Multiplication Center

Pursuing NEXT with Leadership Network

The New Season Builds on the Successes of the Past

March 1, 2022

Leadership Network holds a historic, unique, and critical purpose in the development of thought leaders for the Church and in catalyzing the megachurch movement of the past 35 years. Since 1985, Leadership Network’s role has been to “convene leadership conversations and foster innovative movements that seek to activate the Church to 100X impact thereby transforming the world.” 

Exponential acquired Leadership Network last year and is relaunching to continue to prepare and impact leaders, local churches, and the Church for what is NEXT. Todd Wilson, Exponential CEO and strategic advisor to Leadership Network recalls being mentored by Bob Buford for more than a decade. “The values instilled in Dave Ferguson and me by Bob are the same values he built Leadership Network on. Dave and I in turn matched Exponential’s value system as it was developed years later to Bob’s. The organizations have always been siblings, so it is very natural that Exponential would be involved in bringing what is to come from Leadership Network.”

What Exponential is to church planting, Leadership Network will be to the growth of healthy, reproducing churches. Thus, partnering with both organizations will bring support in both areas. The values of Exponential and Leadership Network will continue to be congruent and their unique missions synergistic. 

“Bob Buford’s primary legacy comes through the people he invested in. People who would, in turn, propel his values forward to others and multiply this DNA.” Leadership Network is moving forward today to accomplish the very same mission of investing in church leaders and mentoring the coming generations.”  Dave Ferguson, Exponential interim CEO. 


A Historic Influence

Prior to the founding of Leadership Network in 1985, business management consultant Peter Drucker encouraged founder Bob Buford in the importance of bringing solid management principles into the church. This resonated with Bob as a successful marketplace businessman who understood up-and-to-the-right growth curves.   

Drucker predicted that a new kind of customer—church leaders with the gifting to grow large churches—would emerge and need solid management training. The goal was not to make the church like the secular marketplace, but to ready the church for the coming “megachurch movement.” Drucker said, “The function of management in a church is to make the church more church-like, not to make it more business-like.”   

Drucker saw the importance of churches in society and knew that pastors lacked practical experience and training in management. He was particularly concerned with the need for introducing solid management practices to activate the growth capacity of the church and knew that church leaders needed help with that. 

“Leadership Network helped me to grow as a leader during a pivotal season of ministry,” states Andy Wood, lead pastor of Echo.Church (San Jose, California). “The cohorts we’ve been a part of helped us to gain perspective, tools, and wisdom to see our church grow. I was also able to form friendships that have helped sustain me through life’s biggest challenges.”

Now it’s time to prepare for an even greater impact in the next 30 years!

“The mentors and peers I connected with through Leadership Network have been a catalyst for my own leadership journey as I pursue healthy growth and advancement of the gospel.”  Josh Howerton, senior pastor of LakePointe Church (Rockwall, Texas) 

New CEO Named

Church leader Carrie Williams, founder of the national ministry Truth Republic, leader of Exponential Ventures for the last two years, and a leader at The Church of Eleven22, began serving as the new CEO of Leadership Network on February 9. The multiplication and reproducing focus drew Williams to the role. As part of the leadership team that planted The Church of Eleven22, led by Joby Martin, she has seen the impact of a multiplying church.

“At the core of everything that Leadership Network does,” Williams says, “we want to help leaders better understand how they can multiply, not just via church planting, but their own potential, the potential of their teams, the potential of the people in their community to plant churches. While Exponential focuses on church planting, we focus on the people behind the church planting and how to mobilize them for 100 times impact.”

Moving Forward to Pursue What is Next

Historic distinctives characterizing Leadership Network will continue—thought leadership, diffusion of innovation, research, publishing, learning communities, and megachurch and multisite movements. Leadership Network’s solid reputation will give a foothold for future collaborative and convening initiatives, helping to equip the next generation of leaders who will guide and shape the church into the future.

At its core, Leadership Network will help leaders “Pursue NEXT.” This focus provides a strong bridge between the past and the future. A key distinctive from other ministries will be Leadership Network’s focus on aggregating and curating thought leadership versus producing it. As Bob Buford introduced, “Our fruit will grow on other leader’s trees,” and we will maintain a posture of “How can we help?” 

Leadership Network has played a vital role in the megachurch and multisite movements of the past 40 years and will continue to do so. Looking forward, Leadership Network will also be a key catalyst for future emerging movements. These include microchurch networks as well as other smaller, decentralized networks of everyday missionaries and metaverse churches. From mega to multi to micro and meta, Leadership Network will champion innovation in all these forms. 


Program Priorities

New program activities will integrate into several functional areas—a research institute, innovative church ventures grants, cohort learning communities, and curated topical content delivered by live shows, blogs, and summits to name a few.

Research Institute
The development of a research institute will produce five to seven original research reports per year. This independently branded, collaborative initiative between partnering churches will gather forward looking data to help shape the plans and practices of the ministries Leadership Network serves. The annual portfolio of research projects will be prioritized by the partnering churches and ministries. Priority is being placed on innovative, future-church-focused topics.

