The Advantage: The Leadership Team

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

Before we can consider how to integrate a team of individuals into a healthy, cohesive leadership team, we have to first consider the make up of the team.

In business, this is usually pretty obvious. In church, not so much. After all, there are the elders, the deacons, the preacher, the other ministers, and countless other ministry leaders.

Many years ago, when we had about 350 members, I made a list of all the church’s ministries — from cutting the grass and cleaning the baptismal garments all the way to the preacher and elders. I counted about 70 discrete ministries!

I also found that less than half of these were represented at a meeting of the deacons. Rather, the deacons had been handed many of the more conspicuous ministries — adult education, worship services — but many of our most important ministries — the food book (taking meals to the bereaved and ill), the nursery — were run by women and therefore invisible to our very traditional leadership structure.

Of course, the women ran things quite nicely without the men being involved, and had no need (or desire) for a deacon to be put over a ministry that didn’t need him. Then again, when a question about the nursery came up at a deacons meeting, the results were ugly because no one there knew anything about the nursery, the group was too proud to admit it, and so horrific decisions were made.

Worse yet, we had several deacons with no responsibility other than to come to deacons meetings and express views on subjects they knew little about and had no responsibility for. And it’s awfully easy to tell others how to do their jobs when you have no risk of being treated the same way!

We’ve since reorganized (more than once) as the church has grown and changed. We’re past due to do it again.

At one point we had a “ministries team” that represented all 70 ministries at the table, consisting of 12 members. Some churches have teams made up of elders and staff. Some have teams made up of elders gifted in organizational oversight, along with certain senior ministers. There is no one answer — but you have to think very, very hard about it, because the group can’t be too big.

A leadership team should be made up of somewhere between three and twelve people, though anything over eight or nine is usually problematic. There is nothing dogmatic about this size limit. It is just a practical reality.

Amen! Amen! Amen! Big teams do not work. Lencioni explains why —

When it comes to discussions and decision making, there are two critical ways that members of effective teams must communicate: advocacy and inquiry. …

When more than eight or nine people are on a team, members tend to advocate a heck of a lot more than they inquire. This makes sense because they aren’t confident that they’re going to get the opportunity to speak again soon, so they use their scarce floor time to announce their position or make a point. When a team is small, members are more likely to use much of their time asking questions and seeking clarity, confident that they’ll be able to regain the floor and share their ideas or opinions when necessary.

If you’ve ever served on one of ubiquitous, awful 20+ member nonprofit boards, you’ll know what I mean. Two or three people dominate the “discussion,” and the discussion is usually rubber stamping the recommendations of the chair or a committee. There is rarely any real interchange. Even very talented, motivated people find themselves rendered useless on such boards, serving only to meet quorum so the chair can run the organization.

Twelve is the absolute limit, and smaller is better. Do not make the team too big to save feelings or for token diversity. If you want more female or minority participation, keep the team small enough that these members can actually help lead — or else you’re just using them.

Now, in church, this means the deacons and the elders cannot form the leadership team. It’s too many people. And, yes, I was a deacon for many years, and it was true then and it’s still true now.

And the team might have to exclude some ministers. In a church with lots of elders, it may have to exclude some elders.

I know a Baptist Church with (not kidding) 70 deacons — and among Baptists, a deacon is very much like an elder. They meet and make big decisions. Can you imagine having to sit through a meeting as one of 70?

Therefore, some Churches of Christ agree for the elders to specialize, with some sitting on an administrative board whereas others elders handle solely pastoral duties — only voting on occasional church-wide issues.

The result is elders freed from personnel and organizational matters to care for the flock or to teach, whereas other elders gifted for such matters act as overseers, managing the staff and ministries of the church.

There are lots of creative solutions, but these rules are ironclad —

1. At least some of the elders must be on the leadership team. If the elders all focus exclusively on pastoral duties, then the staff runs the church — which may be great, may be terrible, but the elders will have abdicated their scriptural role as overseers.

2. The preacher is part of the leadership team. He’s fully a part of the team unless his job performance, such as his annual review, is the subject of the meeting.

3. If there’s an “involvement minister,” ” spiritual formation” minister, or other executive pastor type — that is, someone hired to make sure the key church ministries function correctly — he’s on the team.

At this point, you have at least 4 or 5 members. (I can’t imagine having just one elder on the leadership team!) Any additions must be thought through very carefully based on talents and what’s best for the Lord’s work in your congregation, not office politics or tokenism.

