Building a Leadership Pipeline in Your Church

Most pastors want more leaders in their church. One of the most biblical, practical ways for churches to grow leaders is to build a leadership pipeline.

I do not know any pastor who does not feel the need for more leaders in their church.

Most churches would love to have more qualified and trained elders, deacons, preachers, counsellors, and prayer warriors. We would love more Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, small group Bible study leaders, men’s and women’s ministry leaders, worship leaders, and people who can follow up with new believers.

In addition to this, many of us dream about sending people out to plant new churches. We also aspire to help raise up the next generation of pastors and Christian leaders. But where are all these leaders going to come from? One of the solutions is a leadership pipeline.

A leadership pipeline is an intentional, systematic process by which future leaders are identified, trained, tested, and deployed. Building a leadership pipeline in our churches involves creating structures where potential leaders can be spotted early, and helped to progress through a deliberate process of learning and experience that will develop them into mature leaders.

The Characteristics of a Leadership Pipeline

  1. A leadership pipeline involves a process. Developing leaders takes time. People are not usually ready to take on leadership just because they have expressed interest in a role, or after they have attended a single training session or seminar.
  2. A leadership pipeline is a multi-faceted process. There are usually several things that leaders need to learn, as well as experiences that they need to have, in order to be ready to lead effectively in the church.
  3. A leadership pipeline requires an intentional process. It assumes that leaders in the church must be deliberately raised up and trained, and that this process does not happen automatically or by accident.
  4. A leadership pipeline entails a continuous process. The work of training leaders never ends! We must constantly be identifying new potential leaders, and helping them move through the various steps of the leadership development process.

Why Should Churches Build a Leadership Pipeline?

It is Biblical

Even though the vocabulary of a leadership ‘pipeline’ may be relatively new, the concept has been in the church since the beginning. Jesus devoted a major portion of his earthly life to the process of raising up future leaders for the church. He identified them (Mark 3:13-15), taught them (Mark 9:30-31), and sent them out (Luke 10:1). The Apostle Paul followed a similar pattern (Acts 16:1-3; 2 Tim. 2:2; 3:10-11).

The primary mission of our churches is to make disciples

It is Necessary

For any church to grow—both in terms of spiritual depth as well as numbers of members—it requires an increasing number of trained and equipped leaders. If left only to the pastor, a church can only reach as many people as one person can minister to practically. Even for the most gifted, hardest-working pastor, this number will be very limited. A leadership pipeline provides churches with a growing number of leaders so it can be healthy and mature.

Leaders do not Come Ready-made

It is rare for someone to walk into our churches ready to lead spiritually. Therefore, if we want more leaders in our church, we will need a plan to raise them up ourselves from within the church.

Spiritual Growth does not Automatically Result in Leadership Development

Spiritual growth is important. But helping people to grow spiritually will not automatically turn them into leaders. Firstly, effective leadership requires specific skills that do not necessarily come from spiritual growth or general involvement in the church. Secondly, most believers would never think of themselves as spiritual leaders. We need to challenge them, encourage them, and equip them before they are ready to assume a leadership role in the church. Again, this requires some kind of plan on our part.

Our Existing Leaders Will not be With Us Forever

God gives leaders to a church that are precious. Though we want to hold on to them, the reality is they will not be around forever. Firstly, we live in a highly transient world, where people are constantly on the move. Secondly, people go through seasons of life where they might not be able to serve as they once did. Sometimes leaders might just need a break from ministry for a time. For these reasons (and many more), we need to constantly develop new leaders within our churches.

How do We Build a Leadership Pipeline?

View Your Whole Church as Discipleship Training

The primary mission of our churches is to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). So every ministry of our church—Sunday School, Young Adults, men’s and women’s ministries, prayer meetings, or Sunday services—should ultimately aim to disciple believers.

A leadership pipeline is simply an extension of the church’s discipleship ministry. Ideally, you could say that everyone in the church (including children) is somewhere in the ‘pipeline.’ Each one is moving toward deeper commitment to Christ and greater passion to serve God’s people.

If the whole church is moving together in this direction, then it becomes much easier to identify and guide potential leaders.

Be on the Lookout for Future Leaders

Pastors should always have their eyes open for potential leaders in the church. We should also encourage other leaders in the church to do the same. One practical way to do this is to encourage every ministry leader and small group leader in the church to find an assistant, who they can begin mentoring and training for future leadership.

Provide Whole Leadership Formation

Think through the various aspects of leadership. Then start putting the pieces together to train people in these areas. These are the pieces that will make up your leadership pipeline!

A leadership pipeline is an extension of the church’s discipleship ministry.

As you think through the elements you need to develop leaders, make sure that you balance the formation of their convictions (head), character (heart), and competency (hands). So in your pipeline you might want to consider a balance of structured classes and training, personal mentoring, as well as practical experience and feedback.

Start a Discipleship Group

Perhaps the most immediate, practical step a pastor can take to build a leadership pipeline is to start a discipleship group with a few men from the church. After some time, qualified men could be selected from this group to be trained as future elders or ministry leaders.

The group could also lead to more discipleship groups, as men from the original group are encouraged to gather other men in the church to start their own groups. Similarly, mature women in the church can be asked to start a discipleship group with some of the women in the church (Titus 2:1-10).

Building a leadership pipeline takes time, effort, and intentionality. But the long-term fruit is an ever-increasing number of trained leaders. With this comes spiritual and numerical growth for the church, as well as the advance of the gospel. Building a leadership pipeline is how Jesus has chosen to build his church (Eph. 4:7-16).