By Allen White
By now most small group pastors and directors understand coaches are essential to sustain and support small group leaders. While everyone will agree to the necessity of coaches, most don’t know what to do with coaches, and unfortunately, most coaches don’t know what to do period. Beautiful org charts in a lot of churches actually net zero results. Here are some tips to moving your coaches in the right direction:
1. Coaches Aren’t Accountants.
The problem with most accountability in Christian circles is that it becomes too much like accounting. Unlike Santa Claus, coaches do not relish keeping a naughty or nice list. What’s more, group leaders don’t appreciate being supervised by a supervisor. This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, but we also don’t put a cruel task master over small group leaders. After all, “love keeps no record of wrongs,” right? (1 Corinthians 13:5). Read more on accountability that works here.
2. Coaches Aren’t Middle Managers, Bureaucrats or Spies.
Years ago, Carol, one of my coaches, complained to me, “I feel like I’m your spy.” At that point, I was still recruiting and training all of the group leaders myself. Carol and the other coaches were sent out to visit the groups and report back what they saw. No wonder she felt that way.
In recruiting coaches, we work hard to select mature, capable people to serve with us. Then, often because we don’t have the coaching role figured out ourselves, we tend to micromanage them as if they are neither mature nor capable. I didn’t keep many coaches that way.
The key is to elevate the role of coaching. When I chose coaches the next time around, I invited capable, mature people to join me in a journey. We met every week for dinner and to talk about the direction of our small groups. I committed to never make a decision about our small groups outside of that meeting. We led together.
These folks aren’t underachievers who need our constant motivation. These aren’t people who are prone to wander and need a steady reminder of direction. If they are, then they shouldn’t be coaching groups. If they’re not, then they deserve more respect than a place in our little bureaucracy.
3. The Role of the Coach is to Refocus the Player.
My friend and mentor, Carl George has drilled this phrase into my psyche. When you think about a coach in sports, he stands at the sidelines and guides his players. If the last play went terribly wrong, his job is to refocus the players on the next play. They can’t replay the last play on the field. But, if a bad play keeps replaying in the players’ minds, then the next play will also suffer.
Small group leaders have busy lives and are pulled in many different directions. On a particularly hectic day or difficult season, it’s easy for leaders to become discouraged and wonder why they ever got into this business in the first place. The relationship with the coach is key to maintaining momentum in groups. The coach is not making sure the job gets done. The coach is making sure the player is okay.
4. Give Your Leaders the Space to See What God is Doing
The most valuable function of a coach is giving a small group leader an opportunity to reflect on what God is doing in his or her group. Most would admit to the difficulty of working “in” something and “on” something at the same time. It’s nearly impossible. Often group leaders are working so hard in the group, they don’t see the big picture of what God is doing.
By setting aside an hour or so once every quarter, a coach can give group leaders the space they need to see what God is doing and to identify what is next. This is as simple as the coach asking the leaders to list the names of their group members, then asking them to talk about what God is doing in each person’s life. As the leaders discuss their members, the logical next steps will begin to surface for the leader.
Bob – Hasn’t been around for a while. I need to give him a call.
Joe – Struggling at his job. I need to pray for him and give him some encouragement outside of the group.
Steve – Lost his job. I need to check-in with him and see if there’s any way the group can help.
Tony – Making poor choices. I need to pray for him and for the right timing to have a tough conversation.
Brett – Shows strong leadership potential. I need to give him more responsibilities in the group and eventually invite him to co-lead with me.
You get the idea. The coach must approach this conversation as a learner, not as an instructor. It would be easy to quickly diagnose each member and offer next steps, but the next steps determined by the group leader will be the next steps that are actually executed.
To make this work, start with a few assumptions. Assumption #1: Group leaders have made themselves available to God, and God is using them in their group. If a group leader is going through a hard time, he may be wondering if God is doing anything at all. He needs encouragement. But, some group leaders so naturally use their gifts, they might not even realize how gifted they are. They also need a coach’s insight.
Assumption #2: Who you are as a coach is more significant than what you could every say to a group leader. Your relationship with your group leaders is the greatest gift you can offer them. When relationship comes first, tasks get accomplished. Without relationship, leaders easily burn out.
5. Small Group Pastors: Get Out of Your Coach’s Way
How many Team Owners or General Managers have made their coaches’ lives miserable? Small Group Pastors and Directors, like their coaches, should approach their roles as learners, not drill sergeants. God wants to use your coaches. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to effective coaching is often a well-meaning Small Groups Pastor.