And you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. Personalities matter. Pray hard. You’re laying the footings for a new vision and organizational structure. You need to use the very best materials possible.

I have go with the counsel of the apostles:

(Act 6:3 ESV) Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.

Obviously, not every leader or key members gets to be on the team. No one should expect otherwise.

Once this team is assembled — and in many churches this will just be the elders and preacher — many other teams will surely be needed, and the principles that apply to top leadership team will apply to many of the others. But if you mess up the top team, all else is futility.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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21 Responses to The Advantage: The Leadership Team

  1. Doug says:

    I am wondering if the best way to produce good leadership in the church is by reading leadership books or by going to a church that has obviously solved the leadership question ans asking them “How/What did you do?”. I’d suggest maybe the largest restoration movement church in the USA, the Southeast Christian CHurch in Louisville, Ky. Someway they have negotiated a path from a beginning in 1963 with 53 members attending to a multi-campus church with over 20,000 attending. One of their campuses has over 2000 in attendance themselves. I’d say they have figured out a path to effective church leadership. Incidently, I’ve had the chance to worship with and hear the preaching of the minister who was a Southeast during most of their years. He’s a quiet unassuming man and as preahcers go, he’s a good preacher but he’s not someone that would cause you to immediately think “That guy is really good and he’s probably going to wind up helping build a huge mega-church. Their staff size is larger than most CofC have members… they must be doing something pretty close to right.

  2. Size = “doing something right” is only a reasonable conclusion if the objective is to get more people into your organization. Otherwise, its size may be as much an indictment as a recommendation. Who knows? This reminds me of that line in “If I Were A Rich Man” where Tevye sings of people seeking a rich man’s counsel, because “when you’re rich, they think you really know”. This big Christian Church may be doing any number of things well, and might be doing some ill-advised things, but how many people are on their membership roll doesn’t give us any clue at all as to what those “things” might be.

    “What has God told them to do?” and “Are they doing this effectively?” would be better indicators of whether or not we should seek out their example. And it would give us some specific examples to consider.

    Jay’s reference to business reminds me that most local congregations are just that… businesses. Now, before you reach for that rock, consider that most congregations use pretty much the same success measurements as those used by any local business: Are we attracting more customers? Is our revenue growing? Is our asset base growing? Are we developing new markets or better penetrating existing ones? Are we increasing our market share? Are we developing brand recognition and brand loyalty? Are we generating new users and converting existing users to our brand? Are we increasing our footprint? Just jigger the terminology a bit and you will find exactly what most religion clubs are measuring (in themselves and other clubs) to determine success. Hey, we are what we are. If it is from God, embrace it. If its genesis is elsewhere, well… it’s your club.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I got a lead on Lencioni’s book from lecture notes someone posted from a church leadership seminar put on by the Willow Creek church — which certainly meets the standards you suggest.

    One thing that impresses me about Willow Creek is their willingness to self-critique, as in the case of their Reveal self-study. They aren’t satisfied merely to be big — plus they invest huge resources in coaching other congregations without regard to denominational affiliation. There are many mega-churches that aren’t all that spiritual, but Willow Creek appears to have a lot going for it besides a big crowd.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I agree that most American churches are built on a capitalistic, free enterprise mentality — and our members have bought into that premise lock, stock, and barrel. The members act like shoppers, and the elders act like store managers, keeping the customers happy by offering goods and services at the lowet possible prices, fearful that if we charge even $1.00 more the members/shoppers will leave and go to the Wal-Mart Church of Christ down the road or (heaven forbid) the Target Baptist Church. And so we compete with coffee bars and gyms, and we panic anytime anyone gets upset because we changed the time of services or varied from the business model that worked so very well in the 1960s.

    But that’s not because we adopt business leadership models. It’s because we use whatever model we adopt to accomplish goals defined by the marketplace rather than Jesus. This is true no matter what model we choose. Indeed, it’s as invisible to an American as water is to a fish. It’s just who we are.

    It’s the same reason the Romans elevated the bishop of Rome to the highest position (it’s just how Romans understood the world to be). We don’t easily escape the fundamentals of our culture.

    And the series will get to the question of what we do instead in due course.

