Case Study: Connect Church, Lawrence, Kansas

Case Study: Connect Church, Lawrence, Kansas

Connect Church is an 83-year-old Wesleyan Church of 400 adults in Lawrence, Kansas. In recent years, they’ve started groups through church-wide campaigns for the first time and knew they would need help to support the group leaders with coaches.

Photo by the Lawrence Journal-World.

“Before we didn’t have any kind of a coaching structure,” said Elizabeth Scheib, Connections and Communication Director. “I was caring for all of the leaders and not doing a very good job of it. I also tend to be a control freak. I wanted to control a lot of the processes and the things the leaders went through. But, we were stuck. We had plateaued.” The church at the time had an adult attendance of 350 with 165 people connected in 16 small groups. “It wasn’t impossible to coach 16 groups. It just wasn’t effective because the whole thing in coaching is about relationships.”

As the church began to embrace the Exponential Groups strategy of creating their own curriculum and making the Lead Pastor the spokesperson for groups, they knew many people would respond to host a group. They also knew these new hosts would need help. “If the host came out of a group, then their former group leader naturally became their coach since there was already a connection.” But many more people were about to host a group for the first time as well.

The established small group leaders were already in the practice of joining Elizabeth for a huddle twice a year prior to the two annual group launches. “I explained at the huddle that we wanted to grow our groups, so we were adding a layer to our structure called coaches. I asked them, if they had a heart to come alongside a new host and help them get off to a great start, we needed their help. Then, I explained the responsibilities and gave them a starter kit that included a coaching description and a coaching timeline.” Their leaders responded.

One new host almost immediately got cold feet after she had volunteered to start a group. “We asked those who wanted to host a group to come down to the front of the sanctuary after the worship service. We gave them the information about starting a group and matched them up with a coach.”

In this case, a woman had talked herself out of hosting a group by the time she had left the sanctuary. “I can’t do it,” she said. “My husband is an introvert, and he never wanted to do it, but I felt like we should.” Elizabeth encouraged the woman to give the group a chance. Her husband could be the “kitchen guy and hang back where the introverts hang out.” She could lead the discussion. Elizabeth also encouraged her to talk to her coach.

When the coach called her, they talked for an hour. “It was laborious, but the coach was so gracious and had such a heart for this couple.” They ended up leading a successful group for the eight-week commitment and even added a potluck each week so the husband had a valued role. “It would not have worked if they did not have constant encouragement and prayer from the coach.”

Another couple decided to host a group. They were extremely gifted and had considerable experience leading groups. In fact, they were involved in campus ministries at local colleges. But, they still needed a coach to serve and support them, not in skills training, but in their own journey as believers. “They knew how to lead a group. There were not foreigners to this. But, I also knew that if I was going to make the coaching structure work, I couldn’t give them a pass. I couldn’t be their coach. I knew from being in a women’s group with the wife that they were going through some stuff.” The couple was matched with another couple who coached them. “I assigned them to coaches I knew would be able to really establish a deep spiritual relationship with them.” Not long after the assignment, Elizabeth discovered the coaches had already called them, and they had gone to coffee together. They didn’t need someone to tell them how to lead a group discussion. But they did need some prayer, encouragement, and friendship. They didn’t follow everything in the coaching timeline, but they received the coaching they needed.

By recruiting experienced leaders to coach new hosts, Elizabeth discovered the church could provide the care the leaders needed, and she could provide the overall guidance for how the leaders were coached. By loosening the reins on coaching, the groups at Connect Church became unstuck. They went from plateaued to thriving.

To learn how to build a coaching structure in your church, we recommend the Coaching Exponential Groups course and the Small Group Ministry Coaching Group.

Why Do You Think Coaching is Hard?

Why Do You Think Coaching is Hard?

Some small group pastors are of the opinion that coaching is too hard. Coaching is not hard. Well, at least it’s not as hard as leading without coaches and doing it all yourself. 

But, why does coaching seem hard? I think it boils down to three things.

Unclear Expectations

Have you ever invited someone to coach group leaders but didn’t really know what they were supposed to do? I have. It doesn’t work. In fact, for most pastors the lack of clear expectations and no job description for coaches is a non-starter.

Coaching only works with clear expectations. What should they do? Coaches should share their experiences with other leaders and build a relationship with them. There’s the job description. When a leader’s issues go beyond the coach’s experience, then the coach can depend on your experience.

