The How and Why of Team Ministry

The How and Why of Team Ministry
By David Kinnaman

Here’s what recent research on church leaders has uncovered about effective team leadership

Team leadership is a hot topic. In a study of more than 5,000 church leaders over the past four years, The Barna Group researchers found that churches are becoming more attuned to the notion of leading as a team, but the actual practice of team leadership remains elusive for most churches.

What does authentic team ministry look like? Although every church approaches things differently, the research points out two common themes in effective team leadership.

First, the team should include people who can fulfill four distinct leadership functions.

These four leadership functions or aptitudes are…

1) Directing (big-picture vision casting);

2) Team-Building (mobilizing and motivating people toward accomplishing the vision);

3) Strategic Thinking (translating the vision into measurable and meaningful objectives); and

4) Operational Skill (developing systems that facilitate the vision).

These functions are almost always best fulfilled by different people. Even if a leader has the aptitude to fulfill more than one role (which is very rare), doing so diminishes the mix of passion, time, and able-bodied leaders that makes up a viable team.

Second, the most effective team approach organizes the ministries of the church into right-size teams. This means having squads of leaders that aren’t too small, but aren’t so large that they lose focus and efficiency. Simply having a group of talented people doesn’t inherently facilitate a team approach. Churches may have a gifted staff and a competent board, but to be most effective these individuals should operate in small, focused teams. Some churches organize teams to facilitate specific ministries (such as children or youth) or to develop processes that engage the congregation in vital spiritual pursuits (for example, discipleship, community, and so on).

Why Are Teams So Important?

Teams are crucial for many reasons, but let me highlight the most significant factors. The collaborative approach to leadership most closely resembles the scriptural analogy of the interdependent parts of a body. Churches that rely heavily on team leadership help to defuse the cult of personality that so often plagues churches in our celebrity-oriented culture.

Another reason to consider team leadership is that such an environment is fundamentally more attractive to young leaders. The Christian church is struggling to integrate young leaders, and team leadership is a natural fit for 20- and 30-year-olds.

Furthermore, without the right leadership mix, your church’s vision will be one-dimensional. The research shows that only 14 percent of pastors are strategic leaders, making it one of the rarest of the four primary aptitudes necessary for organizational leadership. Strategic leaders turn big visions into detailed, meaningful activity, so churches without such leaders often squander time and energy in fruitless activity, failing to produce lasting spiritual transformation in people’s lives. Do you have a gifted strategic leader as part of your team? What about operational, directing, and team-building leaders?

Whatever leadership approach your church uses, in what ways can you enhance your efforts to operate as a team? Spend time considering how each person is uniquely gifted, what aptitudes are missing, how to build appropriate teams, and how to facilitate true teamwork in all the ministries of the church. Doing ministry as a team isn’t easy. But it’s more rewarding, more humbling, and ultimately more effective than solo leadership.

David Kinnaman is president and strategic leader of The Barna Group. You can learn more about your leadership aptitude by taking the online diagnostic Christian Leader Pro file (available at or reading George Barna’s The Power of Team Leadership (WaterBrook Press).

Excerpted from REV! may/june 2007

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”