While you cannot give away the responsibility for the ministry, empowered coaches are effective coaches. Disempowered coaches become burned out middle managers. Your expectation of your coaches should be clear, reasonable and accountable. But, again, don’t approach accountability as an accountant. Give your coaches the benefit of the doubt: “How are your groups doing?” not “Have you followed up on your groups lately?” If your coaching system is in disarray, then you’re probably in the way.
By Allen White
In conversations with small group pastors from some of the largest small group ministries in the country, I’ve learned that many have completely given up on coaching group leaders. Others are on the other extreme and hire coaches. Whether your approach is the “phone-a-friend” method or the metachurch model, here are some reasons coaching is significant.
More Group Leaders Will Quit BEFORE a Study Begins that After.
From the moment someone offers to be a Leader/Host/Friend and start a group, they need a coach. I have seen more potential group leaders stall between the invitation to lead and the start of the study than at any point in the process. Most groups who actually do the first study or first semester will continue on, but groups that fail to start tend to not continue.
It is mission critical for a leader to have a coach from when they say “Yes,” until the end of the study. You may ask, “But, what about the rest of our group leaders?” Here’s the deal, if your other groups have survived without a coach, put that on the back burner and start coaching your new leaders now.
People Hate Meetings.
You’re probably frustrated that your group leaders don’t show up for your training. The short of it is people simply hate meetings, especially when the topics don’t affect them. How do you train your leaders if they won’t come to meetings? Coach them.
Rather than coaches being your spies or your report-takers, have the coaches train the group leaders on what the leaders actually need training on. It’s not cookie cutter. It’s customized to what the leader is currently facing. If you are answering the questions your leaders are asking, then they will become very interested in training. But, what is training?
What if training, especially on-going training, is not a note sheet and a PowerPoint presentation? Training could be a short video emailed out to your leaders. Training could be a short conversation. Training could be solving a current problem. Training should come from the coach.
But, if the coaches do the training, what do small group pastors/ directors do? Train the coaches and build a small group team. By working at a higher level in your small group structure, you can have a greater impact and get much further faster.
You Can’t Successfully Coach More than 8 Leaders Yourself.
Why eight? That’s my number. I tried to coach 30 leaders once. There’s wasn’t much coaching going on. What I discovered is eight is great. In a church under 1,000 adults, your eight might be your coaches or small group team. In a church over 1,000 adults, your eight is definitely a small group team. Just follow the pattern Jethro gave Moses in Exodus 18.
Let’s face it – most small group pastors/ directors wear more hats than just small group ministry. If that’s the case with you, then you certainly can’t coach all of your leaders by yourself. Consider your best and brightest leaders. Could they coach? Let them give it a try.
But, there’s a much bigger reason to invest in coaching – you won’t always have as many groups as you currently have. You’re going to have more! How are you going to serve your group leaders when you have twice as many as you have now? It happened to me in one day! Plan for where you want your groups to grow. Recruit coaches even before you recruit leaders!
Coaching will make all of the difference in both starting and supporting group leaders. No doubt building a coaching structure is the hardest work of small group ministry.
The only thing harder is not having one.
By Allen White
Stop recruiting group leaders. Am I crazy?
If we stop recruiting group leaders, then where will they come from then? From within a group? Maybe. Will they just line up my door and demand to lead? Probably not. Will they just appear from outer space? Definitely not.
In our efforts to connect everyone into groups we forget one basic thing — everyone is already to group. (That’s the premise of my book, Exponential Groups). People are in groups called families or friends or neighbors or coworkers or some combination of those. If our church members would gather these groups for a Bible study, then they are group leaders. As Steve Gladen says, “Leaders have followers.”
Unfortunately these leaders don’t spontaneously appear. They need a little help. They need a little incentive. This is where our Senior Pastors comes in. If we would give the same words we might say to our Senior Pastors, we would have triple the result. How do I know that?
Well, after recruiting group leaders myself for seven years, we managed to connect 30 percent of our adults into groups. When my Senior Pastor recruited leaders, we doubled our groups, then we tripled them. I haven’t personally recruited a group leader since 2004! (And, I served a whole other church since then).
But, how do we get our Senior Pastors interested in recruiting groups? Read more here.
Often our focus in the Fall is to connect as many people in groups as possible. We do a big church wide campaign with the goal of getting a hundred percent or more connected into groups. In order to have groups we have to have leaders. In order to have groups we have to have members. So we focus all of our energy on recruiting leaders and connecting people into groups. Then after the six-week campaign is over we find that we have very little to show for it. We work so hard to connect all these people into group, only to see groups just as easily fall apart.