But, here’s the key – coaches will easily relieve 90 percent of the burden off of you. As you multiply yourself through your coaches, then you have more time for other aspects of the ministry and hopefully more time for your family.

But, even when you’re clear about what coaches should do, how much is too much?

Unreasonable Assignments

Coaching often fails because you ask too much of your coaches. At one point I had coaches who led their own group and supervised 20-25 other leaders. That was too much.

Some churches use a ratio or “span of care,” (if you prefer to be fancy), of coaches to leaders. This kinda works, except that not all coaches are created equal. One coach may be brilliant working with three group leaders, but would be a disaster working with four. Another coach might easily serve 10 group leaders. How do you know the threshold for each coach without sacrificing group leaders in the process?

It comes down to the coach’s relational ability. Here’s a simple test: Can the coach remember the names of the leader’s spouse and children? Without cliff notes, evernotes, or index cards, can the coach easily recall the leader’s most basic relationships. Think about it. If two friends were having a conversation wouldn’t they ask about each others’ spouses and children? As long as a coach knows the names of the leader’s spouse and children, then the coach can take on more leaders until they can’t keep these basic details straight. Every coach has a different relational capacity.

In order for coaches to succeed, they need to have a reasonable assignment, but they also need something from you.

Lack of Accountability

Then, there’s your part. While you can give the coaches tasks and authority to serve in their roles, you cannot give away the responsibility for the ministry. You have to inspect what you expect. If your coaches should be calling new leaders once per week to answer their questions, then you need to call the coaches once per week to make sure the calls are being made. If your coaches are meeting with more seasoned leaders once per quarter, then you must do the same with the coaches.

If coaching is important, and it is, then you need to keep in communication with your coaches. If you have more than eight coaches, then you also need a small group leadership team to help you manage the ministry. The bottom line is you have to know what’s going on in your small group ministry. If you are depending on reports to give you that information, then you’re already in the weeds. Many problems that could potentially end a group can be averted through coaching.

Concluding Thought

If your small group ministry was twice as big as it is today (or four times as big), how would you manage the leaders? You couldn’t. If you feel your small group ministry is small enough for you to manage yourself, you shouldn’t. Scaling the leadership of your small group ministry with coaches and a leadership team will accelerate the growth of your groups.

How are you supporting your small group leaders? What’s your next step to improving your coaching structure?

 If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in:

The Training Leaders for the Long Haul Webinar on Wednesday, January 30, 2019.

The Coaching Exponential Groups Online Course.

 

Serious Applicants Only

Serious Applicants Only

By Allen White 

Is this the year to get serious about groups and disciple making?

Have the small group fads come up short?

Have your people actually changed?

You may be seeing a lot of people connected into groups. You also may be seeing people who don’t have the time or interest to join a group. Your people study the Bible and hear solid preaching, but what do their lives have to show for it?

Over the last 28 years of ministry, and the seven years of Bible college and seminary before that, I have studied how people grow spiritually. It won’t surprise you that life change doesn’t come from more book learnin’. Life change comes from the challenge of obeying God and surrendering ourselves as outlined in God’s Word, the Bible.

Life change does not come from knowledge-based learning along, especially for adults. Life change does not come from assimilating into groups so they can play patty cake. Are you ready to see your members’ lives transformed?

If you are serious about seeing your people grow in 2019, then I want to invite you into a coaching experience. My approach is not the only approach. But, I have figured out some things that will help you take the guesswork out of spiritual growth.

Two different types of groups are starting in 2019: Coaching Groups for Small Group Ministry and Coaching Groups for Disciple Makers. The coaching for Small Group Ministry will walk you through setting God-sized goals, building your coaching structure, connecting people into groups that last, recruiting great leaders, and training according to your leaders’ needs. The coaching for Disciple Makers takes a new/old approach to discipling the whole person (and not just their heads!).

For more information on both coaching groups: allenwhite.org

Join an Interest Meeting for the Disciple Makers Coaching Group on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 1pm ET: Click Here to Register

To talk about your church’s needs for 2019, let’s set up a 30 minute conversation: allenwhite.org/assess

Free ebook: The Senior Pastors Guide to Groups

Should a Senior Pastor be in a Group?

How Many Groups Should Your Church Have?

What are Successful Pastors Doing to Grow Their Groups?

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