In some circles, coaching is either underrated or
non-existent. I think this is a mistake. Coaching provides a number of things
for new and established leaders:
Support and encouragement.
Customized training target to specific needs.
A spiritual covering for ministry.
Supervision and accountability.
A resource to help meet the needs of group
A sounding board for new ideas and
A relationship with a like-minded leader.
A link between the group and the church.
If you’re not providing this for your leaders, then how are you helping them? Meetings and emails might provide a little help, but they won’t provide help at this level.
Where to Start
Start with new leaders. A completed org chart does not need
to be in place to effectively coach leaders. In fact, I’ve seen some very impressive
org charts that actually didn’t represent very much. There wasn’t much coaching
going on, but everyone was accounted for.
New group leaders need the most help, so start with them. When prospective leaders show up at a new leader briefing, they can meet their coaches. The assumption is that every new group leader at your church gets a coach, and they should. New leaders are far more accepting of both the coaching and the help than established leaders. In fact, if you assign coaches to seasoned leaders, that announcement will be met with anything from suspicion to resentment. Established group leaders will need a different style of coaching, which is covered in Chapter 10 of Exponential Groups.
New leaders need the most help. They will have many questions. As the church continues to implement new strategies of forming groups like the HOST model or “do the study with your friends” strategy, two things will happen: (1) the “leaders” of these groups will be less “experienced” and will need help, and (2) the church leadership will not be as familiar with these “leaders.” The safety net here is launching non-groups led by non-leaders which are not advertised, but there is still a responsibility to these non-leaders and their non-groups. If each of these prospective leaders, even in the unadvertised groups, has a coach, then the leaders will be supported in meaningful ways, and the church will be assured of what’s going on because the coach is checking in.
Coaching will help new groups actually get started and will keep them going as they face various issues and possible discouragement. As new leaders are forming their new groups, it’s easy for them to get overwhelmed. An experienced leader who is willing to coach these new leaders will help you get more groups started.
Shepherding God’s people is a big responsibility. It’s just about the biggest. By recruiting “under-shepherds,” you can guide your new leaders and new groups into transformative experiences in their groups.
Some pastors outgrow their jobs. Others find their jobs outgrow them. In 30 years of ministry and 16 years of consulting churches, I’ve witnesses the hard break of pastors putting their hearts and souls into their churches and small group ministries only to eventually become disqualified for their positions. As you grow your ministry, you must grow yourself.
A great example of this principle is found in Moses and how he handled the people’s disputes while they wandered in the desert. The Israelites numbered somewhere around 3 to 3.5 million. Moses spent his days resolving every conflict for all of them. Things became so bad that Moses’ wife and children left him (Exodus 18:2).
Moses’ father-in-law Jethro confronted him: “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18:14). Moses’ answer sounds like a lot pastors I know (and a pastor I’ve been): (1) The people like coming to me and, (2) I’m the only one who can do it (18:15). Some of us think, “Well, isn’t that what good pastors are supposed to do? But, others might realize this all sounds a bit co-dependent. Moses needed to be needed. Have you ever known any pastors like that? To be honest, I didn’t need to be needed. I just needed to be in control. And, our small group ministry got stuck because of it. (Click here for more lessons on why small group coaching fails).
You Cannot Personally Pastor Everyone
If you have more than 10 small groups in your church, you have to decide who you are going to personally pastor. If you wear a lot of hats other than groups, 10 group leaders might be too many. While you may not think you don’t need any help, you have to realize that you are not giving adequate help and support to your leaders if you’re trying to do it all by yourself. You’re probably busy putting out fires, but you are not mentoring your leaders. You’re probably holding big training meetings that are half attended at best, but you’re not coaching your leaders. You might be sending a weekly email blast, but you’re still not training your leaders. You’re just spamming them. No wonder your leaders don’t respond!
Take a look at Jethro’s advice to Moses: “But select from all of the people some capable, honest men (and women) who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten” (Exodus 18:21). Jethro gave Moses the model for a small group coaching structure. The leaders of ten are small group leaders. The leaders of 50 and 100 are coaches. The leaders of 1,000 (if you have thousands) are a small group team (staff or volunteer).