Stop recruiting group leaders. Spend your time and energy on something that will actually help your groups and leaders last. Namely coaches and training. If you put the same amount of effort into coaching and training as we used to put into recruiting leaders and forming groups, you will keep far more groups for the long term.
By Allen White
Photo by hxdbzxy via 123rf.com
The goal of every small group launch is recruiting new leaders and forming new groups. Maybe you are launching a church-wide campaign, a sermon-based series, or a variety of different types of groups, the commonality is getting a lot of new groups started very quickly. Whether you’ve chosen to lower the bar on leadership or to keep your requirements high, there are three priorities in briefing every new group leader. The establishment of these priorities will determine how many of these new groups continue.
Priority #1: Encourage Your New Leaders to Gather Their Own Groups.
The best way to determine the quality of new group leaders is by their ability to invite and gather their own group members. If they can gather their own groups, then more than likely they can keep their groups going. After all, the second best way to get into a group is by personal invitation.
While some small group pastors depend on church websites or signup cards to form groups, these methods are far inferior to personal invitation. I’ve served two churches over the last 25 years, a church of 1,500 in California and a church of 6,500 in South Carolina. Personal invitation worked best in both churches despite the size.
Groups of friends tend to outlast groups of strangers. Ask the new leaders to make a list of people they know who would enjoy the study. Have them pray over their list. Then, get them out there inviting.
Priority #2: Discourage Your New Leaders from Trying to Do Everything.
A lot goes into a group meeting — preparing and leading the discussion, cleaning a house, making a dessert, arranging childcare, reminding group members about the meeting, and there’s more still. If you’ve successfully recruited a bunch of co-dependent, “Martha-type” leaders, then they will very quickly burn themselves out in serving the group. If you don’t have a leader, then you don’t have a group. So much for all of that hard work on Priority #1…
Give the new leaders a chart listing the group meetings and the group responsibilities including all that were mentioned in the previous paragraph. Then, instruct your new recruits to inform the group that everyone is expected to sign up for something. If they ask, “Would anyone like to…?” The answer is an unequivocal “No!” But, if it’s expected of the group, then the group members will sign up and share responsibilities. Not only do you keep the new leaders from burning out, you can also identify potential leaders in the group.
Priority #3: Introduce Every Group Leader to His/Her Coach.
The Coach is the new group leader’s lifeline. Without a coach, probably 30 percent of your new groups won’t even get started. How do I know? It happened to me when I started hundreds of new groups at a time. Then, you’ll lose another 30 percent after the campaign, because things came up they didn’t know how to deal with. That means only 4 out of 10 new groups will make it. It’s progress, but it’s not what it could be with a coach in the leader’s life.
Every new leader will face discouragement at some point. Some will struggle inviting group members. Others will face nights when half of the group doesn’t show up. Some will get stumped by a member they won’t know how to deal with. An experienced leader coaching a new leader will go a long way in resolving these issues and keeping the group moving forward.
One last thought.
A group leader briefing should be BRIEF! People don’t like meetings. Make the briefing convenient and brief. Whether it’s 15 minutes after a weekend service or a video you’ve posted online, think of what your new leaders need to succeed and not everything you could tell them.
If these are your three priorities to guide your new group leaders, you should have closer to 8 out of 10 new groups continue, if you offer them a next step.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Are you ready for your Fall Group Launch?
If you’re not sure your launch plan will help you reach your goals, schedule a time with Allen White to help you think through where to go this Fall. Whether you need a few tweaks or a complete overhaul, Allen will guide you through the steps you need to launch Exponential Groups this Fall.
Find out more at: allenwhite.org/checkup
By Allen White
I’ve made a lot of mistakes with groups over the years, but the biggest mistake by far is launching groups without a coaching structure. I’ve heard small group pastors and directors say a lot of things I’ve felt:
“Coaches are difficult to recruit.”
“It looks good on the org chart, but there’s not much coaching happening.”
“I can communicate with group leaders through video and email, why do I need coaches?”
If you don’t have coaches, you don’t know what’s going on in your small group ministry. Period. Whether you serve in a church of dozens, hundreds, or thousands, the lack of a coaching structure is the beginning of the end for your small groups ministry (and maybe you…yikes!)
You might be starting groups now, or you may have been at it. It’s never too late to begin coaching your leaders. The coaching will look a little different depending on how long your group leaders have served, but everyone needs a coach.
Join me for one of three identical webinars on February 23-25, 2016. For specific times and to register, to go: allenwhite.org/coachingwebinar.
See you soon!