The Secret to Creating a Highly Motivated Team

One of the most significant challenges of leadership is aligning a group of people around a common mission, vision and strategy.

Some of you are trying to rally a dozen people around a common cause. Some of you are trying to rally hundreds, others thousands.

Sometimes I feel like I spend half my time as a lead pastor trying to keep people aligned around a vision mission and strategy that’s bigger than all of us.

How do you do that?

There are a lot of factors.

But today I want to share a secret with you.

Something that I think has gotten us more mileage than many of the other things we’ve done.

And something you can do too. If you have the courage.

And I believe you do.



We Discovered the Secret By Accident

We have groups of leaders visit our church on a fairly regular basis. They usually come to see how we do portable church, what it’s like to be an Orange church or details on being a North Point Strategic Partner.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever called us up asking to study our volunteers.

But almost every team—without fail—wraps up their visit with a question that goes like this. What is the deal with your volunteers? How do you motivate them? 

I can understand the question. It takes between 300-400 volunteers to run our church at this stage. We only have 10 staff spread out over two locations.

We’re a fully portable church at this point.

That means volunteers roll out of bed as early as 3:30 a.m. to pick up trailers full of gear and drive them to our sites.

Others arrive between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. to start set up, and others flood in to serve in our production, family ministry, guest services and other environments.

And what’s amazing even to us is that they do it with a smile. You can’t buy the kind of energy, commitment or joy they bring.

For a while, we didn’t have a good answer to people’s questions about our team’s energy and motivation.

We usually said “I don’t know” and “God’s been good to us”, both of which are true, but neither of which is particularly helpful to the leaders who were  asking the question.

Then one day our team sat down to talk about it, and we came up with an answer.


So What’s the Secret?

So how do you motivate a team to serve with joy and without pay?

Stay laser-focused on a common vision, mission and strategy and eliminate ALL other options. 

We have spent a lot of time defining not just our mission and vision, but also our strategy. And we go to great lengths to explain each regularly to our team. Recently we even spent eight months trying to define our cultural values and will be sharing that with our team (I’ll blog on that soon.)

The mission, vision, strategy and values of an organization are crystal clear, it leaves little room for competing agendas, differing strategies or conflicting objectives.

When you clearly define the what, the why and the how of your organization or church, it rallies those who remain in an exceptional way.

Most churches won’t do this well.

And the reason they won’t do it is because it required eliminating other options.

We have said no to dozens of other visions, strategies, ways of being the church, program ideas and anything that would add complexity or competition to our common mission vision and strategy.

Saying no to many things allows you to say yes to a great thing.

That takes courage.


The Secret’s Dark Side

Your next question might be: Well did people leave as a result?

And the answer is yes. They did.

When we wouldn’t start the program they wanted to start, they left. And it wasn’t that they’re bad people or that their idea was bad. It was just that we are committed to a particular way of being the church which for us, gives us (we think) the best opportunity to reach unchurched people in our community.

The good news of course is that there are lots of other churches they could go to. And many did.

Now that’s tough on a leader…on a team…on a church.

At one point, a year into our existence, we were losing more people than we were gaining.

But we believed our mission vision and strategy, while not perfect, had potential. So we kept going.

As much as clarity unites, it also divides.

Which is why so many leaders are afraid of clarity.

Who am I to say which way to go?

What if other people are right?

Can’t we just let people do what they want?

The problem is you end up with an organization that can’t accomplish it’s goal because it’s not sure of what it’s goal is and because, quite honestly, it might have dozens of goals that are competing with each other.

Clarity initially divides people.


Back to the Good News

But…(and this is what most leaders miss because they don’t hang on long enough) the clarity that initially divides people ultimately unites people.

Eventually as the dust settles, the people left will rally around the clear common cause—assuming its a good one—and the mission will advance.

That’s because the people who are left are there because the believe in the mission vision and strategy. They’re committed to it.

They’ll give their lives to it, which is our case, means leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by creating a church unchurched people love to attend. It’s a cause I’ve given my life to as well.

The people who want to create a church that churched people want to attend are gone.

But there are dozens of churches in our neighbourhood that are great for churched people. We just want to create one that our friends and family who have yet to know Jesus want to be a part of.