But You Can Pastor the Right Ones
Growing your leadership does not mean that you stop pastoring and mentoring people. But, it does change your focus as to whom you invest in. You don’t need to handpick every small group leader, but you do want to handpick your coaches and your small group team. If you can only spend time with 10 leaders, then choose 10 leaders who are mentoring 10 other leaders. Now you’re set for 100 groups. If you have more than 100 groups, then choose 10 leaders who can mentor 10 coaches who are mentoring 10 leaders. Now you’ve covered 1,000 groups. (If you have more than 1,000 groups, then talk to Steve Gladen at Saddleback or Bill Willits at North Point.)
Who’s doing a great job with their groups? Which groups would you like to see 10 more just like them? Recruit these leaders to coach other leaders. If you have groups you don’t like or leaders who aren’t doing well – don’t recruit those! If you have leaders who are hard to get along with – don’t recruit those either. Recruit the ones who are doing a good job (and the ones you like!).
A Coaching Structure Will Save Your Ministry
You cannot possibly address every issue in every group. Seating group leaders in neat rows and lecturing them has never really solved a group problem. But, if an experienced leader builds a relationship with a new leader and gives them what they need when they need it, then they receive training that sticks. Think about it. What lessons have stuck with you? The ones that you learned when you were in the middle of a problem. Your leaders are just like you.
Your leaders need a spiritual covering. I don’t want to make too much of this, but I also don’t want to make too little of this. There is a spiritual battle afoot. The enemy comes to steal and to kill and to destroy (John 10:10). Leaders will become discouraged. Groups might become divisive. Your leaders and groups need a coach to care for them, encourage them, and lead them spiritually. By the time an issue gets to the pastor, the situation is usually out of control. Coaches can address problems while they’re still small and haven’t done much damage yet.
Isn’t It Easier to Do It Myself?
It depends on your goal. If you are in a church that only cares about having “some groups,” then you can probably get away with dabbling in groups and not attempting to connect the entire congregation. But, if your congregation and your small group ministry are growing, then doing everything by yourself becomes impossible. There is only so much of you. There are only so many hours in a day. Face it – you are one disaster from being out of a job! I know that sounds extreme, but it’s easy to cruise when problems haven’t raised their ugly heads. Eventually, something is going to blow!
I was reluctant to have coaches. I knew I needed them. I recruited a couple and only got in their way. Finally, after we had doubled our groups in one day (whole other story), I was forced to invite some experienced leaders to help me. Here was the invitation: “I don’t have this all figured out, but if you’re willing to help me build this, I really need your help.” Nobody turned down that invitation.
Start small and start building your coaching structure. Recruit coaches for your new leaders first. (Your other leaders have it figured out). And, the great thing about building a coaching structure like this is it can scale as your ministry grows!
Coaching small group leaders is one of the most important roles in a healthy small group ministry, yet it proves to be the most difficult to accomplish. A recent survey of small group pastors and directors from across the U.S. demonstrates the growing need for help in establishing their coaching structures and supporting their leaders. These pastors and directors were allowed to choose “All that Apply” for the first set of responses.
57% reported their biggest struggle is in Identifying and Recruiting Coaches.
39% found their next biggest complication was in Training Coaches.
30% were frustrated by a Lack of Communication between Coaches and Group Leaders.
26% were unclear about Creating a Good Job Description.
Another 26% admitted they were Unclear About the Coach’s Role.
These pastors also shared some of their frustrations and limitations by volunteering these responses:
Not enough time to build a coaching structure.
Groups are growing, so more coaches are needed.
Some group leaders don’t really see the need for a coach.
Group leaders are not engaging with their coaches.
In analyzing the survey results, there is a progression of issues. First, if the coach’s role is unclear, then it’s difficult to spell out expectations in a job description. If these things are murky, then it’s also challenging to know who to recruit and what to train them to do.
When the respondents were asked what they were currently doing in the area of coaching, the responses ranged from nothing to recruiting through a trial run at coaching to the church elders coaching small groups leaders. Some of the frustrations centered on lack of connection between the coach and the group leaders, inconsistencies in coaching, or just starting out.
Most of the respondents (74%) felt that the ideal span of care was one coach for every five leaders. Other churches used ratios of 1:7, 1:10, and even 1:25. The bottom line is that the amount of care really depends on the number of new leaders a coach is responsible for and the number of struggling leaders they are helping.
The respondents were asked about what they believed was the primary purpose of coaching. The highest percentage of pastors (44%) hold that Building Relationships is the primary purpose. The next 39% of respondents gave a wide range of purposes for coaching including encouraging, equipping, growing groups, connecting, supporting, shepherding, and a number of other things. This confirmed the findings in the first data set, which indicated there was no unified, clear direction for coaching.
