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3 Keys to Successful Church Leadership in 2021

Successful church leadership for the past ten years assumed leading people in person. It required men and women to physically attend our worship services. Last year, this all changed. Many churches found themselves figuring out what “having church” looked like when COVID-19 forced us all to suspend in-person worship services.

Eleven months later, many of us are starting the year the same way we ended last year—without having one in-person gathering since last March.

Most have figured out how to stream services, ways to better engage their members who are sheltering in place, and have reimagined discipleship in virtual environments.

What does successful church leadership look like in 2021? Especially given the fact that the World Health Organization warning that social distancing measures are likely to be in place through 2021.

I believe there are three keys to successful church leadership in 2021 that leaders need to think through.

1. The Need for a REAL Online Campus

Years ago, many pastors and leaders would have scoffed at the idea of an “online campus”—a community dedicated to members who could not physically attend our services in person.

Last year provided a divine prompting to make us all reconsider the online campus. Our worship experiences were transformed into online experiences.

Online ministry is not going away. Many believe it takes 60 days to form habits. If that is true, your members have experienced online worship for 10 months. It has now become a habit.

Here’s the reality: Many of them will never attend in-person again.

How can you best shepherd these men and women? Consider hiring and staffing up an online campus. A good starting point? Have your staff read Nona Jones’ From Social Media to Social Ministry. It is a great primer on what online campus ministry looks like.

2. A Succession Plan for Retiring Staff Members

On a recent podcast, church staffing guru, William Vanderbloemen, mentioned that he thinks many church staff members will resign or retire in 2021.


Various reasons. Some are tired. Some miss the human connection that virtual gatherings no longer offer.

In 2020, church leaders and staff members were hesitant to leave jobs with the uncertainty of the job market that accompanied COVID-19.

One of the greatest shortcomings of many local churches is that leaders do not work to replace themselves. We are all interim in whatever role we are in. Whether senior leadership or on staff at a church, we all need to think about the inevitability of people leaving our team in 2021. And make preparations for that reality.

3. An Intentional Focus on Directional Discipleship

Directional discipleship is going to be key for your church in 2021. Shout out to my friend Daniel Im for this framework (you can find it in his book No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that Will Transform Your Ministry.

Im notes: Discipleship is about direction, not destination.

In other words, we aren’t called to get people through our membership classes, but to move them closer and closer to Jesus—whatever their stage of discipleship.

Instead, many churches tend to provide new membership classes as the entry point and endpoint of discipleship. In virtual spaces, we are now forced to think about directionality over getting people to check boxes in a class.

This year, think through how you can focus on directional discipleship rather than destination discipleship. It will help your members realize following Jesus isn’t about arrival but pursuit.


Questions: What am I missing? Any other keys you think are important for leadership and church ministry in 2021?

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