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Leadership and Flourishing Congregations in Canada

Congregations are unlikely to flourish without great leaders, however great leadership does not entail that congregations will flourish.

During over one hundred interviews and nearly a dozen focus groups with church and denominational leaders of self-identified flourishing congregations (Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant) in five Canadian regions, our research team asked leaders to define and describe what they think a flourishing congregation looks like. Here are four aspects of leadership that those in our study perceive to be important based on their experiences, as but one aspect of a multidimensional understanding of flourishing congregations in Canada.

Spirit-Led Leadership

Spirit-led leadership is fundamental to church leadership – it is not enough to merely study and develop the latest leadership competencies. Church leaders must personally be attentive to the spirit of God in their own life and on behalf of their congregation. Prayer, scripture, fasting, worship, confession, and service are some examples of anchoring practices for spirit-led leaders. Is spirit-led leadership evident in your leader’s life, and does spirit-led leadership anchor senior leadership decision-making processes?

Strategic Leadership

Strategic leaders have the skills and disposition to navigate organizational complexity, including diverse perspectives, personalities, and personnel and culture change – they understand how the various parts of the organization work together and they make decisions that foster institutional synergy. Part of strategic leadership includes helping to draw out and articulate a clear congregational vision and identity, to rally people around that vision, to help their church move toward fulfilling its vision, and to do so with both the short and long term in mind. Importantly, strategic leaders are enabled to lead from the front of the organization, utilizing their leadership strengths. Do your key leaders think and act in organizationally strategic ways and/or are they surrounded by leaders for whom this is a strength?

Lay Leadership

Organizational sustainability is enhanced when lay members are equipped and empowered as leaders too – leadership does not reside primarily or solely with a single leader. Flourishing congregations prioritize developing leaders, sharing leadership decisions, and fostering a “yes culture” to new ventures that arise from the “ground up.” Incidentally we discovered that many larger congregations cultivate and hire leaders from within their organization. Who are you and your leaders intentionally developing in your organization? Would your organization be in trouble if your central leader left?

Sustainable Leadership

Sustainable leadership – personally and professionally – is prioritized in many flourishing churches. For example, regularly scheduled sabbaticals are believed to help with long term pastoral sustainability while simultaneously giving space for other paid and lay leaders to step up during and after the sabbatical; pastors who intentionally pursue a healthy work-life balance, including exercise, a weekly day off set aside for self and family with no work contact, and protecting some evenings for themselves and their families; and professional development opportunities where leaders are constantly learning, to hone their craft. Is your church and leadership cognizant of and taking steps toward sustainable leadership?

Congregations are unlikely to flourish without great leaders, however great leadership does not entail that congregations will flourish. There are many other environmental and contextual factors beyond leadership that are also important for congregations to flourish. More on these variables can be found on our website:

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