Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work

Why Leadership Training Doesn’t Work

I know that you will toss up examples, but I will counter with 30 years of watching, writing, and leading leadership classes both here and in other countries. I can point to few, if any, leaders who were primarily (or even secondarily) developed through a class. Physical and virtual classes are equally ineffective.

Classes and training programs look great on paper. We can create milestones and markers and spreadsheets and dashboards. We can have meetings to evaluate progress and reward according to quotas and goals.

The only challenge is that this approach doesn’t produce leaders.

At best, classes convey concepts, but those same concepts are available in books around the world. Small group leaders don’t come from small group leader classes, campus pastors don’t come from campus pastor classes, and worship leaders don’t come from worship leader classes. Classes don’t harm leaders; they just don’t produce leaders.


Last week, I had this theory confirmed from two directions. On Thursday, I participated in an online gathering around the topic of campus pastor development. I shared the fantastic campus pastor class we created at Seacoast that didn’t develop a single campus pastor. The other consultant in the meeting shared the exact same experience. Her church had, simultaneously to Seacoast, developed a brilliant educational program for potential campus pastors. Their success rate was also zero. Two programs developed separately by two successful multi-site churches with a net outcome of zero.

The second confirmation came from Marcus Buckingham at the Chick-fil-A Leadercast. I wasn’t able to attend, but my wife shared that Buckingham’s research shows that leaders aren’t developed through leadership training classes. Concepts are shared, but leaders aren’t created.

So here’s my plea to church leaders; let’s stop pouring time and resources into leadership training classes. Let’s pull the plug; stop the madness. The more time we waste herding people into classrooms and force feeding them leadership platitudes, the less time we have to actually discover and develop and deploy leaders.

Next, we’ll look at how Jesus developed leaders. (Spoiler alert: He never created a workbook or had a sign-up sheet.)

When I posted that leadership training classes don’t work, the reaction was mixed from “You thought leadership training classes worked? Are you an idiot?” to “Of course leadership training classes work. Are you an idiot?” (My paraphrase)

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Geoff has served on the leadership teams at Seacoast Church and Saddleback Church, and as Managing Director of Exponential. He is the author of several books, including Together: A Guide for Couples in Ministry written with his wife Sherry. Along with writing, Geoff coaches churches and leaders around the U.S. and in Europe. Geoff lives in Denver, Colorado. Twitter: @geoffsurratt