Leadership Path or Pipeline? You Need Both!

Is there any question that Jesus started a movement?

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

If you’re dreaming about starting movements to achieve the Jesus Mission you will need to plant sites and churches that can then plant more sites and churches. This is multiplication. why-you-need-both-a-leadership-path-and-leadership-pipeline

And, if you’re going to plant more churches and start more campuses, then you need leaders to do it.

You must be intentional about developing more leaders at all times. To develop more leaders you need both a leadership pipeline and a leadership path.

What’s that, you don’t know the difference? I think it’s crucial that you do

At NewThing, we’re always talking about both our leadership pipeline AND our leadership path. We encourage all of our churches to have both in place. 

So what is the difference between a leadership pipeline and a leadership path?

The Leadership Pipeline

Your leadership pipeline is your potential pool of leaders who could go out and start new churches and locations. Your pipeline consists of 3 groups:

  1. People who you can (or want to) recruit.
  2. People who you are recruiting for your pipeline
  3. People you’re training to start a new church or location.

If you want to plant more churches, you need to be recruiting, developing and sending leaders all the time. You need a pipeline of leaders.

Where do you get people for your pipeline?

There are two groups of people you want in your pipeline.

Free Agents

These are people who have been called by God to plant a church or start a location; you’ve identified them and now you’re actively seeking to recruit them to your cause. You can find free agents through networking.

Free agents make an immediate impact on your organization. They come prepared with skills and talents that have already been used in a ministry context.

The challenge with free agents is that there are fewer of them. And many of them are already playing on other teams.

Farm System

These are people in your churches, sites and ministries. They are leading and contributing as we speak. They may not have the language nor the license to start something new. So give it to them. They need you to have an ICNU conversation where you both affirm their gifting and provide them a path.

Perhaps this is someone coaching other leaders? This person consistently demonstrates a leadership gifting. Perhaps it’s someone who has started and reproduced small groups. The point is that these people are already leading in your context and they have your DNA. They can lead churches if you help them.

The challenge with the farm system is that they take longer to develop. But if you’re patient, you will produce loads of new leaders.

Remember, your goal is to have more and more potential leaders in your pipeline by having both free agents and farm system people in your pipeline.

The Leadership Path

Your leadership path is the process you use to train leaders. It’s sequence trainees follow from start to finish. The path provides leaders a series of milestones (or steps) to grow and develop. This is the leadership journey you have created for them that helps them move from calling to launch. The path includes development, equipping and coaching.

Having a clear path is essential because every leader wants to know two things:

  • Where they are in your process.
  • Where they’re going.

Having a clear path helps them do this.

By the way, it’s best to have this process visualized. It needn’t be complicated. In fact, it ought to be quite simple. But you need to know it so your leaders know it.

If you still need convincing, here are some benefits of each.

Leadership Pipelines

  • Help us accomplish the Jesus mission. Without leaders, we will be unable to achieve the mission.
  • Helps increase the opportunities to grow leaders from within.
  • Ensures you have leaders to start new churches and locations.

Leadership Paths

  • Establishes clear expectations for everyone.
  • Help leaders grow in their influence at every level.
  • Helps established leaders know how to help new leaders grow.


So let me ask you some questions you can review with your team that might help you:

  • Do you know how you’re filling your pipeline? Do you have a plan? Is someone in charge to the plan?
  • Do you have a leadership path that you can show people to help them know where they are in it and where they’re going?

If you want to develop leaders in your church, may I suggest you build both a leadership path and a pipeline as soon as you can.

I wrote this article for the Alignment Conference Blog. If you’re interested in more on this topic, I will be teaching a workshop on it at the Alignment Conference. Join us!

Author: Patrick

Patrick O'Connell is the Global Director of NewThing. He is passionate about helping people start new things. He didn't grow up in church. He dabbled in atheism and punk rock (which he still loves) but eventually found his way back to God. He wants to leverage his knowledge, experiences and understanding of church planting and Kingdom to help people find and follow Jesus. He's sold out for the mission of God and believes that the church is the hope of the world. He's married to Nancy and they have three great kids. He likes to run, read and hangout with friends.

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