By Allen White
Some things in life are just as effective and more efficient in their disposable form. Think about diapers. Our family has cloth diapers and disposable diapers. Both serve the same purpose. Yet the cloth diapers require a great deal of maintenance and care. The disposables serve their purpose, then find their way to the landfill. The added bonus to disposable diapers is the dad in our family will actually change those. Cloth diapers? Well forget it.
What if we offered small groups in a disposable form? Before the relationships get messy, before the leader needs training, before you need to assign a coach, just reboot the group. Dispose of the group before any of the usual group tensions take place. Think about it. Rather than enduring through the conflict and struggle of the small group lifecycle, we could just enjoy the first six weeks of the honeymoon phase, then cast the other problems aside.
Let’s face it. Maintaining groups for the long haul is exhausting.
1. Disposable Groups Don’t Require Coaching.
Most small group pastors feel overwhelmed by the thought of a coaching structure. Even if you can actually fill out the org chart, most coaches don’t even really know what to do. They like the title. They carry a certain amount of guilt from not coaching. For most churches, even if there is some sort of coaching structure in place, the small group leaders are basically on their own anyway. With disposable small groups, there is no need for coaching. If the group is really that bad off in the first six weeks, then you probably just need to dispose of it sooner rather than later.
2. Disposable Groups Don’t Need Training.
People hate meetings. Pastors feel their calling in life is to hold meetings. But, most small group pastors are frustrated by the low attendance and general apathy toward their meetings. Disposable groups don’t need training. Seriously, how much could they possibly mess up in only six weeks? And, if they do, then see the last sentence in Point #1.
After a long day’s work, people don’t have time to drive home, eat dinner, drive to the church, attend a meeting, then drive home and collapse into bed so they can do the same thing all over again in a few hours. Some small group pastors expect their leaders to give up part of their Saturday. Chances are slim to none leaders will show up then.
3. Why Deal with an EGR, If You Can Just Leave Them Behind?
John Ortberg’s book says it all, “Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them.” If that’s the case, then disposable groups will keep the group relationships as normal as possible — You don’t really get to know people. You do a six week Bible study. There’s plenty of value in that. But, before people feel comfortable enough to share their idiosyncrasies, you’re outta there.
What’s better is if you end up with an Extra Grace Required person, a.k.a. “weirdo,” you can cut them (and yourself)loose in only six weeks. After all, this group came together for only one series, and now you’re done! Whew! Dodged that bullet.
4. There Are Always More Groups in the Sea.
While there may be some practical aspects of sustaining groups for the long term and not reinventing the wheel during church-wide campaigns, the beauty of disposable groups is an endless supply of potential group leaders/hosts/gatherers in your congregation. If you could have the same number of groups (or more) next Fall as you have this Spring, then why do all of the hard work of helping them survive the Summer, manage group dynamics, or select follow up Bible studies? After all, if you can say you have 50 groups now, and then you can post 65 groups in the Fall, why does it matter who’s actually leading the group? Numbers don’t lie. Whether your 65 groups in the Fall is made up of 50 Spring groups + 15 Fall groups or 65 brand new groups, you’ve still grown your small group ministry.
Now, disposable small groups aren’t for everyone. Some prefer the cloth diaper approach, and that’s ok. Go ahead and spend the time avoiding sticks from safety pins and sloshing number two’s in the toilet. You’ll have continuity for sure. But, for the rest of us, we’ll just show up with a big case of Pampers in the Fall, and then we’ll see who has the most groups.
Next up: Avoiding Disposable Small Groups
By Allen White
Over the years, the traditional method of recruiting coaches has always tended to fail me. I would select a reputable candidate, then I would sit down with them and talk about the role of a small group coach as outlined in a job description. Some were overwhelmed by the responsibilities. Others were enamored by the title, yet later proved to not actually do anything. As hard as it was to “hire,” it was considerably harder to “fire” them. So, I gave up on this method and found something better.
The solution was discovered in a moment of crisis. My senior pastor and I had just successfully doubled our groups in a single day. Now, I had double the coaching problem. If we weren’t adequately coaching the existing groups, then how could we possibly coach an equal number of new groups. My minor coaching problem had just turned into a major problem. Then, the light bulb turned on.
If half of my leaders were experience and the other half were brand new, then half of my leaders knew what they were doing and the other half didn’t. The solution was sort of a buddy system. I paired them up and let them coach each other. After the campaign, the folks who showed interest and ability to coach were invited to coach more formally. Those who didn’t get around to coaching were thanked for their valuable time….
Since then, recruiting coaches has become a more effective, though unconventional, process. Here’s what I recently shared with Brett Eastman, founder of Lifetogether.com, and Steve Gladen, Small Groups Pastor at Saddleback Church on The Small Group Show:
I have never recruited another coach with a job description or based on their resume. We would start them with “helping” leaders. If they enjoyed it and were effective, then they would become coaches in a more formal role.
The initial job description for helping new group hosts and leaders simply became:
1. Call your new hosts and leaders once per week.
2. Answer their questions.
3. Pray for them.
The “helpers” who can accomplish these things over a 6-week campaign are prime candidates for coaching. Those who can’t pull this off are not the right ones. You’ll be glad you didn’t give them a title that you’ll just have to take away later.
By Allen White
Rapidly growing groups during a church-wide campaign has a very positive upside. New leaders get their gifts in the game. New people are connected into new groups. Relationships are developed. Believers are disciple. There are awesome results all around. The problem comes in caring for new leaders when your coaching structure is already overwhelmed. Where do you get new coaches?
