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There is a significant difference between launching a new campus—or even a new church, for that matter—and becoming a reproducing church. Occasionally you will find a church that is able to launch new locations because of its size or significant financial resources. This is not a reproducing church.

A reproducing church is one that is repeatedly launching new small groups, teams, services, campuses, churches and even networks. There are really no shortcuts to doing this. More than anything else, it demands the intentional and systematic reproduction of leaders. As a leader, you will need four key relationships in order to successfully reproduce again and again:

A Reproducing Leader Needs Followers

The idea that a leader needs followers may seem obvious, but we find that it is often overlooked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, This person looks like a leader, walks like a leader, and talks like a leader, and then we’ve placed him in a leadership position before we’ve seen if he can actually attract a following and learn to be an apprentice himself.

Several years ago, a talented young man started attending our church. One of our campus pastors immediately identified him as someone with tremendous leadership potential. He had strong people skills, and he could cast vision and strategize with tremendous insight. Not only that, he was a great communicator—a truly gifted teacher.

So what did we do? We offered him a position on our staff. And he accepted. We soon found out that while he did some things very well, his real gift was “talking church” with the best of them.

Yes, he could cast a compelling vision. And because of that he was great at attracting a crowd. But the sad truth we discovered was that he was unable to develop a following. His ability to truly lead was seriously crippled.

There is a difference between attracting a crowd and developing a following. Crowds are temporary. They’re fickle and unpredictable. But followers are in it for the long haul. While having a following is not the only test of leadership, you can be sure that if there are no followers, there is a lack of leadership.

We have found small groups to be the best place to put this principle to the test, because only a person who is capable of developing followers will be successful at leading a small group. And if a person has proven capable of developing a following in a small group, one of those followers in the group can be a future apprentice leader.

A Reproducing Leader Needs Apprentices

We challenge every leader to have at least one apprentice, someone he or she is working with and developing to become a leader as well. There is a simple apprentice-developing process that applies to any leadership role. It’s based on a principle found in 2 Timothy 2:2, where the apostle Paul writes to his apprentice Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (NIV).

While there are many ways in which an apprentice needs to be developed and equipped, we have found a simple process that has proven successful time and time again in a variety of leadership roles or functions—five basic steps that you can follow to take someone “along on the journey” and equip him or her for leadership. Your ability to utilize these five steps will largely determine the impact of your leadership.

  1. I do. You watch. We talk. As an experienced leader leads a team, an apprentice takes time to observe him or her. Then the two meet to discuss what the apprentice has observed.
  2. I do. You help. We talk. In this phase of development, the leader gives the apprentice an opportunity to help lead in a particular area.
  3. You do. I help. We talk. Now the apprentice transitions from supporting or helping the leader to taking on most of the leadership responsibilities of the team or group.
  4. You do. I watch. We talk. The apprentice process is almost complete, as the new leader grows increasingly more confident in his or her role.
  5. You do. Someone else watches. The former apprentice is now leading and begins developing a new apprentice.

A Reproducing Leader Needs Peers

At our church, reproducing leaders find peer-to-peer accountability in something we call “leadership huddles.” Huddles are monthly gatherings of leaders in small groups that include four basic activities: (1) praying for one another; (2) sharing wins; (3) disclosing challenges; and (4) exchanging best practices. These huddles are led by a coach, a leader of leaders.

What is the value of these times? They provide an opportunity for our leaders to be together, sharing experiences, struggles, challenges and joys. Good leaders quickly learn that they need wise counsel from other leaders. Reproducing leaders will need to seek wise counsel from their peers.

A Reproducing Leader Needs a Coach

When you become a reproducing leader, you will inevitably develop a following and begin to surround yourself with a group of peers for support and accountability. But in addition to seeking counsel from your peers, you will also need to seek out a coach who can provide a different perspective, challenging you in ways that will further your development as a leader.

The practice of one-on-one coaching is deeply ingrained in our church’s culture. I believe that the prominence of this one-on-one development is really just an outgrowth of our emphasis on apprentice development at all levels. We equip and develop our staff the same way we equip and develop all of our leaders, through one-on-one coaching.

Every leader needs a coach. Whether you’re a small group leader, a missional team leader, or a leader of a group of students, you need someone who will provide ongoing care and trusted counsel.

Adapted from Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement by Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson, copyright 2010. Published by Zondervan. Used by permission. No part of this article may be copied or distributed in any form.

author of Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement