31 Lessons From 10 Church Leaders You Should Be Listening To

Every Thursday on the unSeminary podcast, we get the opportunity to learn from some incredible church leaders who are making an impact in their communities. Our hope is that you get some practical help for your church, inspiration to keep going and have a little fun along the way!

To celebrate our first 100 episodes, we pulled some key learnings from 10 of our favorite podcasts. Thanks to all of our past guests and to everyone who will make the show great in the future!

Bobby Williams // Ridge Church 

Key Learnings:

  • bobby_smallOffer a gift (e.g., imprinted coffee mug with a packet of coffee or a T-shirt) to first-time guests when they fill out and hand in a connection card with their information.
  • On Mondays, send hand-written notes to new people, thanking them for coming and inviting them to return.
  • Try email sequencing as a way to follow up with first-time guests, or in other areas of ministry. Send a series of scheduled emails (about 5 to 7) over a 30-day period, which follow up and provide brief, helpful information about the church and how to get involved. Focus on content that will add value to the life of the reader.

On email sequencing: “We don’t want to flood their email box…we try to add value in the content we send them.”

[Listen Now: Leveraging Email to Follow Up with First-Time Guests]

Sarah Bessey // Author, Blogger & Speaker

Key Learnings:

  • sarahbesseyEvery church community is unique and will have different ways of including more female voices at the table, from revisiting church constitutions and voting practices to having conversations with women about the wounds and despair that have come from feeling “invisible.”
  • Recognize the potential of the young women in your community. How can you draw it out?

On feminism: “We tend to confuse feminism with matriarchy. And it’s not the same thing… It simply is equality.”

[Listen Now: On Being a Jesus Feminist]

Tim Stevens // Vanderbloemen Search Group

Key Learnings:

  • timstevensWhen hiring, résumés only show you so much — education and job experience are a small piece of the puzzle. Character, chemistry and culture-fit are super important when hiring, especially in ministry.
  • When hiring in ministry, look within your church first. You have a unique opportunity to see into the lives of people, how they interact with others and serve, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their characters are like and how they fit with the church culture.
  • Once you have a team of great leaders, continue to create a culture on staff where people have fun. Take time to share where you’ve seen God at work in the last week or month.
  • Give authority with responsibility and empower others to make decisions.

On giving responsibility away: “If you want really strong, get-it-done leaders that will really move the mission and the vision forward with you and really shake the Kingdom, then those kinds of leaders, they want to be able to make decisions, and to have authority, and to get stuff done. It’s not a power play or a power grab; it’s just how God’s wired them.”

[Listen Now: Building a Positive Team Culture in Your Church]

Dhati Lewis // Blueprint Church & Rebuild Network

Key Learnings:

  • Dhati_LewisOften discipleship is reduced to a solitary or one-on-one activity, but Jesus had his 12 disciples. They experienced life-on-life discipleship in community with one another.
  • How can we recapture the heart of hospitality and really be present in other people’s lives?
  • People will be converted to the Christian community before they are converted to the Christian God.

On corporate discipleship: “It takes a church to raise a Christian.”

[Listen Now: Discipleship Lessons from Dense and Diverse Urban Communities]

Scott Cochrane // Willow Creek Association

Key Learnings:

  • Scott_100x100Leadership development begins with the senior leaders; it is their responsibility to develop their teams by providing support and resources. Actually providing resources for leadership development turns it from a value to a plan.
  • Follow up with your team twice a year to see how their leadership development is going. Accountability in this area is important because it ultimately adds value to the local church.

On leadership development: “If we can increase our capacity as leaders, everything under our watch is going to flourish.”

[Listen Now: The Leadership Development Imperative in the Local Church]

Bruxy Cavey // The Meeting House

Key Learnings:

  • bruxyphotoBeing a “new wineskin” community means being willing to ask: What does it mean to change our style or our approach, and be open to innovation and technology without compromising who we are? Our “wineskin” should always be changing while our message does not.
  • When we talk about Jesus, there are certain things we are to emulate and other things that are a part of His self-definition. We have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus leading by example, or showing us God in this situation?
  • When we are called to follow Christ’s example, we are called to gentleness, mercy and ongoing forgiveness. We should possess a beautiful grace and have a reputation for these things.
  • The fruit of the Spirit is not a suggestion for certain personality types or behind-the-scenes Christians — it is what the Spirit is trying to do in our lives all the time.

On leading out of gentleness: “Anger is not the emotion that will help us display our holiness.”

[Listen Now: The Misunderstood Leadership Traits of Jesus]

Jenni Catron // Menlo Park Church

Key Learnings:

  • jenni_smallIf leadership is influence, what might be holding me back from my God-given influence? (e.g., fear, comparison, jealousy, scarcity, insecurity, pride, control)
  • As leaders, we can be so eager for influence that we neglect to examine our own hearts and work through what we need to. We must lead ourselves well to lead others better.
  • Know what rejuvenates you and learn to cultivate these things in your interior life.

On pride and leadership: “As leaders, we are so hungry and eager for leadership and influence…we cover up a lot of the other fears and insecurities…we are wrestling with, and it manifests itself in pride and it becomes kind of an ugly form of leadership.”

[Listen Now: Internal Life of Church Leaders]

Greg Atkinson // Transformation Church

Key Learnings:

  • greg_atkinsonInnovation — doing something new and different — requires the leading of the Holy Spirit, and it can only be discovered through prayer.
  • Innovation isn’t about being “cool” or “trendy,” it’s about joining God where he’s at work.
  • Innovation also means considering what churches might need to subtract from their current ministries. Churches that are thriving do a few things very well.

On innovation as we seek God through prayer: “There is no shortcut to innovation; you cannot bypass prayer.”

[Listen Now: Innovation from a Biblical Perspective]

Carey Nieuwhof // Connexus Church 

Key Learnings:

  • carey_smallLeading people through change is a skill that can be learned. It’s up to the leader to show people a picture of a preferred future and to lead them there. Lead with the “why” rather than the “what” or “how.”
  • We assume loud equals large, but often the loud group of opponents is smaller than you might think, and they don’t have an alternate vision for a preferred future.
  • When talking through change with opponents, ask yourself two questions: Is there a biblical argument in what they are saying? Are these the kind of people we’re going to build the future of the church on?
  • Many times disagreements are based on strategy, rather than character, mission or vision.

On dealing with opponents of change: “Have the humility to listen, but the wisdom to only act on the things that really are going to determine a better future.”

On where to focus when considering change: “Focus on who you want to reach rather than who you want to keep.”

[Listen Now: Leading Your Church Through Change]

Ron Edmondson // Immanuel Baptist Church

Key Learnings:

  • ron_smallA church that has plateaued or is in decline needs to re-think its systems and processes to turn things around.
  • How are you bridging the gap in your community? If your reach is not going beyond your church walls, get involved in the community and with community leaders.
  • As churches, we all have “systems” whether we realize it or not. Systems are simply the standard way we do things (e.g., how staff are hired, how Sunday School is organized, etc.). We can improve our performance by being intentional about improving our systems. When examining systems, ask yourself: Is it effective? Efficient? Purposeful?

On re-thinking church: “We have an incredible facility here…some 13,000 people walk through our doors in any given week. And yet we don’t go outside our walls. We weren’t investing in our community…We gotta change that.”

[Listen Now: Church Turnarounds and the Importance of Systems]


  1. Rich,

    Such a great lineup of leaders! I like Bobby Williams’ points about sending followup emails to first-time guests. It’s a fairly simple and non-intrusive way to show you’re glad they came and care about them. Tim Stevens’ point about giving authority along with responsibility is huge. It’s scary to delegate at times, but eventually you have to trust your team to take on new responsibilities. Otherwise, the church’s growth will be limited by your ability to “do it all.”

    Best wishes on the next 100 episodes of the podcast!


  2. I liked many of the suggestions. However, almost every church leader mentioned “staff.” I would like to know what do you do when you as the pastor are the only “staff” and your part-time at that? My wife, who is an office manager/bookkeeper for a nonprofit organization helps me with some of the administrative tasks and I have some good volunteers but they have their own lives and their commitment ebbs and flows.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.