Why Do I Need a Coach?

Small group leaders may be the only people who might ask that question. Professional athletes acknowledge their need for a coach. Many high powered business executives have a coach. But, why do small group leaders need a coach?


Well, let’s take a look at this the other way: what happens if small group leaders don’t have a coach? The first time we set out to form small groups at our church out West, we selected the best and brightest from our congregation. With these mature believers, we started ten new small groups. All of the groups were going strong, or so we thought, until they reached the end of the year. They all quit. When we asked why, the response was unanimous: “We loved our small groups, but felt like lone rangers out there.” I don’t blame them for quitting.


Leading a small group can be lonely at times. Every leader needs not only a coach but also a team of other small group leaders for encouragement and support. Sometimes in small group ministry we assume that the small group is the team. The truth is that the small group is our ministry. The team is made up of the coach and his/her circle of leaders. Together we can be encouraged. Together we can learn from others’ experiences. Together we can grow as leaders.


Your coach is available to help you. As leaders sometimes we feel that we should be able to handle every problem that crops up in our groups. That’s not true. While we would never want to exclude anyone from our groups, we certainly can’t care for every need in the group. When you feel overwhelmed by issues surrounding a group member, your coach is a great resource.


Let’s say that you have a group member who always talks about himself. And, that’s all they talk about. Most groups cannot tolerate a narcissistic person. For many groups, this is the beginning of the end. Your coach can help guide you in setting the proper boundaries for this group member. They can even help you refer the member to other help and resources at church.


You may be asking at this point: why can’t I just call the pastor of small groups? The answer is that you could. But, if hundreds of group leaders are calling the pastor, how long will that pastor last? In Exodus 18, Moses is confronted by his father-in-law, Jethro. Moses’ family had left him to live with Jethro. Moses didn’t have time for them. Moses’ days were consumed with solving the problems of all of the Israelites. Moses had very good reasons, he thought, for handling all of the matters himself. First, he was the only one who could do it. Secondly, the people liked coming to Moses. (I think maybe Moses liked it too).


Jethro pointed out to Moses that this system was no good. Moses was worn out. New leaders weren’t being developed. The people were frustrated. And, Moses’ family was living with Jethro.


So, Jethro offered a solution. Put the people into groups of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. If the leader of ten didn’t have the answer, then he would turn to the leader over him. The issue would travel up the chain until a solution was reached. Only the most crucial issues should get all of the way to Moses. The people would be happy. Moses would be less stressed. Moses’ family could return home. And, Jethro could live in peace. It worked.


This system was not only good for the Israelites, it’s also good for small groups and even business. Now, once upon a time, I thought that I could handle it all. What I discovered was that I could handle it all as long as “all” remained under 30 percent of our congregation. Anything above that created a debilitating, life-squelching bottleneck. That’s no way to treat a growing church body. Once a solid coaching structure was embraced, we reached 125 percent of our average adult attendance in small groups. Leaders were better cared for. I was less stressed. My family moved back home (okay, they never left, but you get the point).


Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs a person in their corner that they can count on for support. No leader should stand alone. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your coach? What questions do you have for him or her? Take a little time to connect. Soon.

Avoiding Rabbit Trails in Discussion

ISSUE: My Small Group frequently chases rabbit trails. How can I keep them on topic?


ANSWER: It’s certainly easy for discussions to get off course and maybe never come back. This is partly the challenge of leading adult learners. Adults already have a lot of information and a lot of experience. Think of the brain as a filing cabinet or a hard drive. When we receive any new information, we open a file with that label only to discover that there are other things in the file.


Let’s say your small group is discussing Daniel and his vegetarian diet from Daniel 1. The group members’ brains automatically open the folders for “Diet.” While they’re in there, they remember several diets that they’ve tried and failed at in the past. “Does anyone remember the grapefruit diet?” “How about South Beach?” “How about the tomato and cabbage stew diet?” And, off they go. Now some have cross referenced from “diet” to “hunger.” They’re thinking “I wonder who brought the snack tonight. I hope it’s not one of those Atkins dieters who bring the pork rinds…” Suddenly your group has traveled a long way from Babylon.


You really can’t stop adults from being distracted by their thoughts and experiences. It’s just how they’re wired. But, you can prevent this from becoming an epidemic in your group.


If your group is fairly new or if this is a relatively new problem, then the facilitator simply needs to redirect the conversation every time it begins to stray. Going back to the failed diet rabbit trail, the facilitator could simply say, “Boy, we’ve certainly opened a whole can of worms haven’t we. Let’s look at the next question.” Or, you could go with a little humor, “Wow, that’s a topic for another show.”


If your group has been around for a while and this has become a bad habit, it might be time to check in with the group and make sure everyone is okay. You might even be losing group members if this is going unchecked. Simply ask the group if everyone is going okay. You might even add: “Permission to speak freely.” Get the group to come to an agreement about staying on topic and socializing at the end of the meeting.


Sometimes we have to walk a fine line. When someone begins to go off topic, be careful not to cut them off immediately. In fact, you might want to whisper a quick prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern what’s happening. Sometimes people need to share a painful experience or a pressing problem, and they just can’t wait until the right point in the agenda. If as the facilitator you feel that they should continue, then let them continue. If the person wants to talk about himself every week, well, that’s another problem.


Lastly, if you find that your group likes to spend the first part of the meeting catching up with each other. Don’t fight it. In fact, you might change your prayer time to the start of the meeting and pray right after everyone has caught up. Then, you can start your study. Remember you are leading a group, not just leading a meeting.

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