And that’s what makes alarm clocks ring at 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 on Sunday mornings.


Is There More?

That’s not the only thing that motivates a team, but I think it is an essential thing.

If you want more, I wrote this post on 6 reasons team lose high capacity volunteers.

And this one on how to attract and keep great leaders you can’t afford to pay.


The Big Question

The question every leader needs to wrestle down is this: Am I willing to lose a few to gain many more?

For us, it’s turned out well. In all my time in leadership, we have never reached more people and we have never reached more truly unchurched people. We’re not done yet by any means, but we’re accomplishing our mission.

And we’re doing it with a team that’s highly aligned, motivated and thankful to be involved (as I am).

But to get there, we had to be clear enough to risk losing people who weren’t on board.

Are you?


What Do You Think?

What are you learning about motivating a team?

What’s you experience with how clarity divides and then unites?

Leave a comment!


  1. Quotes Kit on March 31, 2020 at 2:44 pm

    Really amazing piece of words.Keep Sharing!

  2. Sunday on March 13, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Hi I’m a Pastor who started church and still working circuler. We started with a few membership but now we are not growing even though we are now in third year in service. We train new converts but their attendance is unstable on of and with leadership I’m struggling to maintain they can not commit . Please can you help me.

  3. Norman Patrick Mothiedie on July 2, 2015 at 10:59 am

    Hi Carey thanks for informative blogs for real you rocked my perspective. I have a question though, you said that the question that leaders ought to wrestle down is about losing to gain. Do you have advise on how a leader would sustain themselves without income when a group or even more than half leaves. Dave Ramsey says we need some options to consider before you make he call.

  4. Brad hov on March 16, 2015 at 10:33 am

    I remember hearing a quote from Peter Drucker who said that culture eats strategy for breakfast and there was follow up that great results happen when a team is completely focused on a common goal. I think unity within leadership in the church is critical to having that common focus which they can pass down to volunteers and help make a part of the culture.

  5. joshpezold on December 1, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    Ooooo man. This one got my blood flowing. What I’m learning about motivating a team is… what’s celebrated is repeated. If you celebrate your volunteers they feel loved, and want to keep serving. What you celebrate, people will repeat the action that caused the celebration. This isn’t manipulation if you genuinely are thankful for them and want them to know they are loved. You’ve heard it said, hurt people hurt people… Well the opposite is true as well… Loved people, love people!! It’s contagious. Create a culture of celebration and excitement and you’ll motivate your team, because they will feel loved.

  6. Gary on October 27, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    I am a church planter currently pastoring my first church. This information has truly blessed me.

  7. Mary Ann Sibley on October 25, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Yes! Agree that we must motivate – lead – inspire the people that do the great work of serving! And yes, change is difficult but necessary. Starting with only 30 people serving at our church- then it grew to over 100; I had to rethink and introduce new ideas; the dreaded “change” of what we always did. Yes, people left. And yes, people signed up! By keeping it a ministry first, always clarifying the WHY while challenging others to lead, we grew to now 700 volunteers. It was painful at times but totally worth it.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 26, 2014 at 5:36 am

      That’s amazing Mary Ann. Love this! Thanks!

  8. Earl C. Wallace on September 8, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Great article Pastor Carey. I am planning on stacking the two Bible studies I teach into a church. I am working with those who potentially will compose the leadership team to understand the mission, vision and values that will be synthesized into a strategy. The process takes time, but I hope to go forward with a team that will not be surprised by what we say yes and no to. After leading government organizations to first achieve and then exceed their goals for 26 years, while also being a Christian camp conference speaker, part time preacher, and church worship leader (both volunteer and paid), as well as an elder, I have experienced churches from both sides – laity and pastoral, paid and volunteer. I’ve seen churches fail to reach their potential because of a lack of focus and follow through.

    In my leadership development ministry-vocation, I help churches identify who they are, and what they will focus on, and who they are not, and what they will let go of and avoid pursuing. I like the portable church model, but the weekly work involved is daunting, and only can be achieved by a corp of dedicated volunteers, whom I hope God inspires, as I am faithful to pursue the vision He gives.

