Practical Servant Leadership for Church Leaders

Cheryl Bachelder is the CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc., and she admits to not being particularly gifted in the specific ways her church asked her to serve. While she may not have found joy helping with the kids’ ministry, when a later church asked her to help with developing a roadmap, she leaped at the chance.

And she doesn’t just serve on the stewardship team of her church, help other churches create roadmaps, and lead Popeyes. She’s also a huge advocate for servant leadership both at work and in the church.

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During her keynote at our 2019 Pushpay Summit conference, Cheryl dug into the importance of servant leadership, pulling takeaways from her recent book, Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results by Serving Others. And the thing is, she doesn’t shy away from applying business best practices to the church in a leadership context. In fact, she believes the Church would benefit greatly if more lay members brought their years of marketplace experience to the building up of their local ministry.

And that’s not all Cheryl had to say…

“What’s it like to work for you and follow you, church leaders?”

Leadership isn’t just a matter of strong management principles and book smarts. It’s a stewardship responsibility—you’re responsible for the people entrusted to your care.

That being said, have you thought about what people say about being under your leadership? Would people say you were the best boss they ever had or would they be glad upon hearing that you got a new calling?

Servant leaders don’t worry about the answer to that question. In fact, the leaders with the strongest results and the happiest teams are those who mirror Jesus’ age-old leadership style. 

Phillippians 2:3 “in humility count others as more significant as yourself.”

But the problem isn’t that people don’t know about servant leadership. It’s that not enough people practice it, and we live in a society that reinforces the lie that nice people (those who prioritize others over self) should always finish last in life. She called this ideology misguided.

Cheryl is singing to a different tune. She advocates for empathy-based leadership model where servant leaders actually come out on top—both at work and for their church teams. 

Dare to Serve

Servant leadership brought Popeyes back from a period of incredible decline. Under Cheryl’s guide, US restaurant sales increased by 45%, restaurant profits doubled, US market share increased by 75% and 1,000 new restaurants worldwide were built worldwide. In just 10 years.

And she’s looking for this type of success in local churches that are trying to disciple more people, increase giving, and reach more people groups.

But this type of change doesn’t happen overnight and in a void. It requires a leader who dares to serve—someone who has the courage to lead people to a daring destination but is humble enough to come alongside and serve those people along that journey.

A leader who has the courage to lead people to a daring destination but is humble enough to come alongside and serve those people along that journey.

A Better Leadership Framework 

The Dare to Serve framework starts with a leader declaring a daring destination which includes a roadmap to results. For one church this destination may be launching foundational ministries like a benevolence ministry or youth group; for others, it means sending 50 more missionaries abroad within the next year. Whatever it is, it’s critical for a leader to call that out and outline a plan for getting to that destination.

Cheryl then advocates for churches to figure out who it is they really serve and loving them well. That means having a real-life understanding of the people you’re trying to reach, what their biggest struggles are, what motivates them, and how to best package the good news reach and inspire them. Nurturing your community members toward a deeper sense of belonging in your church starts with a complete picture of who they are and doesn’t ever end, even when you and your team are loving them fully. 

“It’s a game-changing notion in any place that you work to actually love the people you lead.” – Cheryl Bachelder

Thirdly, Cheryl calls servant leaders in the church to deliver results. Yes, results. This isn’t something you’ll find in scripture but will be scripture-led. Your ministry is called to reach people for the sake of the gospel. How many new people is your church trying to reach and nurture this year? What is in your roadmap for achieving this goal? How many new ministries are you hoping to launch and how will they serve your community? 

The people on your team are looking to you for clarity. And though your team’s work is plentiful and often difficult, it’s important to start off with a clear plan for delivering on your goals. 

Church Success Roadmap

Cheryl’s Dare to Serve framework starts off with declaring a daring destination and developing a roadmap to success. And it makes sense. Without an understanding of what the church is trying to success, team members and leaders alike end up working in a void, and their efforts don’t strategically help move the church forward as an organization.

In her keynote, she outlined a framework that churches can use to develop a roadmap that outlines everything from the overall church vision to desired outcomes.

Pillar 1

Define your church mission and make it visible in your sanctuary. Most churches do this well but it’s important to revisit. It’s unlikely that your mission will change, but you may decide to design a new one and make it even more visible in your lobby or at the front of your building. This is your opportunity to define what’s truly unique and distinctive about your church and communicate that to everyone who walks into your sanctuary.

Pillar 2

Define your church’s operational aspiration. What do you want the experience to be at your church? What needs within the community do you want to address? What type of presence do you want within your neighborhood and beyond? This pillar also covers your leadership’s responsibility to steward resources well and set a plan for growth. While this might mean pouring plenty of tithe dollars into missions funds, for other ministries, this means asking individual outreach branches of the church to fund their own initiatives through smaller fundraising efforts.

Pillar 3

Pillar three is where your team may spend the most time brainstorming. It involves developing specific tactics for achieving the oerational aspirations outlined in pillar two. How are you going to create a welcoming experience for guests? Is it through greeters, welcome videos before each sermon, mints in the lobby? Here’s where the diverse experience of your team members can help your collaboration yield some pretty effective tactics.

Pillar 4

Pillar four is where you establish your desired outcomes for the aspirations outlined. This is where things can sometimes feel hairy—most churches struggle when it comes to measuring success. Many ministry leaders have a hard time talking about numbers to the point where it feels very controversial within the Church. But the thing is, measurement and establishing numerical goals isn’t just about tracking giving and attendance. It includes measuring how many people come to faith and are baptized each year, how many babies are dedicated, and how many people come to faith because of missionaries who are funded by local donors.

If your team typically struggles with the notion of setting numerical goals, remember that every number counted is a person of faith or a person that can be reached because of all the hard work and generosity from your church. 

And setting outcomes is helpful. Without them, congregants don’t know how the church is doing or what’s needed to help fulfill the mission. When congregants understand what the goals are and how the church is tracking to those goals, they can identify more opportunities to get involved. Believe it or not, goals and metrics help nurture member engagement.

Once these milestones are set, churches have to communicate them consistently. Whether in business or in ministry, people don’t immediately internalize vision and tactics—that’s why they have to become instrumental to every message you tell. 

Cheryl put up the Popeyes roadmap at every meeting for 10 years and it was extremely useful for her team. She got bored or it, but it wasn’t boring. Instead, the roadmap was the necessary guidance everyone needed to know how to contribute. 

Putting It All together

Cheryl is a measured executive with a penchant for planning and strategy. And she believes those qualities serve churches and their leaders extremely well. But she understands that it’s not always easy to set daring goals, plot out a plan, and execute tactics alongside a team.

And she doesn’t advocate for going it alone. 

Whether it’s Cheryl or another strategy expert with a copy of Dare to Serve in their back pocket, find someone in your congregation who knows how to apply wise marketplace principles to your ministry. That person might be retired, working, or a few years from college and eager to donate their time and skills. Tap into your community. And use your people to propel your church forward. 

When it comes to setting your roadmap and tactics for your church, data is critical. Discover what tactics churches used to strengthen their ministry and grow. Download the free 2019 Church Growth Report today.

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