want you to buy, read, and then digest the single best book on relational networking in print: Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone.
Ferrazzi is not a Christian, but he is the only person I’ve read who understands what it is like for a senior pastor of a struggling church in Illinois to feel frustrated and not know how to start connecting with A Leaders in the community.
Trust me. Get the book, then eat the meat, and throw away the bones.
Yes, I know some of your practical ministry professors in seminary would balk at you learning how to “network,” but that mindset is why they’re still busy teaching emerging senior pastors how to lead stagnant churches.
FYI – If I were starting this fresh in a smaller church I would definitely get a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software program like Pipedrive to manage the details of these meetings. Here are the best CRM software choices out there right now.
Step 6: “Ping” 25 A Leaders from the Community Each Week
Let’s first start out with how to connect with A Leaders who don’t go to your church.
I want you to begin the practice of “pinging” 25 people a week from the “Top 100 Community A Leaders” list you brainstormed with your key leaders. No need to strategize whom to contact first. Just start.
Ferrazzi calls every attempt to reach out to someone you’re trying to connect with a ping – a text, email, or phone call is a ping.
You will reach out and ping 25 community leaders a week.
Why 25 pings?
It’s the law of large numbers. A certain percentage of people are going to blow you off, at least initially, so to fill up your schedule with 10 meetings a week, you’ll need to reach out to a lot of community leaders each week.
How To Contact A Leader You Don’t Personally Know
Here’s what I include in an email to an A Leader in the community I don’t know:
- First, I will introduce myself and reference either someone we both know in common or an issue that we both value.
- Second, I will ask them to meet for breakfast, lunch, or for coffee. I tell them that as a fellow community leader I want to pick their brain about how we can work together to make our community better (and hopefully help their business or institution in the process).
- Third, I will conveniently hint at how I could help their business or work effort. People are always tuned into WIIFM – What’s In It For Me? So, if that person is a pizza owner, I’ll talk about how I eat their pizza and also coach sports teams that could frequent their business. If they are a principal, I talk about how I know people in their schools and could provide insight that could help them.
I have about a 50 percent success rate getting people I don’t know to agree to breakfast, lunch, or coffee.
If they balk at a face-to-face meeting, I ask if I can stop by.
If they balk at a drop-in meeting, I put them on a “contact in three months” list.
If I am turned down outright, right after adding them to a “contact in three months” list I always send them something – a link, an article from the newspaper with a sticky note on it, a book, etc. I want them to know that I was taking them seriously and want to genuinely help them in some way.
Side Note: I never meet a woman for lunch in a restaurant. With the opposite sex, I always go to their place of employment, or we brown-bag it at the church office. I also alert certain staff that this is happening, as well as my wife.
Crank out all these emails early in the week so you’re not fielding emails on your days off. Be prepared for the back and forth you’ll have to go through to set up a time to meet. If you have an assistant, get that person all over this.
Cold-calling someone is tough, as anyone who has ever been in sales can attest.
My best piece of advice for meeting A Leaders you don’t know is to ask every A Leader you meet, “Whom do you know that I don’t know?”
One person will introduce you to another person, and then you’re off to the races. Ride that train until it comes to an end.
Step 7: Ping 25 A Leaders from Your Church Each Week
You will run out of A Leaders in the church well before you run out of ones in the community. The good news is you will work your church and community lists simultaneously.
There are two ways to set up meetings with the A Leaders connected to your church.
When I was your size, I carried a 3 x 5 card that showed my 10 open meeting slots available the following week and in between services approached anyone that looked, walked, or talked like a leader.
I’ve found it took three connections with a person in the hallways to get them to say yes.
The first time I met them I’d say, “Hey, I’d love to get together sometime,” but wouldn’t try to actually schedule something.
The second time I saw them, I’d say the same thing.
The third time I’d go in for the kill, get a yes, grab their contact information right then and there, and set up the meeting.
Pinging A Leaders from Church
The second way to meet with A Leaders from the church is to email them or call.
The approach for contacting them is the same as with the community leaders. Most will already feel a natural connection to you and want to meet.
The only difference is I ensure people I meet through church that the reason I want to meet with them has nothing to do with money.
Side Note: At this point, I don't care whether the A Leaders I meet in the church or community are Christians are not. To me “Leadership Evangelism” doesn’t end until a person is leading in the church I serve. If I meet an A Leader in the community who is a Christian, I don’t go any further with them. I thank them for their time and move on. But if I meet a new A Leader through our church (who came from another church), I recognize that while I’m committed to growing through conversion growth, God may have brought them to the church I serve for a reason, so I treat them the same way I would anyone else and take them through the process.
Step 8: Conduct an Initial Meeting
When I walk the anxious path leading from the car to the lobby of Applebee’s to meet this person for lunch, I have a pre-determined outline for how I want the conversation to go.
It’s called F-O-R-M:
F Family – Tell me about your family? How long have you lived here?
O Occupation – Why did you get into what you’re doing?
R Religion – What is your spiritual background?
M Mission – Why do you do what you do? What makes you tick?
Whether they are a church-generated lead or someone I contacted out from the community, the first 75 percent of the conversation is always the same.
The last 25 percent depends on how I initiated the meeting.
For the last 25% of the meeting with the people I meet through the church, I pull out a pen and draw the bridge. You’ve seen this a million times.