  9. […] I wrote more about strategy here as a secret to creating a highly motivated team. […]

  10. […] be part of a small group.  At its ugliest, the position becomes something the leadership tries to cultivate using a business-like model of leader-grooming in lieu of spiritual teaching, Christ-seeking, and constant […]

  11. Leadership Roundup | Worship Links on June 12, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    […] Carey Nieuwhof explains the best way to motivate a team: […]

  12. beachcombert on June 12, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    I get that not every church needs a building or a board of directors, and emergent churches in particular try to be Spirit-filled, not bureaucratic. But, I’m wondering, in your team, with its laser focus on just one (or 2 or 5) goals, is there room for democracy? Do any of your priorities bubble up from your team members, or is it usually the case that God “speaks” to someone (perchance the pastor), and then that person gathers 2 or 3 supporters, who then bring aboard the rest of your group? Personally, I have more confidence in a church where lay members are encouraged to bring forth a wide variety of possible goals. Even if the list has to be narrowed to just 2 or 3, I think people value being part of the decision-making process, even if they mumble, “I’ll support whatever the pastor wants.”

    • Dennis McCaskill on June 12, 2014 at 6:17 pm

      When was the church ever a democracy?

      • Pete on June 13, 2014 at 9:20 am

        When the congregation agreed to deacons? Acts 6:1-6

  13. Larry Kroh on June 12, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Great article Carey! I’m a 53 year old boomer who planted what’s evolved to be a tiny church in London ON. made up of young adults the age of my own kids. Some are believers but most are not yet followers of Jesus. Our approach is rather unconventional but it resonates with the kinds of people we believe we are called to reach – people who are uninterested in what we’re doing and unconvinced by what we say; those known as “nones.” A long time ago I noticed that Jesus discipled students before they realized they where his students. It’s like he discipled them before they signed up as disciples. It feels like that in my ministry as well. The challenge is striving for a balance between evangelizing and discipling and I’m realizing that both are different sides of the same coin. I see Jesus doing both in his apprenticing. I enjoy learning from you especially since we share a Canadian context and better still the same province! Thanks for investing yourself into old dogs like me 🙂

  14. […] from Carey Nieuwhof’s blog – COMMENTS […]

  15. Landon on June 11, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    A well thought-out article indeed. However, shouldn’t the mission and/or vision of every church be the same: to glorify Christ? Further, this sentence sat awkwardly with me, “They’ll give their lives to it, which is [sic] our case, means leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by creating a church unchurched people love to attend.”

    How can current believers have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ if the church we’re creating is for the unchurched? In other words, how can the saints be properly edified if the message is being catered to those who aren’t walking with the Lord?

    The apostle Paul tells us that “there is no one who understands, no on who seeks God” (Romans 3:11). This means there is no such thing as an unbeliever who is truly seeking God for his own. So, if we’re catering to those not actually seeking, rather attracting them through worldly means inside the church, how are believers being taught to grow in their faith? And if the mission is anything other than preaching Christ and Him crucified, how is it Biblical?

    I very much appreciate your well-crafted and well thought-out article. I present these questions sans snark or agenda. I’m just trying to grow in my faith and these are honest questions with no intended malice.


    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 11, 2014 at 7:22 pm

      Landon…nice to meet you and thanks for honest and kindly worded questions. You ask a great question…and yes it is counterintuitive.

      But a few thoughts. First, the whole vision behind churches like the one I lead is laid out in Andy Stanley’s recent book, Deep and Wide. Well worth the read.

      Second, our difference is not in content but in approach. Our content is deeply biblical, but we make it accessible for people who haven’t got a church background.

      Finally, I think one of the missing aspects of discipleship in most churches is investment in people who are not Christians. One of the best ways to grow is to invest in people who don’t know Christ.

      Hope this helps!

    • Chris Shumate on June 16, 2014 at 9:05 am

      Landon – Here are a few thoughts of mine.

      I attend a church in TN that is focus on reaching the lost, unchurched, and those who went to church and were burnt by members. Our church is encouraged to develop their faith not only on the weekends, but also during the week. If any believer wants to truly grow in their walk with Christ, they cannot do it in Sunday school/small group, and Sunday morning preaching. One pastor cannot shepherd hundreds or thousands.

      Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. The mission of the church should be the same. After all seeking to save the lost for the glory of Christ, will glorify Him, correct?

