While watching a recent car race on television, I was impressed by the new technology that racing teams are using to improve performance. Advanced computer technology now allows crew chiefs to monitor nearly every aspect—fuel usage, engine pressure, wheel alignment, and numerous other aspects—that affect the performance of the car. In fact it’s possible to know the exact set up of an automobile so precisely that another car can be set up just like it. With all of the technology, one might think that race cars would be set up so much alike that very little difference would be observed on race day. But, some cars continue to do better at winning than others.

The difference, of course, is the driver. Even though technology allows for very little difference in race cars, each driver is a unique person. Technology is used to monitor a driver’s heart rate, but it cannot measure his or her heart to win!  Nor, can technology measure how well a driver puts his or her skills into action, only the winner’s circle shows the results.

Likewise, new technology has been employed during the last fifty years to determine what causes churches to grow, plateau, and decline. Computer models, statistical graphs, random surveys, analysis of sermons, and other aspects of church life and ministry have been evaluated. We now know more about growing churches than we’ve ever known in the history of Christianity. One might conclude that, since most churches have access to this abundance of information, they would all be flourishing. Sadly, however, that isn’t the case.

The difference, of course, is the “driver.” After a half century of analyzing churches, it’s clear that one variable is crucial—the leader. Jesus Christ is, of course, the leader (head) of each local church. It’s important that each congregation acknowledge Christ’s leadership of his church through prayer and actions. Yet, Christ appointed human leaders to guide his people. Whether we call such leaders pastors, elders, or bishops, it is evident that Jesus Christ works through earthly leaders to accomplish his purposes on earth.

There has also been a great deal of research on the personality types of leaders, such as the DISC Profile or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, as well as study on leadership skills, such as the importance of vision and team building. These tests and studies tell us a lot about leaders, but one thing they don’t tell us is how good a person actually is at leading. However, a new way of thinking about leadership is helpful in predicting how fruitful a pastor will actually be in leading a growing church.

New research is now grouping leaders into two types that show promise of predicting fruitfulness: Anticipator or Avoider. Psychologists and researchers refer to these as motivational types, that is, what motivates a leader.


The Anticipator

Anticipator types concentrate on the future and on taking action that accomplishes a goal. They play to win, take chances, make quick decisions, dream big, and think outside the box. Of course, this means they are prone to make mistakes, often unprepared, and do not always think things out. However, to the anticipator type, these are mere annoyances, as it’s worse to miss an opportunity to advance the group into the future.


The Avoider

Avoider types focus on the present and on taking action that keeps things safe. They play not to lose, take few chances, make slow decisions, worry about what might go wrong, and move cautiously. Of course this means that while their work is accurate, precise, and carefully considered, they also hang on to the past, maintain the status-quo, and are adverse to risk. To the avoider type, moving slow is necessary, as it is important to avoid mistakes at any cost.

Most leaders have a dominate motivational focus of anticipation or avoidance. It affects the dream we have, the values we espouse, and the actions we take. It is a major factor in determining if we lead a growing, plateaued, or declining church.

Which motivational type are you? Here are some indicators to think about where you fit.


Anticipators . . .

make quick decisions

work fast

are open to new opportunities

are optimistic

are future-oriented

take action

are comfortable with praise

expect things to go right


Avoiders . . .

make slow decisions

work deliberately

want things to stay the same

are prepared for the worst

are present-oriented

are slow to take action

are uncomfortable with praise

are worried things will go wrong


Which motivational type do you identify with as a leader? Identifying your own motivational type will help you understand your strengths and compensate for your shortcomings.

If you are an anticipator type, you are more likely to be effective if the church culture rewards creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. If the church is already growing or is located in a community with high growth potential, you will likely be fruitful. You are also more likely to lead a successful church turnaround if the people are desperate for change and ready to follow your leadership where ever it takes them. 

If you are an avoider type, you are more likely to be effective if the church rewards thoroughness and careful execution. If the church is stable and is located in a community with low growth potential, you will likely be fruitful. You are also more likely to lead a successful church turnaround if the church is stable, and moving forward cautiously is important.

Adjusting your approach to leadership is important depending on the church you lead. For example, if your church is experiencing growth, or if the members are primarily anticipator types, telling inspirational stories and framing goals in positive terms is fruitful. However, if the church is experiencing a down time, or members are primarily avoider types, telling cautionary stories and setting goals in terms of avoiding mistakes. Remarkably, studies in sports and education found that framing goals in the motivational terms of the hearers proved highly successful in both anticipator and avoider motivational patterns.

What is your motivational style? Are you an Anticipator or an Avoider? What is your church? Does it demonstrate an anticipator pattern or an avoider pattern? How must you adjust your leadership style to be fruitful where you are right now?