Church Leaders Emphasize Motivation, But Struggle with Strategy


Research Releases in Leaders & Pastors • February 27, 2006

More than nine out of every ten Senior Pastors of Protestant churches - 92% -now consider themselves to be effective leaders. This is a dramatic increase since 2001, when less than three-fourths of all Senior Pastors deemed themselves to be effective leaders.

But another striking finding from the new research conducted by The Barna Group is how few Senior Pastors believe that they are effective at strategic  leadership. While a large majority contends that they are gifted at motivating people, only one out of every seven Senior Pastors (14%) say that they are effective at thinking and acting strategically.

In most cases, if there is a strategic leader in the leadership mix of a church, it is either a staff person or a lay leader. Because less than one out of every five Protestant congregations employ ministry staff, that means most of the strategic leadership in churches must come from congregants.

Challenges Regarding Strategic Leadership

The Barna studies also indicated that more often than not, the strategic leader is mistakenly perceived to be a manager and gets assigned to overseeing details rather than anticipating and planning for potential opportunities and challenges. This occurs because few pastors understand the different types of leaders - directing, strategic, team-building and operational - and how to best operate in a team-based environment with them. Consequently, pastors are inclined to attribute the overt characteristics of strategic leaders - such as their attention to detail, their desire for efficiency and their insistence upon careful organization - to be the marks of a manager.

The attributes that are often criticized or misdiagnosed include their critical manner (which reflects their innate perfectionism), their demanding nature (resulting from their need for truth and integrity), and their need to plan everything (as a result of their analytical drive). Sometimes they are deemed to lack faith in God because of their proclivity to plan for every contingency.

In many churches, those who possess the strategic leadership aptitude are questioned as to their leadership abilities because their approach to leading is so different from that of the Senior Pastor - who, in most cases, is a Directing leader. The Directing leader majors on motivation, empowerment, resource acquisition and vision casting - all areas that Strategic leaders realize are critical to success, but which are skills not among their dominant competencies. The best situation is when a Directing and Strategic leader work in tandem to pursue a shared vision. Sadly, the research indicates that Strategic leaders are more likely to be dismissed as too critical, overly analytical, and impersonal to be given the chance to create innovative strategies and plans for ministry expansion and impact.

Implications for Ministry

The research conducted by The Barna Group discovered some interesting correlations between the absence of a Strategic leader and the condition of a local church. First, churches without a pastor, staff member or key elder in a recognized strategic leader position tend to remain numerically small. Such churches average fewer than 100 adults in weekly attendance. Second, these are churches that are significantly behind the curve in adopting new approaches to ministry. One example is the failure to embrace new technological tools for ministry. That condition is partly a result of the budget limitations attributable to limited attendance, but also relates to the narrower thinking common to such ministries. Third, churches that do not esteem and release the strategic abilities of these leaders are more likely to be in a constant state of crisis due to the failure to anticipate foreseeable problems that ultimately hinder the ministry. The absence of a Strategic leader typically produces more restricted analysis of situations and less effective problem-solving skills within the leadership ranks of the church.

Addressing the Need

The importance of finding and incorporating the skills of a strategic leader were amplified by George Barna, who has conducted research regarding leadership for more than two decades. "No single individual can provide the full extent of leadership competencies required by a complex organization, such as a church. The most effective organizations blend the talents and views of the four types of leaders into an effective team, usually driven by the Directing leader but greatly enhanced by the special gifts of the other three types of leaders."

The author of a half-dozen books about leadership, Barna also noted, "Strategic leaders refuse to jump on the bandwagon of the latest and greatest fads, which sometimes makes them seem stodgy or disinterested. They rarely get caught up in the enthusiasm of ideation sessions and initially blanch at the level of risk that is required by the emotional decisions promoted by fellow leaders. In the end, though, the contribution of the Strategic leader is profound. They bring balance, wisdom and well-conceived plans to the process. On their own, Strategic leaders are ineffective. But when they are a valued member of a dynamic team, they enhance the leadership of their colleagues and the impact of their organization."

Research Background

The data in this report are based on two recent bodies of research conducted by The Barna Group. The first is a nationwide telephone survey conducted by The Barna Group among a nationally representative sample of 627 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches. In addition, information from a sample of 4880 Senior Pastors, church staff and lay leaders was drawn from the Christian Leader Profile, a leadership inventory developed by The Barna Group to evaluate the leadership calling, character, competencies and aptitude of Christians involved in the Church.

The PastorPoll[SM] survey was conducted in November and December 2005. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. People in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of those individuals coincided with the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.

The Barna Research Group, Ltd. is an independent marketing research company located in southern California. Since 1984, it has been studying cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. If you would like to receive regular e-mailings of a brief overview of each new bi-weekly update on the latest research findings from the Barna Research Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna Research web site (www.barna.org).

© The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009.

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