Small Group Coaches Are Not Bureaucrats

By Allen White

Over the years, I’ve faced many ups and downs with small group coaching. The first time we launched groups, we had no coaches at all. Soon the groups burned out. When we debriefed with them, the response was “we feel like lone rangers out there.” We definitely needed coaches.

The next time we launched groups, our leaders had a coach. His name was Allen. Allen recruited all of the leaders, trained all of the leaders, and coached all of the leaders. “Hi, my name is Allen, and I’m a recovering control freak.” The ministry grew to 30 groups, and then it got stuck. In light of our stuckness and Exodus 18, new coaches were needed immediately.

Searching the congregation, we looked for the cream of the crop. Who had led groups? Who was wise? Who was good with people? We found them. These were experienced, mature folks who were willing to help other leaders. I put them to work: disseminate information, collect reports, visit the groups, and report back. I still held on to all of the training, but the coaches did all of the hand to hand combat.

A dear coach named Carol came to me one day. She said, “I’m not too sure that I want to continue coaching. I’m bored, and I kind of feel like I’m your spy.” She was right to feel that way. That’s exactly what she was. But, why was she bored? First of all, Carol was a wise, mature believer with much to offer. I had turned her into a paper-pusher and a spy. While the coaches participated in the group huddles, the pastor of small groups still ran the meetings and did all of the training. He was still in recovery….

Finally, I turned all of the training and meaningful interaction over to the coaches. Suddenly, I had fewer people to communicate with. The coaches were doing their job. Then, the complaints started rolling in. Not from the leaders, but from the coaches: “I can’t get the leaders to show up for any meetings.” “I call them, but they won’t call me back.” So, I fired all of the coaches. Actually, I didn’t. It was time to regroup.

Did we need coaches to disseminate information? No, we had email. Did we need coaches to collect reports? No, we used churchteams.com. Did we need coaches to be spies? Yes, we actually did, but not like that.

What can a coach do that a small group pastor or director cannot? A coach can develop a close personal relationship with each of the group leaders. One pastor or director with even five groups cannot keep up with every group leader and what’s going on with their groups. Coaches serve a vital role in the relational makeup of a small group ministry.

Coaching relationships still have an intentional aspect. The role of a coach is to refocus the player. When they look at their group leaders, they see busy, sometimes frazzled people, who desire for God to use them, but often don’t have much time to think about their group. This is where the coach comes in.

If the coach will meet with each group leader, even just once every three months, God will use that coach to encourage the group leader and to energize that group. The meeting simply goes like this:

1. Ask the group leader who is currently in their group. Not to take a roster, but to start a conversation.

The leader will list out the names:

Bob

Sue

James

Peter

Paul

Mary

2. Ask the group leader what is going on with each of the members. As the group leader begins to think about each member, God will bring to the leader’s mind a next step the leader needs to take in the relationship. “Well, I haven’t seen Bob in a while. I need to give him a call.” “Paul is struggling to find work. I need to pray for Paul and see what help he needs.” And, so on.

The coach doesn’t need to tell the leaders what to do. The coach simply needs to offer the space for a leader to reflect on his/her group. After they write down the next steps for each group member, the coach and group leader should set up an appointment in three months. This gives the leader time to take action and gives a deadline for accountability.

Those of us who serve as professional small group folks, especially the recovering control freaks among us, crave more complexity in these relationships. Here’s what I know – complicated coaching in my experience has led to no coaching. By being available to leaders when they need their coach, scheduling quarterly meetings, and participating in a couple of training events per year, leaders will have more than enough resources to motivate them in ministry.

For those of us who would like to tinker will all of this more than we ought to, why not start a blog or something?

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  1. #1 by Mark Riggins on March 13, 2012 - 11:35 am

    Allen this is so good! Phil. 1:6 reminds us that God initiates the work in a person’s heart. This truth encourages me to leave a “gap” for the person to be responsive to what the Holy Spirit is doing in their life already. My desire to give all the details can inadvertently shortcut that divine process. Thanks for sharing Allen!

    • #2 by Allen White on March 13, 2012 - 11:51 am

      That’s a great word, Mark. Thanks for your comment. Allen

  2. #3 by Lynne Fukutani on March 14, 2012 - 1:05 pm

    As usual, you’re brilliant! I can hear you saying these words–in fact you’ve said them to me. Thank you for typing them so I can print it and follow the directions. So excellent to be in ministry with you. You’re a blessing to me.

  1. Why Small Group Coaching Fails « Allen White's Blog

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