  5. Doug says:

    My daughter, who grew up in a Christian CHurch that is the typical size of most CofC congregations, went to a worship service at Southeast Christian a few months ago while she was traveling. She loved everything about this Church. In this case, I think bigger membership also produces bigger opportunities for service and ministry. She felt that their worship was great too and that people were really worshipping despite the large size of the building. Google them and check out their website and you’ll see an amazing array of opportunities for service. I’m not saying that everyone who goes there is engaged but let’s face it, if you desire involvment… you’d have no excuse at this church. I don’t see how a church could grow like this church has without leadership that has done “What has God told them to do?” and answered in the affirmative that they have been amazingly effective. From what I have heard Bob Russell say, the leadership has also been very trusting that God would supply what they needed and stepped out in faith in ways that would cause many churches to quake in their pews.

  6. Doug opined, ” I don’t see how a church could grow like this church has without leadership that has done ‘What has God told them to do?’” Doug, I find this statement astounding. We have been successfully building kingdoms of men throughout history. Our society is replete with ungodly success. Success (as currently measured) in a religion club may well be because they are effectively following God’s course for them. Or it can be just good marketing and management. The inability to discern the difference is a sadly common problem in the modern church.

  7. Jay, business models, whether effective or ineffective, are still BUSINESS models. They are developed with an eye toward meeting business objectives and do not gain favor unless they actually do so. No doubt the most valid models rest on valid broader underlying principles, but in fact, these models are developed to get business results. It is not unlike being involved with a group of skilled surgeons, who are discussing which technique is most effective in removing a diseased kidney. Surgery is the unspoken fundamental assumption, and the discussion will not include chelation or herbal therapies or even supernatural healing through prayer. When you follow good surgeons, you get better surgery. If we think the medical field relies too much on surgery in the first place, continuing to draw our guidance from surgeons will not likely lead us in any different direction.

    Americans see the local congregation through a business lens. The inappropriate consumeristic results you note do not arise because that lens needs to be of better quality. In fact, they speak of the powerful effects of the business lens we already have.

    I appreciate good business practice as much as anyone. And, viewed from a neutral aspect, I can appreciate the effectiveness of good organizational leadership models as applied to the objectives of local congregations. I do think a clear-eyed review of those objectives and their measurements may be in order.

  8. Doug says:

    Charles, apparently when you think “church growth” you are thinking in terms of only membership numbers. That is only one marker of church growth. If you check out the church I mentioned, you’ll see that there has apparently been a lot of growth in other aspects as well. There are clearly some advantages of a smaller church. I have spent much of my life in a church that never had over 80 members. I have also spent some time in larger churches (300-800 membership) and there are significantly more things that a larger church can do well if they purpose themselves to do that. I think that a smaller church spends most of its’ time and money trying to just stay afloat while a larger church can address many more ministries and provide a way for its’ members to be involved in many more ministries. For example, one church I have attended does a homeless persons ministry. They provide meals, baths, clean clothing, food and even haircuts to 25-40 homeless people on a regular basis in their building. A church of 80 members would have a very difficult time doing this ministry. But, a church of 800 members can provide such a ministry. All I’m saying is Big isn’t necessarily Bad.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Doug and Charles,

    I have to agree with Doug that numbers are both relevant and commendable. After all, Luke goes out of his way to point out the numerical growth of the Jerusalem congregation. Numbers are souls. Numbers are workers to bring in the harvest. And the NT example is of one congregation per city, meeting in homes at times and together at times.

    Of course, head counts are hardly a sufficient measure of Christ-like-ness. I just think that if Christians were more Christ-like, we’d congregate into larger congregations because we’d find separation from our brothers and sister unthinkable. Our tendency to spin off into tiny, ineffective congregations is indicative of nothing but legalism and worldliness. And it cripples the kingdom. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”


    “Business” models? Uh, no, leadership models. Unless you can persuade me that elders and staff (and like church leadership teams) should be untrusting of each other and less than honest with each other, I have trouble seeing how Lencioni’s model is less than holy. It’s my experience that many a church has been seriously wounded by a leadership that can’t talk honestly with each other, leading to bad decisions.

    It’s not that mutually honest leaders won’t make mistakes, but at least they’ll be in a position to correct their errors because they’ll be willing to hear what their critics say. They’ll be open to the wisdom of the entire group (and, therefore, to others as well, because that’s how hearts work).
    I don’t know. To me, it sounds very much like the teachings of Jesus as applied in the group-leadership context.

