categories: leadership
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June 5th, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

30 comments (+ Add)

Breaking Barriers - 4

Yesterday we talked about having the right people with you. Let’s continue this discussion and add to it a twist:

Do you have enough “above the line” or “below the line” people?

Here is a rough definition of what I mean:

Above the line: this is primarily a person who draws people to the church.
Below the line: this is primarily a person who builds structure to sustain those in church.

Above the line leaders are generally a charismatic student pastor, a dynamic worship pastor, or a gifted communicator.

Below the line leaders might include a systematic student pastor (building structure and relationships), a small group leader, a finance person, or an administrator.

(The role doesn’t necessarily determine if it is above or below the line as much as the person in the role. A senior pastor can draw people with anointed preaching—above the line. Or he might be an average speaker who relationally holds the church together—below the line.)

  • With too many above the line people, your church will have a big front door and big back door.
  • With too many below the line people, your church will have a small front door and small back door.

A growing organization will see the need for both, those who drive the growth and those who help sustain it.

Are you primarily a below the line or above the line leader? Is your ministry out of balance in one way?

(All of you silent readers, please join the conversation. We can’t learn from you unless you contribute!)

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  1. Jun 5, 2008 at 6:27 am

    I have never thought of it that way, great perspective. I guess that I would say that our leadership model is seasonally balanced. I think that we may stress below the line for a while and then above the line, if that makes sense. Personally, I am an above the line leader. Question: If leaders attract leaders…How do you attract below the line if you are heavy on above the line and vice versa?

  2. Jun 5, 2008 at 6:38 am

    Great way to look at this. We are an eight year old church in Maine. I am an above the line leader and we have teetered between 180 to 250 for about a year. It seems as if God has brought in a few below the line leaders to aid in moving to the next level but it has been a slow process. We have a lot of visitors but have struggled in assimilating them at an acceptable level.

  3. Jun 5, 2008 at 7:11 am

    I definitely try to maintain a balance and realize the need for seasonal change.

    Troy- Finding those above the line or below the line leaders that balance my and my teams’ giftings is what I shoot for. We spend a great deal of time and energy in the interview, testing and assessment process to find the right fit, for the right role, for the right team and at the right time.

  4. Jun 5, 2008 at 7:25 am

    This is good! This explains a lot of what is happening in our church right now. The primary staff at Shoreline is above the line and because of that we have exactly what you said, a big front door and a big back door. Ironically, I am interviewing someone this weekend for a new staff pastor who is a good systems person. This man in his own words said he gets excited about being someone’s Scotty Pippen or Robin for Batman. Your post perfectly describes our situation and why we are looking at someone like this.

  5. Jun 5, 2008 at 7:33 am

    I’m above the line. My wife is below the line. I’ll be honest, I don’t see the people who go out the back. I’m so focused on bring people in. My wife and I often argue about the balance. I guess we are both right we just need each others view. Good perspective here.

  6. Jun 5, 2008 at 7:47 am

    I would say I am above the line but concerned about below the line. The worship/youth pastor is also above the line but concerned about below. We struggle with this but find ourselves spinning our wheels because of being a fairly new church in a poor county we lack funds to bring in the person who could help us to do this. So we try. Anyone out there who can help us gain some perspective on this?

  7. Jun 5, 2008 at 8:17 am

    This is a great perspective on this issue! Usually I’ve heard people make the dividing line at front-line ministry vs. support, but looking at above the line and below the line is a much better approach for striking a balance between the two - and realizing how crucial both are.

  8. Jun 5, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Thanks Scott for the insight.

  9. Jun 5, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Most of my team function above the line. Great worship team and children’s ministry that helps draw people. My assistant builds relationships and works well with details and systems. However, we are in need of someone to structure our LifeGroups and mentor our LG leaders for retention. Any systems people want to move to Knoxville TN and close our back door?

  10. Jun 5, 2008 at 8:48 am

    When Craig talks about this, he’ll draw a jagged line from the bottom left corner of a sheet of paper or whiteboard toward the top right corner and place an arrow on the end. Then he draws lines with arrows beneath that line pointing up and lines with arrows above pointing up. The lines below are those who bring structure, strength, and support to the organization and keep it standing, healthy and positioned for more growth. The lines above are those who help pull the organization up to the next levels. If I have explained it well enough, you can draw it out and have a great visual for growth and breaking barriers. Sometimes, what a church needs is a person who can support a youth ministry of 150 or 50 small groups. Sometimes it needs someone who can lead them. When the right people are in place, the ministry is poised to breakthrough the next level.

