Five Steps to a Successful Launch Team

Know the potential landmines that threaten your church plant

July 1, 2015


If you’ve planted a church or are in the process of planting one, you’ve probably recognized (or soon will) the importance of launching your core leadership team with excellence and effectiveness. Getting off on the wrong foot with your launch team is a difficult mistake to recover from and sure to leave some casualties along the way. Below Warren Bird and Ryan T. Hartwig, authors of the newly released book Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, share five guidelines to help church planters successfully launch a new team.

1 Focus on determining or coming to a shared understanding of the team’s purpose. In our new book, we identify 5 Cs of an outstanding team purpose: clear, compelling, challenging, calling-oriented and consequential. Before you can do anything else, the team needs to know why it exists and how its work differs from others at the church, including the church planter/pastor.

2 (Only once the team’s purpose is clear), cultivate discussion centering on what each team member uniquely contributes to accomplishing the team’s purpose. Here you might discuss previous experiences of each member that relate to the team’s purpose. Or you might discuss each person’s wiring—strengths, personality, spiritual gifts or talents—that might be useful for the team. Useful tools to help shape these kinds of discussions include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Strengths-Finder, the Strengthscope, a spiritual gifts assessment or even the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. These tools can help you and your team to see the positive dispositions and strengths each person brings to the task, as well as some areas the team needs to consider when working together.

One caveat: Avoid the temptation to use these assessments to prescribe certain roles for each member. Assessments don’t really tell someone what to do. Instead, they should shape how one goes about his work. Just because someone has the gift of encouragement doesn’t mean she needs to be the “official staff encourager.” Nor does it mean that a person without the gift of encouragement should never encourage anyone. Moreover, a person with the strength of “woo” (from Strength-Finders) need not be deemed the presenter of all major change announcements. Instead, these tools are most useful (not to mention appropriately used) when they are used to help a team recognize core strengths that each person tends to contribute or tendencies for how each person thinks and works. Additionally, these tools help people identify how to best accomplish their tasks. For all these reasons, conducting sessions with skilled facilitators can really help a team make sense of assessment results and draw out implications for how team members can best work with each other. There’s nothing wrong with using fun activities to spur on these conversations; it’s just vital that important conversations happen rather than fun activities.

3 Discuss what behaviors the team will require to do its best work. Thriving teams establish particular ways of interacting so that members will work together to fulfill the team’s purpose and accomplish the performance goals. There’s no right formula for success here; what matters most is that team members agree on a way to go about their work, both individually and collectively, as it relates to their work on the team.

Group norms, or ground rules, establish acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the team. Great teams don’t assume everyone’s on the same page about what is and isn’t appropriate; they take the time to discuss and develop a set of ground rules. For example, some churches have developed lists of rules for dealing with conflict in leadership team meetings.

4 Discuss each person’s unique roles on the team. While norms dictate behavior for everyone in a group, roles establish expectations for individuals. Each person should know what others are responsible for, so they can assist in holding one another accountable.

Caution. Groups often make one of two common mistakes in dealing well with group roles. In the name of doing everything together, they resist establishing individual roles and do everything together. This mistake causes seemingly endless conversations about who is responsible for what, and precludes the group from capitalizing on the distinctive skills and expertise of team members.

The other problem is overemphasizing roles, which leads to a problematic level of dividing-and-conquering the work. One person leads, one person provides spiritual counsel, someone else does all the exegesis, only one person reviews the budget, and each person makes the final decision over his or her areas of individual responsibility. When this happens, there’s no reason to even try to become a team. This creates a “goldilocks problem,” as too little or too much clarity and distinction in roles is problematic. A common error like this is why many folks despise teams. Because they haven’t approached their tasks in a way that benefits from teamwork, they find it easier to just do it apart from one another. In those cases, they’re right.

5 Enjoy each other’s company. If you focus this much energy and thought on how you’ll approach the team’s work, your team will quickly realize that they might as well get to know each other because they’re going to be doing a lot of significant work together. As that happens, allow relationships to form naturally. By focusing on the work, the personal relationships will form over time, as well. However, meeting in a place that affords fun opportunities, good food and comfortable accommodations creates a space for personal conversations to take place and relationships to begin to form.

For more about how to help your church planting leadership team get off on the right foot, as well as other tips to help your team thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.


Excerpted with permission from chapter 12 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

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