  10. Larry Cheek says:

    When we inject the concept business model into what I understand the leading by the Elders to be, they are totally opposite. In business the owner or an appointed CEO and possibly a small group of advisers dictate the direction of the business. They are not leaders they are directors. They normally don’t allow their employees of the company to help guide the direction of the companies activities. An Eldership on the other hand are leaders that have to feel the pulse of the members of the congregation and guide them accordingly, I believe that sometimes the direction of the congregation helps the Elders to see more clearly a direction to pursue. One book I have found very good for Elders and members to read is, Lords or Servants, by Jim Reeves.

  11. Alabama John says:

    The best leaders and hierarchy I have seen work is the US Military.
    Who’s the boss can not be negotiated at every decision that has to be made. Someone has to make the call and sometimes at short notice.

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John, I was in the military also, but I cannot conceive a circumstance in a church where where it would be fitting to use the hierarchy methods of control that is used there. You see in the military you were treated intentionally as a robot, they required total obedience of the chain of command’s orders. Disobedience was disciplined and even questioning of orders was forbidden. The superior officers were not leaders to be followed they were directors of actions, not co-workers as church leaders are to be. In the military the command was in the form of a chain leading to the one in charge. Elders, are not to be set up that way you have no example of a situation where one man is the top dog. All of the Elders are equal in authority, and they are to administer their authority as one, all being in agreement. These are to almost exact opposites.

  13. Alabama John says:

    Larry, you have been very fortunate to of had elders as you describe.
    There is usually a head elder in reality around here and if he is not obeyed, a split is coming.
    If all was as you describe or dream, all would be great and all this splitting and knocking of each other constantly to the point we look absurd to others and even to each other would of never occurred. The fact that it has proves my point.
    We had better realize our shortcomings and by doing so work to correct them rather than pretending all is OK.

  14. Doug, membership numbers are not my measure of success or of doing things right. You suggested that perspective, not me. And I am not sure they really tell us ANYTHING about actual church growth. Conversions of unbelievers would at least constitute numerical growth, anything else is sheep-swapping.

    You do make a good point about growth of other kinds, but I would ask if such other kinds of growth are being measured and if decisions are being made on the basis of those measurements. Perhaps they are.

    Your observation about the serving capacity of small congregations is well-made, but it only points out the limits imposed by our own two organizational flaws. In fact, it is no harder for 80 people within in a small group to help a homeless man than it is for 80 people within in a large group to do the same thing. That’s not the problem… unless you only have 40 people and (flaw #1) you cannot cooperate with another group in helping that homeless man. The only difference between 1000 members of one congregation working together and 1000 members of 20 congregations working together is willingness.

    The second flaw lies in the fact that our raison d’etre continues to be to hold weekly church services, and we subordinate all other missions to that primary task. If we continue to hold to this model, then not only is the large congregation better, it is the ONLY good choice. An arena-sized auditorium with 10,000 hearers and one preacher eliminates 199 preacher salaries, versus 200 congregations of 50. How many of the poor would that several million dollars feed every year, from just this one change?

    So the large group is NOT more capable of serving its community than the smaller one, per capita. It is merely more cost-efficient at performing the ecclesiastical fundamentals, or that which we have come to believe are our fundamentals, leaving more cash for other projects. I would suggest that we have proven quite reticent to re-examine our missional priorities, the evidence being that we still all have the same one… and THAT priotity is one that Jesus never emphasized. Unless we break free of this fundamental limitation, perhaps “big” is not only good, but required.

  15. Doug says:

    Charles, I’d say that willingness is one of the least significant problems that would be faced in getting 20 congregations to cooperate with each other. You are talking real leadership to pull that off. Besides, I’d ask the question… Why are there 20 small congregations in existence and close enough to each to cooperate insuch an endeavor? My guess is that you have 20 congregations that close to each other with 50 members each, they probably aren’t talking to each other much less cooperating with each other. But hey… We are just batting the ball across the net to each other now. Bless you Charles… I really do enjoy your posts.

  16. Doug says:

    We could talk about the cost/convert as a metric of assessing the issue of big church vs. small church. I recently read more data that refelected that metric for mega-churches and the data for that metric said about $20,000 per convert. Obviously if you have a multi-million dollar per year budget, that’s hundreds of converts per year. If you have a $100,000 budget per year, that’s 5 converts per year. Now, I didn’t see data of that nature for smaller churches so I don’t know that the cost/convert is the same for big churches as it is for small churches but based on the church wher I attend, I’d have to say that metric is larger for small churches than for bigger churches. If that is the case, then a serious case could be made for mega-churches.

