How to Tell if A New Volunteer is Truly a Leader (Or Simply a Doer)


I recently surveyed 1400 small and mid-sized church pastors to find out what they struggle with most as their church grows.

They overwhelmingly identified developing leaders as their top challenge.

Don’t get me wrong, there were many more issues (I address the big eight in my course, Breaking 200 Without Breaking You. You can sign up for the course here.)

That said, identifying and developing leaders was the most significant barrier pastors felt in moving their church past the 200 attendance barrier, a barrier 85% of all churches never pass.

And, of course, leadership development means you need to master the more sophisticated art of volunteer development. Every growing church recruits volunteers at least 50-100 times as often as they hire staff.

Every growing church recruits volunteers at least 50-100 times as often as they hire staff. Click To Tweet

There Are Two Kinds of Volunteers

There are essentially two kinds of volunteers: leaders and doers.

Leaders gladly rise to a challenge and can take others with them. Doers, on the other hand, prefer to do what you tell them and little more.

Effective churches build teams of leaders, not just teams of doers.

Effective churches build teams of leaders, not just teams of doers. Click To Tweet

So many church leaders told me they felt like they have a volunteer core of doers and hardly any leaders. Or at least if there are leaders present, they can’t seem to find them.

Why is it so important to make this shift from doers to leaders?

Because doing doesn’t scale. Leadership does.

If you really want to reach the full potential of your mission, developing a culture of leadership will take you there in a sustainable way.

You will always need doers, but you’ll also need a solid group of leaders in place to lead and manage the doers.

Which raises a big question: How can you tell if a new volunteer is a leader or a doer?

Here are 5 ways to tell whether the volunteer you’re looking at is truly a leader, not just a doer.

Doing doesn’t scale. Leading does. Click To Tweet

1. Look To See If They Have Followers

Simply put, leaders have followers. Doers, not so much.

Look beyond your church to see whether a new volunteer functions like a leader in the community or more like a doer.

Maybe they’re not leading at your church, but they’re leading somewhere. A leader might be running a shift at the local coffee shop and doing it well.

Or your new volunteer may be a mom who is pretty much running her neighborhood—the play groups, the book clubs. She’s a leader.

Maybe your new volunteer is a young adult running a small business or a music studio.

Bottom line, if in some context somewhere, they’re leading something, already, they’re probably a leader and they already have people following them.

If they’re leading well in their life and they believe in your mission, there’s a good chance that they are going to lead well in your church.

Leaders have followers. Doers don't. Click To Tweet

2. Study Their Influence

The simplest definition of leadership I know is from John Maxwell: leadership is influence.

Influence doesn’t depend on position. You don’t have to be at the top of an org chart to have influence. In fact, if the only influence you have comes from your title, you’re not a leader.

If the only influence you have comes from your title, you're not a leader. Click To Tweet

Conversely, there are interns who cultivate tremendous influence in organizations because they’re so great at what they do and have figured out how to lead others.

Watch for the influence people have both in your church (everyone listens when she talks) and in the community.

It’s a sign they may be a leader, not a doer.

Conversely, people who don’t naturally cultivate influence won’t necessarily gain any influence just because you put them in charge.

People who don't naturally cultivate influence won't gain any just because you put them in charge. Click To Tweet

3. See If They Make Things Happen

Doers respond to what’s happening. Leaders make things happen.

Doers can take direction and execute someone else’s vision, but they will require energy and follow-up that a leader doesn’t require.

A leader is a catalyst— creating change, momentum, and progress. You want to build your teams around people who make things happen.

Doers respond to what’s happening. Leaders make things happen. Click To Tweet

4. Watch How They Respond to Responsibility

Leaders love responsibility. Doers get overwhelmed by it.

Often church leaders are hesitant to give volunteers real responsibility and authority. We’re worried they’ll think it’s too much, because, after all, we tell ourselves, ‘they’re just a volunteer.’

But paradoxically, true leaders are energized by responsibility. They love a challenge.

You’ll find a leader constantly asking, “What else can I do?” Even better, a leader will proactively pursue more responsibility.

To be fair, jumping into responsibility and challenge can be a sign of dysfunctional behavior. Usually, it’s not. But occasionally, it is. Here are 6 signs that will tell you whether the eager volunteer you’re talking to is toxic.

Still, healthy leaders rise to the occasion. It’s the way God made them.

Leaders love responsibility. Doers get overwhelmed by it. Click To Tweet

5. Give Them a Challenge

Finally, leaders love a challenge. Doers don’t.

In the same way doers get overwhelmed by responsibility, they find a challenge to be too much.

When you have a big vision for something new and you cast that vision to a leader, true leaders will be energized and excited.

They’ll even add their own ideas and begin envisioning whom they’ll invite along with them.

Leaders with significant gifting love significant challenges. So give people a big challenge and see who steps up (and who doesn’t). That will show you where the leaders are.

Leaders with significant gifting love significant challenges. Click To Tweet

More on Leadership Development as a Key To Growing Your Church

Breaking 200

I devote two sessions of my new Breaking 200 Without Breaking You Course to the issue of identifying and developing volunteer leaders in your church, an essential step in moving past the 200 attendance barrier.

You can see a list of all the subjects I cover in the eight session course here. You can take the course personally as a senior leader, but each course comes with 12 licenses so you can actually go through it with your team and board, which is the best way to make progress.

My heart behind the course is to help every church work through the changes you need to make to experience sustained growth well beyond the 200 attendance mark.

So – whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85% of churches can’t break.

Click here to get instant access.

What Helps You?

What helps you tell whether a volunteer is a leader or a doer?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

How to Tell if A New Volunteer is Truly a Leader (Or Simply a Doer)


  1. Kim L Sellick on January 24, 2021 at 12:10 am

    I support what you outline as a selection process for identifying leaders. I have called them “champions” in my experience. In a start-up, you need to find the self-initiator who “gets it” – mission oriented, understands the people involved and the resources available. The topic falls into the category of getting the right people in the right place and time to successfully manage your objectives. I look for a little boldness along the way. And where would we be without doers.

    It has raised the question in my mind of “Can leadership be taught?” It seems that the “right stuff” must be present if leadership can be developed. Perhaps there are those whose “stuff” hasn’t had a chance to manifest itself. Leads need to manage their situation well by recognizing potential. Aren’t we in the business of awaking the spirit? Renewing minds? Bringing forth spiritual gifts? Perhaps there are those placed in leadership roles who have been beat up badly in the process. Who are hesitant to try again. Or Who have never tried. I do not want to be tempted into thinking of people as winners and losers.

    Sometimes I think, to some extent, you deal with the hand that you are dealt. You, as lead, are called to deal with those you have in seeking His will and His way. The real challenge for the lead is to lead. The real success is in the journey of the development of your team. That they grow under your leadership. You are only as strong as your weakest link. Real success in the eternal perspective, may not come from recruiting the best stars for a winning team, but serving in teamwork and in the spirit that glorifies Him and brings in His kingdom.

  2. Marie on January 23, 2021 at 7:03 am

    I usually completely agree with Carey’s posts and podcasts, but I don’t see this playing out in our small town church situation. We have lots of volunteers who love a challenge, take responsibility, and make things happen, but don’t necessarily have influence or followers. I’m one of those types of people too. And we’re also lacking one of the most significant leadership skills that I know of, which is people with the ability to replicate themselves. But with a smaller pool to choose from, there aren’t a lot of options.

    Does this ring true for anyone else?

    • Barbara Mooney on January 23, 2021 at 10:52 am

      Yes, Marie, i thought the distinction between leaders and doers was good as a concept, but the “followers” concept seemed too simplistic. I like what you said about ability to replicate themselves. 🙂

    • Colleen on January 25, 2021 at 11:26 am

      I agree! Don’t overlook your responsible doers! Their joy is seeing the vision completed as a group. But don’t expect them to lead, it only frustrates them and they feel they have failed. Doers love leaders and the Lord loves them both.

  3. allan calhoun on June 8, 2020 at 11:37 am

    great article as always. 🙂 thanks!

  4. Anna Felicita Borg on June 7, 2020 at 9:47 am

    Thank you so much Pastor Carey for your time spent on the insightful, informative, helpful and if I may say entertaining and positive posts you write.
    Every one I have ever read has helped me a lot in my life and I appreciate it and wanted to write thank you

  5. David Faulkner on June 7, 2020 at 9:05 am

    All good and helpful, thank you, Carey.

    I may be taking this further than you intend or can possibly go in a post of this length, but as I read, I also thought, ‘Yes, a leader has followers and influence, but it’s also good to look at what kind of followers and influence she has.’ I can think of one person who would have fulfilled several or all of your criteria, but who cultivated a following among the naive, impressionable, and easily-led in the church, and then used them to fire her bullets for her.

    I can also think of someone who was a leader in his paid working life and who took on a leadership role in the church. However, he was always threatened when I as the minister took an interest in his group and what he was doing. Was he a leader or an empire-builder?

    • Judi on January 23, 2021 at 12:36 pm

      Not all leaders are godly leaders. We still need to select leaders based on character as well as competency.

      • Colleen on January 25, 2021 at 11:27 am

        Great point!

  6. Mahamba Wa-ibera Evariste on June 7, 2020 at 4:33 am

    Thank you very much for this message and the above comment.
    I have learned through this comment that we pastors who would like to grow our Churches ; we have to allow the leaders we are making; to lead their ways so that we can be making really leadership for really growth.

    Mahamba Wa-ibera Evariste

    Founder and Senior Pastor of Ebenezer Evangelical Church International

    Beni Democratic Republic of Congo

  7. Bruce Jordan on September 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Excellent points Carey. As a volunteer, and a leader, I can also share with you that one of the reasons that this is such a difficult issue for many pastors trying to grow their flock is that in order for them to have those leaders help, they will need to let the leaders make choices (lead), rather than having complete control over all aspects of the church’s ministry. Pastors who want to grow the church, but only if it is all done their way, can only use doers, not leaders.

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