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 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.
When it comes to our group meetings, we work hard to make sure all of the details are taken care of. The lesson is studied. The house is cleaned. The refreshments are made or bought. The chairs are arranged. There’s a lot of work that goes into a group meeting. But, even though we’ve worked hard to pull the details together, are we really prepared? Listen to Tim Jones, a small group leader, talk about what he learned at our recent retreat with Carl George.
None of us know what exactly will happen at our next group meeting. We don’t know who will show up. We don’t know what condition they will be in. We don’t know who will miss the meeting. But, God knows exactly what’s going to happen. Aligning our purposes to God’s purposes through prayer is the key to a successful group meeting.
1. We become more sensitive to God’s Spirit. As we pray about the meeting, we invite God’s presence into our group. The group meeting is for God to orchestrate rather than for the leader merely to follow an agenda. We become better attuned to the Spirit’s leading during the meeting. When should we linger on a point? When should we move on? God will guide us.
2. We become more sensitive to our group members. I have written other places about what to do with members who dominate and control the group, but there are times when a group member chooses to disclose something right then and there, even when it wasn’t asked for. What do we do? We start by whispering a quick prayer: “God, should I go with this or move on?” He will let us know.
Sometimes when our members need to share, it doesn’t matter what the question or the topic was. It’s our job to be there for them. If this turns into a weekly event, then that is another matter. But, an occasional deviation from the schedule never killed any group. As we give the group member freedom and permission, we give them a priceless gift. They don’t need have their problem solved. They don’t need advice. They just need to be heard. By preparing through prayer, our hearts are in the right place to give them this gift.
3. We become less disappointed with the result. If we’ve worked hard to prepare our house and our lesson for the group meeting, then sure we will be disappointed if just a few, or even nobody, shows up. Why would we continue to work this hard, if no one appreciates it? But, in group life as in the rest of life, the outcomes are up to God.
If only two people come to a group meeting, rather than being disappointed by poor attendance, see it as what God intended for this meeting. What does God want to do with just a few people that might not have happened with the whole group there?
As you prepare for your next group meeting pray for each group member individually. Pray for prospective members who have been invited. Pray for prospective members who haven’t been invited yet. Pray for God’s leading, and then let Him lead.
A: I gather groups of small group leaders once a month, typically around the middle of the month, for lunch or dinner. We meet for one hour and limit the meetings to five leaders. This gives us time to catch up on what’s going on with your groups, learn about what’s coming next, and encourage each other. If you haven’t attended a lunch this Fall, look for an email in the next few days.
Q: Why are there so many surveys???
A: I have found in the South that most people would rather “bless my heart” than tell me what they think. Now, there are some who are not shy with their opinions. I hear you. But, for many, they are just too polite to tell it to me straight. Surveys are a useful tool to hear from everybody and get the “straight stuff.” Ken Blanchard says, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” By responding to surveys, you are helping to make our small groups ministry even better.
Q: Why is it important to invite new people to the group?
A: I have answered this question in other places on this blog, so I will try not to repeat myself.
1. People need small group connection. While about two-thirds of Brookwood Church is connected to a small group, we’ve still got 30% without a group. If we don’t invite them, where will they go? We’ve also got a world full of lost people who need connection with caring people and with their Savior.
2. Groups tend to shrink over time. I look at my own group. I started with about twelve guys. Half of the group quit immediately. It wasn’t exactly what they were looking for. One moved out of state. One started his own group. One changed jobs and his new schedule conflicted with the group schedule. One didn’t care for the restaurants we chose to meet in. If my group hadn’t continued to invite new people, I would be down to one group member.
3. Groups tend to get way too comfortable. Now, small group is the place to connect with other people at a deeper level and to develop life-giving relationships. But, over time we become too understanding of each other. The group can lose its edge. Instead of speaking the truth in love, we just love. We understand each other. We understand why group members do what they do. But, we’re comfortable. Who wants to make things uncomfortable? Adding a new member or a few tends to shake things up a bit, and that’s not always a bad thing.
4. New members bring new life to the group. New members tend to upset things just enough to keep the group fresh. The last thing we want is for our group to become a cul-de-sac (or the Dead Sea to be spiritual). Every group needs an outlet for ministry. Attracting new members is a big part of the group’s ministry.
Who do you invite? Ask God, and then pay attention to who crosses your path.