7 Key Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have in 2015

Happy January!

So…what conversations are you planning on having with your team this year?

One of the things I love about a new year is the Top 10 lists that help us look reflect back and plan ahead. They can certainly provide fodder for worthy leadership conversations.

In that spirit, I’ve already shared my Top 10 Posts of 2014 and the Top 5 Podcasts from my new leadership podcast. Here are a few other lists worth checking out from Brian Dodd, Thom Rainer and David Kinnaman and the Barna Group.

It’s great to measure what’s resonating (usually top 10 lists are based on views or listens), but there’s also another category of conversations every leader should take seriously: the conversations you should have, not just the conversations you want to have.

To some extent, it’s the difference between what’s urgent and what’s important.

The best leaders figure out what conversations they need to have and then do whatever it takes to ensure they happen.

In my view, here are 7 conversations every church leader and their teams should have in 2015.

You might already be having some of them, and if so that’s amazing. Maybe the posts can help.

And if you’re not talking about these subjects yet, let me just encourage you to begin. Maybe the posts below can act as a springboard.

 7 leadership conversations every church leader

The 7 Conversations

These topics below are in no particular order, and they’re based on what I think are some of the most pressing issues church leaders face (or should be facing).

A few notes:

1. I frame each conversation as a question because questions, not statements, make for the best conversations in my view.

2. I frame the conversation briefly and then offer between 2-10 posts I’ve written in the past that might be helpful in assisting you and your team in the conversation. Naturally, you’ll find some more relevant than others, but it makes for a quick guide to what I hope will be helpful posts on the subject in question.

3. The team you discuss this with might be different, depending on your circumstance. In a big church, it would be your key staff and perhaps elder board. In a smaller church, likely all staff, elder board and maybe a few volunteer leaders would be involved. If you are super small and barely have a structure, I’d just pull in a few key promising leaders and start there. I would strongly recommend NOT making these conversations the stuff of congregational meetings. If you’re puzzled about that, here’s my reason why.

So with that in mind, here are 7 conversations I’d love to see every church leadership team have this year.

#1 Why Are We Not Growing Faster?

There’s no question that church growth is a felt need issue among church leaders. I meet very few church leaders who hope their church declines in the next year.

But before you stop at conversation #1, realize the other six are all tied to growth. Unhealthy churches won’t grow. Churches that fail to release high capacity leaders struggle with growth. Churches that ignore the culture will struggle. You’ll see the pattern if you look.

Here are some articles that can help you pinpoint why your church might not be growing, or might not be growing as quickly as you’d like:

10 Very Possible Reasons Your Church Isn’t Growing

8 Reasons Most Churches Never Break the 200 Attendance Mark

5 Things That Won’t Make Your Church Grow, Despite What You Might Think

5 Telling Questions to Ask If Your Church Isn’t Growing

7 Reasons Churches That Want To Reach Unchurched People…Don’t

9 Signs Your Church is Ready to Reach Unchurched People

The focus, of course, is not on growth for growth’s sake, but for the sake of being effective in our mission and vision of reaching people who need to know the love of Christ in their lives.

I’m passionate about church growth because the world is at its best when the church is at its best.

#2 Are Our Leaders Healthy….Really?

Healthy leaders create healthy churches. And a lot of our leaders aren’t healthy.

I’m passionate about this because I became unhealthy as a leader who was, by many accounts, ‘successful’.

If you only do one thing as a team on this issue, listen to Perry Noble tell his story about burnout.

CNLP 002: How Perry Noble Hit Rock Bottom While Pastoring One of America’s Largest Churches, And How He Battled Back

Perry Noble Podcast Episode Show Notes (tons of helpful links here)

5 Socially Acceptable Ways Church Leaders Self-Medicate

7 Painful Truths About Leadership and Burnout

Even if your church doesn’t study this issue this year, I’d so strongly urge you to study it yourself. The only way you will ever last in ministry over the long haul is to stay spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally healthy.

#3 What’s Keeping High Capacity Leaders from Engaging Your Mission?

One of the biggest tragedies in many churches is that high capacity leaders stay unengaged in the mission. They might attend, but they don’t engage as volunteers or even really dig in as donors.

Why is that? Why do the best leaders often lend their leadership to things other than the mission of the local church?

Here are some posts to kickstart the discussion:

6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks But Never Says Out Loud

What’s at stake in this discussion? Engaging your best leaders will take your mission to a whole new level. It simply will.

#4 Why Are Young Adults Walking Away from Church?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or if you follow the amazing people at Orange, you know this issue bothers me and many leaders.

