Stop Training Your Leaders

Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 76

You read that right. Stop training your leaders if you want to see better staff and volunteer performance. This sounds almost unbiblical but it has been proven in multiple business studies over multiple decades. 

In this week’s podcast, we discussed six factors that affect workplace and volunteer performance. This information isn’t new but it has yet to hit our churches, probably due to our love of training. The information comes from Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model and can be studied in more detail in Training Ain’t Performance by Harold D. Stolvovitch and Erica J. Keeps. 

Watch the video version of this episode on YouTube, or stream the audio below. Subscribe to the podcast and never miss an episode!

What Does Training Look Like in Most Churches?

Ministry is all about equipping the saints. As pastors and leaders it is our job to give away responsibilities to those in our church who can do it instead. But how do we do this? Enter the idea of training. Maybe if we just get everyone together in a room, tell them exactly what they should do, share a few heartfelt illustrations, and pray as we leave we will get the job done. Sounds good, right?

Sadly though it never seems to work out this way. Half our team shows up, we commit to following up with those who missed but life gets busy, we look at the receipt we paid for Jason’s Deli and our jaw hits the ground, and the next week a key volunteer says, “so what do I do again?” Let me say it again, stop training your leaders!

But I Don’t Want to! Why Should I Stop Training?

According to Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model the practice of training only solves performance problems 11% of the time. I said 15% in the video but the reality is it is much less. The problem is training only solves knowledge and skill problems.

For instance, how many people do you know don’t know how to use a computer? Not many. How many don’t know how to Google their question? A few. How many people if faced with a problem won’t ask those around them for help? A few more, hence the 11% who need training.

Ok, So What Can I do Instead of Training to Get Better Results?

I’m glad you asked. Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model shows three other factors better affect performance than training (knowledge and skills). Specifically providing clear and constant information, tools and resources and feedback including incentives and consequences. Let’s look at all three in greater detail.


Coming in at #1 providing clear and constant information solves your performance problems 36% of the time. Unlike training at a one-time event, constant communication involves weekly touching in with your leaders. Sharing clear expectations of what to do, when it needs to be done, and how to troubleshoot problems makes everyone feel in the loop. Check-in with leaders to make sure they are set for the weekend and sit back as they run the play.

Pro Tip: Use a communication platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams to help your staff and key volunteers get up-to-date information. Stick with 1960’s email only if you wear bell bottoms, have a fro, and drive a Chevy Caprice.

Tools and Resources

Solving your performance problems 26% of time is finding the right tool for the job. Tools can include systems, proper procedures, easy to use reference manuals, facilities, and even an expert to contact when needed. Having printed pieces available or a website with PDFs can be the only training a volunteer needs. Remember they are smarter than they look.

Pro Tip: Use Pages or Publisher to create a “One Sheet” for each volunteer position. On it write expectations the position needs to meet, key procedures, and a contact number for questions.

Incentives and Consequences

Timely feedback and being truthful with leaders solves your problems 14% of the time. These can be financial, like gift cards, or simply a “thank you” but giving leaders feedback helps them know if they are winning. The truth is people want to win. No one wanted to play for the Browns, until they got a winner like Baker Mayfield.

Pro Tip: Create a scorecard of how the ministries of your church are doing. Share it and help people improve. Spotlight “heroes” in public and meet one-on-one with toxic volunteers.

I do a Lot of These Already But I Didn’t Know They Made That Big of a Difference. What Else Should I Know?

Do them together! If you put these three together you will solve your problems 75% of the time. Keep doing training (if you must) but have a healthy expectation of what it will really accomplish.

Finally, doing ministry in the 21st century will require us to be better at meeting leaders where they are. Right now, they are on their phones, computers and have busy schedules. That’s ok, just communicate your expectations weekly, send them the best resources you have, and give as much feedback as you can to help equip them to do the work of ministry well.

Bo Patterson has over 15 years of church experience working at three of the largest churches in America. After graduating from Baylor University with a Bachelors in Management and Marketing, he began work at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. From there, he moved on to become the Connect Pastor at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, TX and oversaw children, student, and adult ministries of over 2,300 people. He is currently the Next Step Pastor at Lakepointe in Rockwall, Texas,and oversees spiritual decisions, baptisms, host teams, and the Next Step membership class. His passion to see healthy churches has grown and Bo joined The Malphurs Group team in the Summer of 2020. Email Bo.

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