      I believe, Landon, that in order to grow in my walk with Christ, I must read on my own, listen to other pastors, listen to podcasts, my pastor cannot be my only form of growth. I have an accountability partner, and many others speaking into my life. I speak into others’ lives as well. These types of spiritual disciplines have helped me grow tremendously.

      To ask a preacher or church to go deeper into the Word of God, when we are not using what we know already is, quite frankly, a slap in the face to all that God calls us to be. If we choose not to go deeper on our own, why should our pastors be responsible for taking us deeper? Nearly everyone knows more Bible than they are putting to use; candidly, I know I do. Thus, I need to grow in this area.

    • Dawn on September 2, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      I’ve been struggling with this same dilema. I feel like we are catering to the lost world instead of “maturing and being the Church.” What we do beyond the “body” is mission. But we aren’t nurturing the “body” in discipleship or maturity. Seeker services doesn’t set well with me at the cost of the discipleship growth of the “body”. And though we have numerical growth.. where is the spiritual growth that we witnessed in the NT Church. We focus on “today’s cultural needs” and buffet of choice book studies by Christian authors. However, when did the bible become obsolete in answering every need. As Solomon said.. There’s nothing new under the sun. We water down sermons to 15 social gospel minutes. Sing self gratifying praise songs for 30 minutes. I as a mature believer (and missionary) walk away with a repulsive feeling in my heart. My thoughts on the 7 churches in Revelations. Bringing the pagan things into the church and becoming like the world. The Church is for Believers.. the body. How can a non believer be The Church. We bring new believers into the Body.. the Church. We need to be doing the mission and message daily wherever, however and whenever. Whatever it takes with a can do spirit. The NT Church wasn’t meant to be like the Synagogue. Man organized it to look just like it. The Church was a movement.. not a building. Christ didn’t come with an architect and a building plan. We are the Church on a mission to be on the move at all times in all places and all ways. Doing life amongst the non-Christ Followers or “unchurched.” Think about it. If Christ Followers are the CHURCH.. then the unchurched are not Christ followers or the CHURCH. What makes us the CHURCH? God’s salvation plan. Why is America the third largest mission field in the world yet the most “churched?” Why is the gospel spreading in the rest of the world and not Europe, Canada or America? We are the most churched. Hmmm could it be we focus too much on building and not the mission and discipleship? Just saying… seems obvious to me.

      • Dawn on September 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm

        I love what you are doing!!! I know others who are doing the same thing.

  16. Heath Shamburg on June 11, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Hi Carey, thanks for the incouragement, I remember a pastor and friend once tell me that God told him that he was going to loose a 100 saints in his church. When he heard this he cried out to Lord asking him, “No, don’t let this happen” then The Lord responded saying, ” they are not saints, but aints,”
    I later followed up with him a year or so later, and he told me he indeed lost a 100 folks who left his church, but the core he was left with was more powerful than ever and God was moving more through their community than when he was 100 more.
    Salt and light, that’s all we are,
    Let’s season and light this world on fire, then we’ll have a shrimp barbi!, lol


  17. […] Source: Careynieuwhof […]

    • Hookrow on July 5, 2020 at 9:49 pm

      Amazing words, you guys doing great job. Keep it up and keep sharing.

  18. Melrick Bogier on June 11, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Carey let me just say that since coming across your blog just a few months ago, I have grown as a leader and I look forward to your new posts as well as trying to catch up on all of the old posts. Moving on…I’ve find this very thing to be so true as far as staying focused! You will have fall out but we know the illustration of a diffused light just illuminating but a laser-focused light being able to cut.

    The mere fact that I am focused helps me to plan, organize and create strategy for the forward movement of the ministry. Some will go, some will stay and some will come…but the vision, mission and strategy can not be compromised.

    If I was to add something from me I would say that as a leaders I operate from a vision that God gave me. If I am confident that God gave it to me it shouldn’t be a challenge to let that be the decision-making factor. Saying no is not bad but so very necessary to the “success” of who we are called to do.

    Thanks again and keep on doing what you do sir!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 11, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      Melrick…great to connect with you! So glad to have you as part of the tribe here.

      Agree with your points! Well said. I love it when a vision is confirmed by the people around you as well.

      Thanks Melrick. Be encouraged in what you’re doing!

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