Few people summed up the issue as well as Kara Powell did this year in her podcast interview. I’ll also include other links that could help from the blog:

CNLP 004 Why Young Adults Are Walking Away From the Church And What You Can Do About It – An Interview with Kara Powell (iTunes link here.)

5 Reasons Many People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials)

The Impending Death (And Rebirth) of Cool Church

My favourite quote from Kara’s interview was this: “It’s not doubt that’s toxic to young people’s faith. It’s unexpressed doubt.” What if your church became a safe place this year for people to express their doubt? Just imagine….

#5 How Do We Respond as People Attend Less Often?

As we shift further into a post-Christian culture in North America, people feel less guilty, less loyal and more free to do what they want with their time.

The rise of online options for people means physical attendance and participation seems less desirable.

Here are a couple of articles that can jump start the conversation with your team:

7 Ways to Respond as People Attend Church Less Often

15 Characteristics of Today’s Unchurched Person

The jury is still out on where this is all heading, and there are no clear answers. But to not have the conversation is to bury your head in the sand. I would love for 2015 to be a year of big breakthroughs on this topic.

#6 What Cultural Shifts Are We Ignoring and What Are We Losing as A Result?

Culture keeps changing, but the church doesn’t. That’s a mistake.

Here are a few articles that encapsulate some of the cultural change happening around us.

12 Cultural Changes Church Leaders Can’t Ignore, But Might

5 Things Netflix is Showing Church Leaders About the Future

11 Traits of Churches That Will Impact the Future

Revivals Are Dead: 5 Things That Will Never Be The Same Again

#7 What Are We Actually Willing To Change?

I saved the most difficult conversation till last.

You can have every conversation listed above, but if you’re not willing to change, you’ve wasted your breath.

And the reality is, most churches, people and organizations struggle with change.

So while you’re having the other conversations, make sure you have this one. Without it, you’re dead in the water.

As you read through this rather long list, don’t miss the interviews with Ron Edmondson and Dom Russo from my leadership podcast as they explain how they’ve led change in very traditional settings:

Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Navigate Change When You’re Facing Opposition (For the Kindle version, click here.)

Planning On Closing Anytime Soon? 21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change

What To Do When People Want Your Church To Grow…But Not Change

CNLP 010 How to Rapidly Navigate Change in A Traditional Church Context—An Interview With Ron Edmondson (iTunes link here.)

CNLP 015 How to Turn Around a Declining Church Without Blowing It Apart—An Interview with Dom Ruso (iTunes link here.)

The Single Best Way to Lead Change When You’re in A Very Old, Traditional, Or Resistant Setting

How to Get Alignment, Agreement and Consensus Around Change

How to Lead Change When You’re NOT the Senior Leader

7 Things NOT to Say When You’re Leading Change in Your Church

7 Things You Can Do If You Want Things to Change and No One Else Does

Here’s to Incredible Conversations

Well that’s my list of conversations and conversation starting posts for 2015.

I know this is a ton of stuff, but if you bookmark the page or clip it to Evernote, hopefully you can use it as a resource you come back to as a team again and again.

So…here’s to some incredible conversations that I pray will advance the mission of the church this year.  In my view, the mission of the church is just too important not to have these conversations like these.

I’d love to hear your comments, so please scroll down and leave one.

I will come back to this thread again and again in the comments, so if you and your team have questions, fire away.

7 Key Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have in 2015


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  4. Sappho on January 2, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    All of the information is useful, but I’m interested in the one about “What are we willing to change?” In so many articles on “change” I see that people believe in a pressing need to “change” but without articulating the reason for the change, the purposes and promises of the new direction, and acknowledging the cost of change. Sometimes I hear about people resistant to “change” described as a big problem. But an awful lot of people would be able to embrace the new if the new vision is inspirational. Change for changes sake doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why leave safety for no reason? If the change is good change, Americans have a reputation for being early adopters. So I think that framing the question differently is crucial. What is our vision? What does it call for? These things would have to be approached differently, can move away from the old in order to embrace this inspirational vision? Perhaps all of that is implied by the range of articles on vision, but I thought I’d mention it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 3, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Totally agree. Change only makes sense when it leads to a better tomorrow, and vision leads us there.

  5. Greg Martin on January 2, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Thx again, Carey. There is a wealth of wisdom compiled here. I plan to use these questions to frame our staff talks. I appreciate your heart for the church, and your generosity in sharing resources. We’re not here to MAKE a name. We’re here to GLORIFY a name!

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