As I travel around the country speaking to various groups, I often spend time talking about the leadership crisis facing the church. We simply are not attracting the kinds of people that we need to lead our churches today. I say this not to diminish the excellent ministries many of our church leaders offer to our existing congregations, but the truth is that the church as a whole needs more entrepreneurial leaders, people who can start new churches or radically innovate declining ones. They don’t teach us to do this in seminary, and the church is suffering because of that.
What is also true is that the church is not the only place that needs entrepreneurial leaders. It seems to be the widespread trend these days in most parts of our society. As our global institutions feel the stress of financial shifts, diversification, and technological advances, we turn more and more to people who can help us see new opportunities in the midst of the radical changes we are experiencing in our culture.
In a recent article published by the “Business Journal,” Sangeeta Badal and Joe Streur of the Gallup Organization took a look at common characteristics of successful innovators. They made a compelling case for the critical role that entrepreneurial leaders play in our global economy. They noted that:
In the United States, for example, nearly half of all jobs are in the small business sector, and small businesses accounted for 65% of the new jobs created between 1993 and 2009. Yet fewer than half of new American businesses survive in their first five years. To drive startups, the United States and other countries have created an infrastructure of incubators and coaching programs to support entrepreneurs and spur business growth. Though these programs are useful and necessary, they often overlook a key element in a new enterprises success: the innate talents that successful entrepreneurs bring to the task of building a business.
Because the structure of the church has always mirrored our culture, it should not surprise any of us that, in mainline denominations, we have created mirror systems and strategies for shaping our entrepreneurial leaders. In most mainline denominations, we designed coaching programs focused on supporting work of courageous leaders who are starting and renewing churches. What has become clear to us, though, is that our success rate mirrors almost identically the success rate found in the business culture. Approximately 50 percent of our new churches and renewal projects succeed. It seems than that we should learn from this study and consider who we are recruiting into this work before we train them how to do the work.
Entrepreneurism is on the rise, so let’s take a look at what that means for a Christian leader serving a church.
Top 10 Traits of Entrepreneurial Church Leaders
They ask forgiveness, not permission. Successful entrepreneurial leaders are self-starters. To start anything new or create innovation in anything dying requires long hours and hard work. Entrepreneurial church leaders make these sacrifices, often pushing others around them and the systems of which they are a part to make things happen. They understand that systems produce what they are designed to produce, and to change the outcomes you have to change the input. For the entrepreneurial leader, this often means asking forgiveness from their existing structures rather than asking for permission to try an experiment.
They have a brand. May I just say it? A successful entrepreneurial leader has a certain charisma, a likeability that cannot be taught. They either have it, or they don’t. They must interact successfully with people to inspire them and motivate them to connect to a larger vision.
They take risks. Starting anything from nothing or turning around a declining church is risky business. Entrepreneurial leaders see opportunities where others see roadblocks, and they find ways to work around them. Most churches are started and renewed in environments of scarce resources, high uncertainty, and ambiguity. To succeed, you have to stretch yourself and be comfortable with chaos. Remember, God created out of chaos. It seems to be a fruitful place to find new life.
They are obsessive students of their ministry. Successful entrepreneurial church leaders are relentlessly curious students who are preoccupied with understanding the impact and outputs of their ministry, constantly seeking knowledge to strengthen their effectiveness. Those who succeed past the five-year mark in their ministry have mastered the art of measuring the key indicators of health in their ministries.
They inspire us with vision. The most successful entrepreneurial leaders are the best spokespersons for their ministry. When they talk about their church, you have the clear sense that this church not only could exist, but that it should exist. There is a moral imperative to the work. Do you remember the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem? Nehemiah reminded his people of what their city had been like before the walls were destroyed and then inspired within them the possibility of restoring their city as the source of pride that it should be.
They focus on outcomes. Shaping a ministry requires focus. Successful entrepreneurial leaders adopt achievable goals and then build systems to ensure they succeed. Most successful leaders use numeric metrics such as the number of active participants, the number of small groups, the number of outreach opportunities, and weekly giving to track the growth and health of the church.
They think through possibility and practicalities. Entrepreneurial leaders are creative and see what could be possible. They are visionary and practical, able to see what could exist while also understanding the challenges of making it so. They see the world with fresh eyes and are often generating many ideas for innovation and experimentation.
They are self-reliant. In the early years of a new church or a turnaround project, entrepreneurial leaders must function in many different roles. They often play the role of most versatile player on the team, willing to do what it takes to get the job done. Although it takes many people to start or regrow a church, the entrepreneurial leader’s sense of responsibility and levels of competence play a critical role in the early stage of the ministry.
They multiply themselves through delegation. In the beginning of the new church or turnaround ministry, building a team is one of the essential functions of an entrepreneurial leader. No one can start or renew a church by themselves. If the church is to grow, the entrepreneurial leader must create a system that attracts other creative leaders and also empowers them to make decisions necessary to grow and strengthen the ministry.
They build networks. Successful entrepreneurial leaders understand that nothing scalable exists in a vacuum. While the vision may originate with one person or a small team, they will need immediately to interact with other people to secure the resources, talent, and partnerships necessary to succeed. Successful entrepreneurs are adept at building relationships. They have strong social awareness and can attract and maintain a constituency. The enthusiasm and positivity of strong relationship builders make it easier for others to interact with them. These entrepreneurs also have high standards of personal conduct that enable others to trust them and form strong relationships with them.