    Troy, Bill and Jeremy have some good questions out there. Thanks, Scott, for your insights. We’d love to hear from others of you!

  11. Jun 5, 2008 at 8:50 am

    I really like this post. I have been thinking about this but never really put it into this kind of thought. I have been really focused on above the line people. It is working for us right now but this blog really made me think to not neglect my below the line people. I honestly have no clue what kind of person I am. Probably above the line. Just looking at our front door and back door. They are huge. We are working on our weakness which is relationships.

  12. Jun 5, 2008 at 9:08 am

    I am curious to know where the phrases “above the line” and “below the line” comes from. What is the line and who defines it?

  13. Jun 5, 2008 at 9:12 am

    I don’t really know for sure. One thing I do know is that even though I know it’s inevitable and sometimes even healthy to have the back door open, It grieves me to see people leave the church especially when it’s due to a perceived lack of leadership in a certain area or interpersonal conflict. In a smaller church body, the effect is more pronounced.

    I think there needs to be a good mix between the charismatic leaders(visionaries) and the structured leaders(administrators). They have to both be involved, especially in the volunteer ministries. But most of all, they have to respect each other as strong leaders even though they lead differently and have different emphasis and burdens. If they see their differences as moral battles to be fought, the sparks will fly, and at best nothing gets accomplished.

  14. Jun 5, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Matt, the “line” in this case would be growth. This series of posts is concerning breaking through barriers of growth. Great question.

  15. Jun 5, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Greetings from El Salvador.
    Great post.
    Well balanced leadership helps the church grow.
    Like Scott said, finding the right people and placing then at the right spot is a key.
    Its a chalange for the pastor to make both groups work together with little conflict as possible.

  16. Jun 5, 2008 at 10:09 am

    Makes me wonder if there is sometimes a tendency to focus more on the quality of “above the line” staff while just filling in the gaps with “below the line” people (without as much regard to quality there). Or for a primarily “below the line” staff to overlook the need for additions that are “above the line”.

  17. Jun 5, 2008 at 10:14 am

    thanks for putting words to this that are easily communicated! As God grows and builds our church plant and draws leaders to us we are striving for balance, this is one more area we will be watching!

  18. Jun 5, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Downside: Early in my ministry run I was asked to resign because my own philosophy of ministry no longer fit. One elder told me that I made it too easy on seekers and too hard on believers. Probably some truth there.

    Upside: While looking for a next ministry opportunity we visited three year old Fellowship of The Woodlands, stayed 7 years and got to be on the playing field as God grew FOTW to 10,000. Thank God for places to serve that value “above the line” people!

  19. 19Dan Novak
    Jun 5, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Many examples of this important (and well supported) principle in the corporate world. Can find many founders and visionaries who were replaced by “professional” CEOs. Organizations that are sustainable need both, as said above

  20. Jun 5, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Ok fine. I’ll join the discussion. I would say that I am a definite below the line person because I really enjoy creating structures. As a church right now we are struggling a little with keeping people connected which doesn’t make a lot of sense when thinking about the given definition for below the line. But here’s the dynamic that I think is at work. The struggle for a below the line person is that the focus on the current relationships gets out of whack and there is no time/energy left for new relationships. So those folks trickle out or simply don’t come back. It begins to feel like a club.

  21. 21KarenP
    Jun 5, 2008 at 11:29 am

    OK count me as one of the silent readers who is joining the conversation at your request.

    Even though I am in an extended season when I am not in leadership of any kind (except as a financial controller at work)I know I am definitely a below the line type. I am at my best, most content and fulfilled when I am supporting the “upfront” person, helping them excel and be all God is calling them to be in whatever role they are in. Organizing the details, quietly making it all come together. I am a one-on-one people person. So put me in youth group and I will be in the corner talking with a troubled youth. Put me in small group with a leader who takes responsibility for the Bible study and I draw people to the group, make them comfortable, facilitate discussions and meet during the week with those needing companionship or help. (I have lead small groups, just not my comfort zone.) I loved the years as church treasurer - so many details - especially since we were selling our old building and building an entire new church where a stable used to stand.