I ran into this problem a few years ago, when we doubled the number of our small groups in one day. We didn’t feel we were adequately coaching the first half. Now, we needed to help an equal number of newbies. Then, the light bulb turned on – if half of the groups are new and half of the groups are experienced, we just needed to match them up. We created a “buddy system” with experienced leaders helping new leaders. Never let a good crisis go to waste.
Over the years, this coaching strategy was finessed into an intentional approach rather than a last ditch effort. In advance of a new church-wide campaign, we expect dozens, if not hundreds, of new leaders or hosts to step forward. Otherwise, why would we do a church-wide campaign? In anticipation of this new growth, we also know that we will need new coaches to encourage the new leaders. Where do we get the new coaches?
At least a month before we start recruiting new leaders and host homes, we gather all of our existing leaders for a “Sneak Peek” event to reveal the Fall campaign curriculum. This is a great way to rally the troops and get our existing groups in on the new series. We explain all of the details of the series. We cast vision for new people connecting in groups and for new leaders starting new groups. Then, we present an opportunity for our existing leaders to walk alongside a new leader just for the six week campaign. Notice that we don’t use the word “coach” at this point.
The ask goes like this: “Once upon a time, you were a brand new leader who had a lot of questions and a few fears about starting a new group. Some of you had a coach. Some did not. All of us need someone in our corner to encourage us, to pray for us, and to answer our questions. Would you be willing to do that for a new leader or group host during this next series? The commitment starts when the leader attends the host briefing and goes through the six week campaign.” And, our existing leaders sign up to help every time.
The job description is simple. We ask them to do three things: (1) Pray for the new leaders. (2) Contact them every week in a way that’s meaningful to the new leader (not in a way that’s merely efficient for the new coach). (3) Answer their questions.
During the New Host Briefing, I match the new leaders and group hosts with their new “coach.” Usually I start the meeting by introducing the series content and the timeline, then I tell the new leaders, “Now, I would like to introduce some very important people to you who are going to help you get your group started. They will be available to answer all of your questions as you’re getting started.” I introduce the new “coaches” and pair them up with the new leaders according to the type of group they are starting or the geographical region where they live. The “coaches” take over the meeting at this point and give the new leaders all of the details of how to gather their group, what to do the first night, and answer any questions they have already. They exchange contact information and the “coaching” begins.
After the six week campaign, we check in with the new “coaches” about their experience. We ask three key questions:
- How important do you feel you were to the new leaders?
- How easy was it to keep in contact with the new leaders?
- Which of the new groups plan to continue?
The results are uncanny. If the new “coach” has the ability to coach, the answers are always come out: “My help was very important to the new leaders. Contacting them was easy. Most of the groups continued.” If the new “coach” doesn’t have it, the responses are: “My help wasn’t important. Contact was difficult. Most of the groups will not continue.” There is very little middle ground.
For the new coaches that answer positively, we invite them to continue coaching. For those who answer negatively, we thank them for serving for six weeks, and let them go back to leading their groups. You might be asking, “But, isn’t it risky to give a new leader to an inexperienced coach?”
It’s risky working with people period. Personally, I’d rather hire staff to do all of the coaching, but who has the budget for that? What’s more risky is sending out a new leader or group host without a coach. The payoff here is that new groups will be established, and new coaches will be recruited.
I’ve stopped recruiting with a job description over coffee. I don’t always do a great job choosing coaching candidates. What I have learned is that sometimes the most unlikely people make the best coaches and leaders. Let the trial run define who has what it takes to coach.
Other Great Coaching Resources:
Coaching Life-Changing Small Groups by Bill Donahue & Greg Bowman
Everyone’s a Coach by Ken Blanchard & Don Shula
How to Be a Great Cell Group Coach by Joel Comisky
By Allen White
David had Jonathan. Moses had Aaron. Peter and Paul had Mary. John, Paul and George had Ringo (well, until Yoko Ono broke them up.) Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Who is your partner in ministry? Last week, we talked about the importance of a co-leader. But, how do you find one? Here are some qualities to look for:
1. Are they breathing? A dead man will do no good.
2. Is this person a growing believer? It doesn’t really matter how long a person has been a Christian. The question is “are they growing?” Some people have repeated the same two years of their Christian experience ten times, so they’ve been a Christian for 20 years. But, are they growing? Are they actively seeking God? Do they pray and see their prayers answered? Are they allowing God to work in their lives to forsake sin and to see God’s Kingdom grow?
3. Is this person interested in the group? In selecting a co-leader, consider the folks who care the most about your group. Who is there more often than not? Who lets you know when they have to miss? These are good indicators of how important the group is to the person.
4. Who creates warmth? Are people drawn toward the person, or does he repel others? Now, that doesn’t mean that this has to be the biggest hugger in your group. That person could just be needy. You want the person who is open and accepting of others.
5. Who has shown some skills? As your group has passed around the leadership for the discussion, who has shown potential by leading the discussion well? Were they sensitive to what was going on with the group members? Did the discussion get beyond the surface of the questions? While these skills can be taught, if a person shows a natural knack for leading, you might have a winner.
6. Who gives you the most trouble? Often the opinionated and the instigators in the group have leadership gifts. While your first inclination would be to run them off, the better thing would be to redirect them. To engage their leadership ability in a positive way will help the person and help the group.
These are just a few things to look for. In my time with Brett Eastman out at Saddleback Church and Lifetogether.com, I learned that rather than popping the question right away, it’s better to give a potential co-leader different responsibilities and see how they perform. Brett called this “Crawl, Walk, Run.” If they aren’t ready to lead a whole study, could they lead a section of the study? If they’re not ready to lead a section, have them lead the opening question.
Take your time in choosing a co-leader. Don’t just stop with question number one. Take your time, but don’t take forever. Your co-leader will be an awesome ally in your group ministry.