I’ll say, “Hey, I don’t know if anyone has ever shared this with you, but let me talk for a bit about the big idea of Christianity and ask you where you fit into it.”
I grab the person’s napkin and draw “You” on the left and “God” on the right (Yes I always have a pen in my pocket). Then I create a barrier between them. I talk about how human sin created that gulf, and because God is holy, our sins must be punished. I write the word “Hell” on the bottom of the page. Then I explain that since God is also love, he sent his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay the penalty of Hell (as I put a big X over the word “Hell”). The cross becomes (I draw the cross between “You” and “God”) a bridge over which we can find our way back to God.
Then I talk about what it takes to become a Christian, and then hand them the pen and ask them to place an “X” where they are right now – all the way to the left or all the way to the right (on God’s side).
Humorously, most put an “X” in the middle.
I laugh and explain why that’s an impossibility.
Then I ask the single most important question you’ll ever ask one of these A Leaders: what is preventing you from getting over to God’s side?
Once you get their answer, you’re off to the races!
The next six months, two years, or maybe even six, will be spent identifying and knocking down one barrier after another until they accept Christ and grow into full devotion as a leader.
You obviously aren’t going to draw the bridge with someone you just met who is the superintendent of the school district.
At least not at the first lunch.
Instead of drawing the bridge, the last 25 percent of the conversation will be spent asking for their opinion on how you can better serve the community.
Pick their brain.
Ask them hard questions.
Ask them why they don’t move away, why they love the area, or what problem points and people to be aware of.
Get the inside scoop from someone who knows the area.
Step 9: Give Them Homework
It is at this point that I always give them homework, regardless of whether or not they are a Christian.
What I mean by “homework” is I want to give them something to read which will give me an opportunity to circle back and meet with them again. This is essential.
I usually assign, so to speak, two types of homework.
Homework Assignment #1: Myers-Briggs Personality Test
I always send everyone I meet a link to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Then I ask them to send me their four-letter score. I tell them that I have a resource I’d love to send them that will help them understand how they can become a better leader based on an accurate understanding of how they are wired.
In fact, at some point earlier in the conversation I always ask, “Hey, are you an introvert? An extrovert? Are you a thinker or feeler on the Myers-Briggs?”
I pepper the conversation with these kinds of comments for two reasons.
One, it sets the stage for the end of the conversation for when I’ll ask them to take the test. Which means I’ll need their email address. When they email me their score, I direct them to a chapter that outlines their personality type from either Working Together by Olaf Isachsen or Type Talk at Work by Otto Kroeger.
Two, nothing enables an unchurched man to start looking inward like wanting to know more about how he’s wired. This is like pre-pre-pre-evangelism.
I know I’ve hit the emotional jackpot if I can get the guy to get his wife to take the test. That’s because I’ll direct them to the book called Just Your Type by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger which discusses, in detail, what happens when his type marries her type, and vice versa.
The majority of unchurched A Leader marriages are in pain, so one of my goals is to open up that pain, then push on it with the force of a WWE heavyweight wrestler.
That pain is what will make them aware of their need for the Gospel.
Homework Assignment #2: A Book for Non-Christians
I rarely do this after the first meeting with a community leader, but for the person I met with from a church contact, I tell them I will mail them one of the following three books depending upon which I think would be the best fit (I will mail it directly from Amazon and pay for it out of my business expenses):
This has been my go-to book over the years. I used to keep a case in my trunk.
Finding Your Way Back To God – Dave and John Ferguson
This is slowly becoming a favorite too. I just wish it wasn’t so long. Men don’t like to read.
The Reason for God – Tim Keller
If they have copious intellectual barriers, I always lead with Keller’s masterful book.
The overall goal of giving them homework is to (a) give them something that will cause them to think and reflect in my absence and (b) give me a reason to circle back and ping them six to eight weeks later.
Step 10: Continue to Ping Those You Have Met with Every 6-8 Weeks Until They Are Converted, Discipled, and Deployed into Leadership
On average I will attempt to meet with someone every 6-8 weeks for two years or more until either (a) they cut ties or (b) they are fully formed disciples in leadership.
All of my elders came from these relationships, as did the majority of my staff for the first eight years of our church.
People will ask, “What is your process for developing elders?” That’s easy: Leadership Evangelism. There is no other process.
I juggled roughly 150+ relationships like this for six years. During that time our church grew from 0 to 1,000 in a pretty resistant area.
The goal of Leadership Evangelism is to see the A Leaders God has placed in your sphere of influence fully formed in Christ and leading in your church.
Until that is accomplished, your work with that person is not done.
Once we hit 1,000 in size and the demands of staff leadership became intense, I backed that number down to 50+ where it stands now. However, I am laying the groundwork now to make another run at it in an effort to help lead our church to 3,500.
For senior pastors of larger churches, the process remains the same, but you use a wider net (i.e., you expand the radius of your search for A Leaders from 10 to 20 miles).
Leaders of churches under 1,000, I want to reiterate the promise I made to you earlier.
I believe that if you commit yourself as a senior pastor to Leadership Evangelism as I outlined, your church will double in size in three years or less.
The staff, high capacity donors, elders, and front-line leaders we need at every level of our churches right now are simply waiting for us to do what Jesus and Paul would do if they were in our shoes.
So let’s get out there and find them.