Building a coaching structure is the hardest work in small group ministry. It’s also the most important work. If pastors would spend the time they invest in placing people into groups and recruiting group leaders and focused on building their coaching structure instead, their ministries would flourish and grow in unprecedented ways.
Pastors battle the tyranny of the urgent. Often pastors are serving in multiple roles and are wearing many hats. The key is recruiting a team of trusted leaders to help you lead the small group ministry. As you delegate both responsibility and authority to them, you multiply your leadership and better serve your leaders.
For more information on coaching:
The 10 Biggest Coaching Mistakes Webinar is Wednesday, August 29, 2018 at 1pm Eastern. Click Here to Register.
Almost every small group pastor or director will agree coaching small group leaders is important. Yet, many of those pastors would also admit they don’t know how to adequately coach their small group leaders. Having tried and failed at various coaching structures many times myself, I have found three key issues in unsuccessful (and eventually successful) coaching.
Many coaching structures fail simply because no one knows what a coach is supposed to do. Is the coach an administrator or record keeper? Is the coach a trainer? Is the coach a figurehead so we can say we have a coaching structure? What do we expect our coaches to do?
If we need coaches to train leaders, then why are small group pastors still running centralized training meetings? Do we really need coaches to collect rosters and reports? Don’t we live in the 21st century? After all, churchteams.com will solve all of these administrative issues. (In an effort for full disclosure, I believe ChurchTeams is the best small groups’ database on the planet. Boyd Pelley did not pay me to say that. He did buy me an ice cream once.)
What do we need coaches to do? We need coaches to do the things we can’t do ourselves. If we had, say, five small groups, then what would we do with those leaders? We’d call them on a regular basis. We’d get together for a cup of coffee. We would personally encourage them, answer their questions, and pray for them. We would invest in the relationship. What if our coaches started there? Coaching is based on relationship. If there’s no relationship, not much coaching will take place.
A friend of mind called me a while back. He was frustrated because many of his coaches were quitting. I asked him what he was asking them to do. He wanted his volunteer coaches to hold a monthly training meeting with their leaders on the church campus. Then, I asked him if he’d ever driven in his city?
This was a major metropolitan area. So, think of requiring volunteer small group coaches to hold monthly training meetings in the middle of one of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. It wasn’t working, and his coaches were quitting.
Face to face meetings are great. If you can pull them off with all of your leaders together, that’s really great. But, most people can’t. Fortunately, there are some alternatives.
Why not meet “together” with small group leaders on freeconference.com or Skype? Every day I coach small group pastors across the country over the phone or by teleconference. I’ve met few of them in person, but we connect on a weekly basis. We have a relationship, and they have seen success in growing their groups. This works with leaders locally too.
Facetime is necessary (the real, in-person version). Again, coaching is built on a relationship. But, maybe the face to face meetings are with one or two group leaders and not all of them. We can use other means to connect at other times. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating a simple “Like” on Facebook or a bulk email to all of the leaders at once. The connection must be personal to grow the relationship.
Lack of Accountability
None of us likes to make people uncomfortable. Some of us avoid this discomfort to the point of not asking our coaches if they’re coaching. Then, we discover not much coaching is taking place. We shouldn’t be surprised.
Only what we supervise gets done. Now, we don’t have to come down on our coaches like a ton of bricks, but we do need to ask. Rather than asking, “Have you contacted your leaders?” we should assume the good, qualified people we recruited to coach are actually coaching. The question could go like this, “What are you learning from your leaders?” They won’t get defensive.
They might respond, “Well, I haven’t contacted any of them lately.” That’s okay. Give them a deadline, “I understand you’re busy, but connect with your leaders in the next two weeks, then I’ll check-in with you again.” Presuming the best about our coaches both honors and motivates them. Giving them accountability helps them keep their commitment to coaching and eliminates the guilt of not fulfilling their commitment.
Effective, motivated coaches need direction that is clear, reasonable, and accountable. How do I know? A good coach taught me that…as he was resigning. Do your coaches know your expectations? Do you know your expectations? Are your requirements reasonable? And, if it’s truly important, are you holding them accountable? These three simple words will transform your coaching structure.
Catch The 10 Biggest Coaching Mistakes Webinar with Allen White on Wednesday, August 29, 2018 at 1pm Eastern. For more information: https://allenwhite.org/10mistakes
I learned the hard way that coaches help launch more groups.