NEXT Ventures
The existing Exponential Ventures program that focuses on church innovation is being repositioned from Exponential to Leadership Network as NEXT Ventures. This peer-to-peer initiative for approximately 20 churches platforms practical examples of innovation, identified in our research, with a spotlight on what’s next for the church. Participating churches have a front-row seat to the innovation. Learnings are extracted and published for the broader church. In 2020 and 2021, this initiative supported over 40 innovative projects and distributed over $500,000 in grants.

Learning Communities
Peer-to-peer, cohort-based learning communities will help practitioner leaders move from ideas to implementation to impact as they pursue their “next.” Initial cohorts of executive leaders, campus leaders, and worship leaders will launch in May 2022.  

Content and Conversations
Leadership Network will be bringing important topics and conversations to church leaders worldwide. High-quality, relevant articles on innovations that impact the church will be posted each week. Online shows with national leaders will be part of the regular programming at Multipliers Resource Center (formerly Exponential’s Hub), a shared resource platform launching in March to serve the Exponential and Leadership Network communities. 

Online Summits
Regular online innovation summits will be offered, reaching more than 20,000 leaders per year. Leadership Network will also coordinate and host the leadership programming at the annual Exponential conferences, reaching 10,000 in-person attenders. 


Topical Priorities

When Leadership Network launched over 35 years ago, church leaders were talking about ​​megachurches and multisite churches. Those conversations have now shifted to new movements and different needs in leadership. Key focus points of the next decade will include several concentrations in Leadership Network content.

The Microchurch Movement
It is a natural progression that we see unfolding in front of us—the movement from mega to multi to micro, from bigger to decentralized to mobilizing. Microchurch NEXT, led by Rob Wegner and Brian Johnson of the KC Underground will focus on growth and mobilization in the local church. Wegner and Johnson will help platform the emerging microchurch networks that are naturally reproducing with disciple-making and mobilization strategies at their core.

The Metaverse
The metaverse is real and arguably one of the largest mission fields for the church in the history of the world. Most church leaders don’t understand it, and even fear it. Jeff Reed, founder of Church Digital, and a leading practitioner and thought leader in the metaverse church movement, will help educate churches to maneuver this amazing opportunity. The gap between virtual and reality is rapidly closing, and the church needs to play a leadership role in helping people navigate these chaotic and opportunistic times. 

The Next Generation of Leaders
An army of boomer and Generation X leaders will transition out of church leadership in the coming decade. The next generation of leaders needs to be encouraged, equipped, and championed. The latent capacity of black, white, Latino, Asian, and women leaders is huge and waiting to be activated into leading the church of the future. This diverse church of the future—mega, multi, micro, bi-vocational, and virtual—will require new wineskins with new thinking, and the mentorship from the current generation of church leaders will be critical. Hannah and Aaron Barnett, founders of Generation Distinct and passionate emerging voices for mobilizing the next generation of church leaders, will serve as the Generation NEXT directors.

Healthy Growth and Healthy Operating Systems
The last two years have caused a growing number of pastors to question the current operating systems that are producing cultural, consumer Christians. Church leaders are looking at how they are “doing church.” This will be especially relevant as the next generation of emerging leaders is mobilized.  Myron Pierce, founder of Mission Church and leading urban practitioner, brings a strong commitment to healthy growth fueled by disciple-making to his position as Church NEXT director.  Myron will start the conversations and platform the church operating systems that take the Church beyond the constraints of the current programmatically centered ones.

Healthy Leaders
The pandemic has amplified the need for emotionally healthy leaders who lead with the heart and posture of Jesus. The “great resignation” prompted by COVID-19, the growing pandemic of mental health issues among ministry leaders, the increasing rate of moral failures by prominent church leaders, and the general burnout prompted by inflated demands of today’s leaders are all symptoms putting the spotlight on the need for prioritizing the health of church leaders. A ministry and leader to serve as the director of this key priority has yet to be identified.

Biblically Sound Management Principles and Stewardship Practices
The Bible has as much, if not more, to say about management than it does leadership. When Bob Buford founded Leadership Network more than 35 years ago with Peter Drucker’s mentoring, the big idea was to equip emerging leaders who would become pastors of large churches with healthy management principles to help grow their churches. We need a renewed emphasis on Biblically sound, healthy management principles and practices. Pete Heiniger of CDF Capital will serve as the director in curating and distributing high-quality, relevant content in this area.  Pete will also serve as the curator for aggregating and distributing the content from the Leadership Network directors.


Partnering with Leaders for Transformation

There are approximately 320,000 churches and 3,200 counties in the US. It is Leadership Network’s goal to build an affiliated network that seeks to reach into every county. The organization is prioritizing its research, content curation, and collaborative conversations to equip and mobilize the affiliated entrepreneurial leaders in these counties who are passionate about seeing God-honoring transformation where they live. 

“You excel the leader; you excel the church. You build the leader; you build the church. You have healthy leaders; you have healthy churches. We are stepping 10 feet ahead to see what’s coming, partnering with people all over the globe to figure out what’s coming next, and sharing that with like-minded people and leaders. We can move together instead of as individuals.” Carrie Williams, CEO Leadership Network 

The 1980s world of Leadership Network’s early days was quite different from today’s world. In its 2022 iteration, the Leadership Network that Bob Buford launched will continue to “convene leadership conversations and foster innovative movements that seek to activate the Church to 100X impact thereby transforming the world.”

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