Nobody will argue that mainline denominations are in decline. It doesn’t matter if the decline is 80 percent or 65 percent as suggested by a recent Barna study, mainline denominations are seeing fewer and fewer people in the pews. This decline begs a question – “What will it take to turn this decline around?”

Like everything else in the world, denominations will rise or fall on the quality of their leaders. So the answer to this question is simple – turnaround for mainliners depends on raising up a much different crop of leaders than it has had the last fifty years.

During the course of writing my latest book, which I co-authored with Bill Tenny-Brittian, I interviewed more than two-dozen leaders in churches that were growing and multiplying. During the interviews I noticed a common list of characteristics in each of these gifted leaders. Here are those characteristics.

A Heart for the Kingdom

First and foremost, these leaders understand the scope of what they are about. They know in their gut there is more to faith than merely growing a larger and larger church. They could care less if their church is on the fastest growing church list. What they passionately care about is the well being of the Kingdom. This characteristic allows them to partner with a wide variety of leaders of vastly different theological persuasion as long as one thing is central to their theology – Jesus. These pastors have a deep-seated obedience to Jesus Christ. Everything in the life, including family, is wrapped around Jesus. They live and breathe obedience to his commands.

Driven by the Great Commission

These leaders have a steadfast commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s almost as if they believe that it will be fulfilled in their lifetime. Fulfilling the Great Commission isn’t mere theology to them: it is the reason for getting up in the morning. One of these leaders, who will remain anonymous, used the phrase “World domination” when referring to the scope of the Great Commission. These leaders aren’t playing the religious game, they are in the fight to win the world to Jesus.

Authentic Humility

These leaders know it’s not about them; it’s about the gospel. They also know that what they are about is way beyond their ability. They know they can’t accomplish such a feat alone. In understanding this inability, they give off a powerful aura of humility. These leaders quietly go about their ministry. They don’t toot their horn. Needless to say they have conquered the ego demon.

Giving is Better than Receiving

Because they understand that Christianity is based on giving more than receiving these leaders are uniquely positioned to do the following:

  • They have a release mentality. They are willing to give up their best and brightest leaders to further the Kingdom by sending them out to plant churches that will plant churches.
  • They value getting ministry done through others, which allows them to accomplish much more because not only are they multiplying themselves but they are also empowering others to lead. They live to equip others to carry out the gospel.
  • They have no desire to control what happens.
  • These leaders understand that God works in many different ways.

A Love for the Lost

Finally, these leaders love people, especially lost people. It’s this love that fuels their passion and directs their actions. As one pastor said, “When lost people matter and people love them, people will do whatever needs to be done to reach them.”


I’m convinced that if mainline leadership had these characteristics their denominations would be growing. What do you think?