    But having declared myself a “below the line” I know that when God has called me above the line and stretched me those too have been incredible opportunities to grow and trust and exalt in what He can do through me.

  22. 22jim
    Jun 5, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Just a quick note to say - Lance you have done a great job of moderating this week!

    By the way I am mostly a below the line guy except for the fact I am the clown that does the videos that we show in the services. Other than that I am really a below the line guy.

  23. Jun 5, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Sing another verse Craig I’m coming down the aisle into the conversation. lol!

    Wow! Words are powerful. Thanks for the verbiage. You just put handles on this issue that allows us to pick it up in conversation. This terminology is going to help me so much over the next month of leadership.

    My experience is that B-liners tend to categorize A-liners as being a shallow and less compassionate about people. A-liners can slot B-liners as boring and breathing objections to overcome. Both can spiritualize the issue and that kills the conversation. Your terminology allows for a place for both at the table and on the team. Both are needed. I like it.

    Outside, I am a creative above the line leader type that attracts the new. But deep inside I also struggle emotionally because of the big back door and my inability to fix it. It just crushes me. The family leaving drains more energy points than the family coming in replaces. A-liners say “Look at all the new people.” B liners say “Did you know that the smith family is leaving too?”

    How do you guys deal with the pain and while fueling the passion?

  24. Jun 5, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for your kind words, Jim!

    I’m glad to see that many of our silent friends have joined the conversation. Let me be the first to say, “Welcome!” We hope to hear more from you in the future.

    Simon has a great question. Anyone care to share their experiences with him?

  25. Jun 5, 2008 at 5:47 pm


    For what it’s worth, it’s easy to take it personally when families leave. One thing we need to try to evaluate is, are they leaving because of philosophical/ministry strategy reasons, personal issues or hurt from someone within the body. It is God’s Church and they are God’s children. Trusting that we are hearing from Him, doing all we know and trusting He is bringing and connecting the right families to His vision for our church is important. Another thing is exit interviews. Trying to talk with and pray with families leaving to bless them and love them always leaves the door open for them to return. My father (senior pastor for 32+yrs @ 1400 avg attendance) has witnessed many families decide not to leave from these meetings and blessing sessions. They tend to recatch the vision, find roles to fill in the ministry and express hidden hurts and feelings openly and connect deeper with the senior leadership. Truly blessing those that are leaving for the right reasons is crucial. Oh well, hope this is somewhat on point.

  26. Jun 5, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    I find myself as a above the line leader but really need below the line people to help with organization and follow up. What would you suggest is the best tools to find those bellow the line people? Do you think personality profiles work best or some other tool?

  27. 27Jonathan
    Jun 6, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Thanks for the incredible insight. I am currently in the process of planting a church and have seen this reality so often in churches but didn’t ever define it as you have above. Just as in the business world, you need your “salespeople” and your “operations” people for the organization to be successful over the long run.


  28. 28danny
    Jun 7, 2008 at 8:55 am

    This is all very interesting. I’m struggling with above the line or below the line leadership. How exactly is that defined?

  29. Jun 7, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I see a need to cater to people who haven’t met Jesus yet, and Christians. Every church decides which one they will pay more attention to. With that being said, I am above the line (maybe not extremely far from the line, but above it.) One of my biggest frustrations is viewing church leadership as a country club director - letting the opinions of the members determine vision and direction. Don’t get me wrong, if the members who are setting vision and direction are solid in their faith that is awesome. If they aren’t, it is a slippery slope that will cause everyone to slide down below the line.
    I often find below the line people frustrating the heck out of me (even though I know they are needed.) I think whatever side of the line we find ourselves on we need to ask God for humbleness and an appreciation for the other side.

  30. Jul 6, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    First of all, we need to replace “Above the Line and “below the line” with something that doesn’t seem to make a qualitative judgment about which is better. I am what you’d describe as “above”, but how can I even have this conversation with my valuable employees who are “below”?

    The concept itself is absolutely dead-on.