  17. Doug,

    Many small churches struggle to maintain a building and support a preacher who preaches mainly to the faithful while also comforting them in their sorrows, sicknesses, and minor needs. There is little energy or finance left over for genuine outreach with the result that most “converts” are of children of existing members. Then with a low retention rate of the converts thus made, it is no wonder than many churches are dying.

    However, it takes a long time for a church to die. I heard from someone that the average life-span of a church is about 70 years. The church where my parents attend was established in 1952. It is now 60 years old and struggling to maintain a building and support a preacher. I hate to think of what it will be in another 10 years. It may hold on a little longer than that – but unless some rejuvenation occurs, it is not likely to be much longer than that.

    The really sad thing is that no one seems prepared to do what it will take for the rejuvenation to occur.

  18. Larry Cheek says:

    I wonder what do you suppose that it cost per convert in the first century? Could you believe that we may be using the wrong methods for conversion? Well that seems to me the problem, converting others to Christianity should not be the job of the church. That is an individual Christians duty, or you might say lifestyle. If an individual is not in the process of converting someone, can you say that he really believes in the (product that he claims to live)? Look around and you will notice that human beings naturally take an interest in persuading their friends to buy the products that they believe in, whether it is a brand of car, certain food products, specific sports that they enjoy, oh, you really must go see that great movie, or eat at that new restaurant that just opened. How great could Christianity be if Christians worked as hard to save another humans life from the captivity of Satan, as they do in these worldly adventures. Do you suppose that God does not notice the misapplied abilities that his children have. An individual might offer an excuse that they just don’t know enough to be able to convince another person to become a Christian. I would ask, how much would you consider that a Christian of the first century knew, more or less than you? How many lessons/sermons can you remember being taught in our churches, explaining to the members that their Father would be expecting them to promote Him to all of their friends. Of course the Father knows that many that you attempt to persuade to join you in your service to Him, will not follow your lead. Surely, because of that he will just excuse you from that work, service to Him. Don’t get this wrong I am not attempting to say that God is requiring this (work) for our salvation, but what I am comparing is, what gain is it for an individual to promote the products that I have mentioned above? Christians seem to place greater value on their abilities of convincing their friends to follow them as they live in the world, then to follow them as they live a life as child of the King of the Universe. How can we turn this problem around?

  19. Alabama John says:

    I for one would appreciate an outline of what you think it would take for the rejuvenation to take place.

    Far more are brought to Christ by those that are simply members than by preachers. One reason is that members see and talk to far more people on their jobs and outside activities than preachers do. Also people get to see how members act away from church during normal situations.
    Preachers and most members are on their best behavior and lie a little on Sunday. Question: How are you today? FINE is the usual answer while in reality most times that is not true and they are hurting. During the week, they will be more receptive to help from those they know more about and share their problems.
    (Good points and post)

  20. Doug says:

    Larry, what you wrote above rings pretty much true to me. I do work with a Jail ministry which is supported by my church to the tune of about $2K per year. I don’t think that we typically spend that much but we do have a line item in the budget for that and it is spent on bibles and paying for drug/alcohol rehabilitation. In the past 3 years this work has produced about 40 converts. Please note that I said converts… I can’t necessarily speak to whether they remain converted today as most of these people do not live in or worship in our community. But, that is a vastly better $/convert number than I have seen published for the institutional church. I think the key is going to where the gospel is really needed. We might celebrate when a Doctor is converted in our church but there’s just as much celebration in heaven when a jail inmate is converted inside a jail. Jesus preached pretty convincingly about this himself. Sadly, we struggle to get our members to recognize and work in this very sucessful jail ministry. It seems like they would rather spend their time with their friends down at the church building in yet another bible study. To me, it is sad that a Christian would rather spend time studying for ministry than actually doing it.

  21. Alabama John says:

    Amen Doug,

    No truer words spoken.

    Thank God for folks like you that give of their time to help those really seeking help. The appreciation from those you are teaching is one of the greatest rewards.

    You want to catch rabbits? Go where rabbits live.
    Same with sinners.

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