One church I served had a weekly average adult attendance of 800. During our third launch in Fall 2004, we start 103 small groups. Those were pretty amazing numbers. In the middle of that series, I sent out a survey to determine how many of those groups would continue. I was hoping for at least 80 percent moving forward.
The results came back: 70 percent would continue with 30 percent ending. These were not the results I wanted or expected, so I sent a survey to the 30 leaders who were ending their groups. The response was startling. Out of the 30 leaders, only two leaders had actually led a group for the six week series. The other 28 groups had never started. This lead me to a very important principle:
Groups that don’t start tend to not continue.
It’s almost a proverb, isn’t it? It might deserve a needlepoint cushion.
Why didn’t the groups start? The new leaders got cold feet. Some of them were rejected by the people they invited. Some had good intentions starting out, then life just got in the way.
They didn’t miss the boat. I missed the boat. So, we did something new, immediately.
On the next campaign, we added 32 new groups to the 73 groups that continued from the Fall for a total of 105 groups. Every new leader met an experienced leader who would coach them at our New Leader Briefing. Their “coach” called them every week starting after the briefing through the end of the series. When they had a setback, the coach encouraged them. When they had a question, the coach gave them an answer. All of these groups started and most of them continued.
How many new groups are you starting? Divide that number by two. That’s how many coaches you need. One experienced leader for every two new groups. The experienced leaders are still leading their own group, so you don’t want to overwhelm them. Then recruit experienced leaders to help the new leaders get started. And, they will start.
Where do you find these experienced leaders to coach? Make a list of your best leaders. Pray over the list. Then, invite them like this: “We are going to be completely inundated with new leaders. Our coaching structure is completely overwhelmed. I NEED YOUR HELP.” That is a very compelling invitation that will get a “Yes.”
At the risk of overstating my point, it is Mission Critical to have someone calling your new leaders weekly from when they say “Yes” to starting a group until the study starts. More groups will end in that window than at any other time.
Every small group pastor wants healthy leaders and healthy groups. Sometimes that feels like an unattainable goal.
How do you connect with every leader and every group on a regular basis when you always seem to be putting out fires? Let’s face it – you spend a good deal of time addressing the latest crisis which robs time away from your strategic planning. It’s hard to work in it and on it at the same time.
While you do your best to keep up with your leaders, the reality is there is only so much of you. There are only so many hours in the day. You have a limited amount of time, energy and attention. If you’re like me, small groups are not your only responsibility. You tend to resort to email blasts and training meetings that are half full to invest in your leaders, but you’re always left wondering how you could help your leaders more?
A small group leadership team with coaches to care for every leader would be ideal. But, it’s difficult to build a coaching team when the demand rests in finding a group for the person who signed up last Sunday. When there’s not a group to plug them into, the prospective member has to wait until you can recruit a new leader and start a group. When do you get to think about a coaching structure?
But, let’s say you get a reprieve from the tyranny of the urgent to form a coaching structure. How would you build it? Who would you recruit to coach? What would they do? Those three questions delay most small group pastors from even starting.
Like you, I was very frustrated with coaching group leaders. I have made about every mistake that can be made with coaching, but in the process I’ve figured out some things that have helped many churches like yours.
Let me guide you through a proven way to build your coaching structure that is customizable to your church. I understand that your church is different from other churches. There is a way to have both what works in coaching leaders and what will work for you.
You don’t have to go through the heartbreaks of watching excited new leaders become discouraged to the point of not even starting their new group. You can avoid the aftermath of poorly supervised leaders taking their group away from the vision of your church. The lack of a coaching structure means the problems and issues of your small group ministry is solely your burden to bear.
But, if you took the same energy it takes to recruit leaders and place people into groups and invested yourself in building a coaching structure, your groups would get further faster than you could imagine. More of your new leaders would actually start groups because someone was walking alongside them and offering encouragement. All of your group leaders would be healthier, which in turn will create healthier groups. And, your burden would be lightened. You could actually have the margin you need to plan for the future of your ministry.
In the Coaching Exponential Groups Online Course, I will guide you around the pitfalls of small groups ministry and help you build a coaching structure, define the coaching role, recruit the right people, equip coaches to serve leaders, and disciple your people through groups. In about an hour a week for six weeks, you can follow a step by step process to get the help you need to effectively lead your groups.
Give the course a try. If it doesn’t work for you, then I will give you a full refund in the first 30 days. I will assume all of the risk, because I believe these strategies will help you significantly.