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For churches who observe Lent, the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter, it’s a common practice to deny oneself of something during the Lent. Now, I’ve heard of people giving up things as frivolous as watermelon during Lent, which isn’t in season anyway. But, others take this serious, and deny themselves of something of importance to them. Why not give up your small group for Lent?
Now, while my proposition may seem counter-intuitive, this is what I mean — Ask everyone in the group to take a break for the six or so weeks of Lent to help start other small groups. Whether your church is doing a specific Lenten campaign like The Crucified Life by Charlie Holt (catch our interview here) or another alignment series, this is a great way for group members to unselfishly give up their group to help start a new group. Of course, they are welcome to return to their original group after the series is finished. Spoiler Alert: 80 percent who start a group this way will stay with the group they helped to start. Don’t let offer that detail or else no one will do it!
Giving up a small group for Lent is not just good for helping start new groups, but also will breathe new life into established groups whose numbers have decreased or have become ingrown. After all, joining an established groups is a lot like getting married and suddenly having in-laws. By sending the group members out during Lent, the group leader can fill the group with new people. Then, when any group members come back to the group, they have essentially a new group.
Whether your church observes Lent or not, giving up your group for Lent will be a healthy experience for both new and established group members. You could even call it a small group vacation.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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You know that you need to train your leaders. The problem is half empty training meetings and leaders who are just difficult to reach. How do you train people who will never show up?
Your leaders like most people are inundated with information that further complicates their marginless lives. It’s probably all they can do just to lead a group. I’m not saying this is right. Unfortunately, this is your reality.
I graduated from seminary believing my purpose in life was to conduct meetings. When I started leader training meetings, most would attend. But, over time, the numbers dwindled. In fact, some days I would stand in an empty meeting room shortly after the start time. I would listen to the crickets and question the call of God on my life. Then, one day I had a realization – people hate meetings. But, how do you train your leaders if they don’t want to attend meetings? This led to a new question.
What is Training?
Maybe like me, you equated training with meetings. But, if your people won’t come to meetings, then how do you train them? You have to think outside of meetings.
You can train your leaders through conversations, blog posts, short videos, text messages, coaching, Facebook, and many other methods. You have to push the training out to them. If they won’t come to you, then go to them.
What Do They Want to Learn?
Your leaders don’t all need to know the same things at the same time. While it would be great to think you can equip your leaders by supplying them with answers to all of the questions and issues they will ever face in their groups, the reality is that leaders are only interested in solutions to the problems they are currently facing. The more your training is customized to the leaders’ needs, the more meaningful and memorable your training will be.
How Do You Know What Your Leaders Need to Know?
How Do You Deliver Individualized Training to Each Leader When They Need It?
Let me back up for a minute. There is some general training that you should deliver to all of your leaders live and in-person to get them started. All of your leaders should have an understanding of what it means to lead a group in your church and the basics of group dynamics. This should happen once during your on-boarding process.
Beyond that, give specific answers to specific issues. Use technology to deliver training that your leaders can access at any time. Whether you use Facebook Live or Youtube, push out short videos to your group leaders on relevant topics (answer the questions they are asking). You’ll need to archive these videos in some way so that if your group leaders don’t have an overly talkative person in their group today, then they’ll have access to the training when that person shows up in their group. You can do the same by writing and categorizing blog posts. You can even offer some training meetings – at the church, over Zoom, or even on a conference line. Whatever format you use, record and archive the content for future use.
In my church in California, I bought two cases of Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Making Small Groups Work. It’s an outstanding book, and it’s still in print. I gave a copy to every one of my leaders for future reference. You could do the same thing with my book, Leading Healthy Groups, which is based on questions that my group leaders asked me. You could even use my book as content for your training videos.
Lastly, there is no adequate substitute for a coach. The best training is delivered by the person who is the most proximate to the leader when a problem occurs. The key is the relationship. Proximity trumps knowledge every time. The coach may not have the best answer, but if they can deliver a good answer in a timely way, then the leader is served well.
You may find that training leaders is difficult, but it is necessary. The key to equipping busy leaders is to provide training that is proximate, timely, and relevant. The good news with a variety of formats you can reach all of your leaders. You have to choose to move away from ineffective means of training, and maybe try something new. Don’t get stuck in a power struggle over meeting attendance. Take it to them.
How are you effectively training your leaders? Leave your comments below.
How do you get avowed non-leaders to lead groups? Give them a short-term trial run to see if they like it first.
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