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How to Stack Your Leadership Pipeline With Your Best Volunteers and Team Members

Leadership Pipeline

Wherever I talk to leaders, they tell me one of their top challenges is finding enough people for their teams, particularly volunteers.

Then—usually within minutes—they tell me an even bigger challenge is to find the right people—people who can lead, inspire, mobilize and accomplish things, and that they don’t have nearly enough young leaders ready to move the mission forward and reach the next generation. (If it’s helpful to you, here are some keys to working with and leading Millennials.)

How to Stack Your Leadership Pipeline With Your Best Volunteers and Team Members

Regardless of age, though, this is a challenge in staffing that cuts across every demographic, and it’s an even bigger challenge for churches and organizations that use volunteers.

Churches will almost always have 50-100 times as many volunteers as you do staff. And, by definition, you can’t incentivize volunteers with attractive salaries and benefits.

For all those reasons and more, most churches struggle to get enough volunteers, and almost all churches struggle to find the right volunteers. And everyone leading teams struggles to get great people.

And here’s what’s at stake. Your church or organization will never grow unless you master the art of christian leadership development.

Why? Because your church will only grow as large as your team enables it. Perpetually small teams create perpetually small churches. But grow your team, and you open the path to growing your church.

The question is, how do you do that?

Despite all the talk over the last few years about developing a leadership pipeline, most leaders are struggling to figure out how to do it.

So today, let me show you a simple short cut I’ve found to stacking your pipeline with the best new volunteers and team members.

Here we go.


So let’s start with a simple reality. There are essentially two kinds of people: 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 organizations build teams of leaders, not just teams of doers.

So many 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 potential team member is a leader or a doer?

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


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

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

Sure, they’re not leading at your church, but if they’re really a leader I promise you 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 playgroups, the book clubs. She’s a leader.

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

Or, let’s say they’re still in school, true leaders will already be volunteering as president of a club or leading trips or teams or doing something meaningful that they don’t have to do.

Bottom line: Look for people who are already leading something somewhere. You can spot a leader because they’re already leading 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 on your team.


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.

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.


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.


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 six 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.


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

By the way, even though this post is primarily about finding volunteers, these five criteria also work beautifully for staff hires.

This article originally appeared here.