By Allen White
Steve Gladen and Brett Eastman from Saddleback Church host a weekly web-based series called The Small Group Show and are adding The Small Group Leader Show as well. Each show features Training, a Testimony, Trends, Tips and resources for Small Group Pastors/Directors and now Small Group Leaders. Featured guests include small group experts such as:
Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church
Heather Zempel, National Community Church, Washington D.C.
Eddie Mosley, LifePoint Church, Smyrna, TN
Rick Howerton, NavPress
Bill Search, Southeast Community Church, Louisville, KY
Ben Reed, Grace Community Church, Clarkesville, TN
Spence Shelton, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC
Carolyn Taketa, Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, CA
and, once in a while, you’ll even see me on the show.
The Small Group Show and The Small Group Leader Show are completely free. You just need to sign up by CLICKING HERE.
To view past episodes of The Small Group Show
By Allen White
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
Most leaders realize group life extends beyond well prepared and executed group meetings. While Bible study is an important aspect of a group, if everyone leaves thinking, “Boy, that was good. See you next week” without sharing what’s going on in their lives, something is definitely missing. Here’s how to help your group open up:
1. Set the Right Expectations.
When your group members joined the group, what were they expecting? Were they looking for a 60 minute inductive Bible study followed by brownies and coffee as thanks for surviving it? Were they looking for a free-flowing discussion of everything that popped into their heads? Did they know what to expect?
Managing expectations is crucial for a successful group. Rather than dictate what the group will be or won’t be, it’s best to start by discussing what kind of group the members actually want. A simple exercise like having everyone write their top three group expectations on a card, then tabulating the results will go a long way in getting buy-in from the group.
If the group skews toward Bible study, then gradually implement some aspects of care. Start with something simple like asking for prayer requests and closing the meeting with prayer. As the group continues to meet, begin to focus more on application questions rather than Bible exploration questions. Don’t get me wrong. The discussion should be based on God’s Word. But, you want to aim for where the rubber meets the road, not where the rubber meets the air.
2. Set the Example.
“Speed of the leader, speed of the team” is a common axiom from Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. The leader sets the pace. If you are open with your life, then others will be open with theirs. If you hold back, so will they.
A couple of years ago someone gave me an older car. It’s not perfect, but it’s transportation and a gift at that. One night I became frustrated with the dashboard lights. About a third of the lights wouldn’t work. Out of my arsenal of mechanical expertise, I pounded my fist of the dash. The change was both immediate and dramatic – I now had no dashboard lights.
Driving in the summer or during the day wasn’t a problem. But, anytime I had to drive early in the morning or at night, I had absolutely no idea how fast I was driving. I was embarrassed by my “repair.” While I confessed the problem to my wife, I never mentioned it to anyone else.
But, one day a circle of folks in the office were discussing their cars’ various ailments. I chose that moment in the safe circle of used car owners to confess my dashboard issue. A woman turned to me and said, “My husband has the same problem with his car. He uses his GPS to check his speed.” What a brilliant idea. I had a GPS. I no longer needed to fly blind at night.
I had dreaded the conversation with the first officer who ever pulled me over. “Sir, do you know how fast you were going?”
“No, officer. My dashboard lights aren’t working.” Somehow I imagined only a scenario with multiple traffic tickets involved. Now, I had the knowledge to detect my own speed and avoid a traffic violation.
I never would have learned that workaround if I had never admitted my problem. As Rick Warren says, “Revealing the feeling is the beginning of healing.” And, it has to start with the leader.
I shared this story when I spoke at a church a few months back. The next week, the Executive Pastor called to say that my message already was making an impact. A man confessed to his men’s group that his marriage was on the brink of divorce. He and his wife were separated, and he didn’t know what to do. Rather than judge this guy for his situation, his group members rallied around him to support him and his wife through their struggle. My illustration of automotive failure helped him open up about his marital failure.
Group leaders are no better than the group members they lead. You must be careful the leader title doesn’t block the way for your own vulnerability. If you’re group isn’t opening up, you need to check your own transparency in the group. Your honesty will encourage theirs.
3. Set the Meeting Agenda.
To balance the need for open sharing in the group and the need to meet group expectations, the group agreement is the ideal place to start. If you’ve never created a group agreement, you should soon (Read more here).
The ground rules for your group could include an option where the group can help a member process a life situation. Some issues involve more than a casual mention during prayer request time at the end. If a group member has faced a devastating turn of events like a job loss, marital blow up, issues with children or other bad news, the group should allow space to even put the Bible study aside and support their friend in need.
But, you don’t want your group to turn into the “crisis of the week.” While every group should offer support, there is a difference between a small group built on relationships formed around a Bible study and a true support group. If a group member needs dedicated support for marital problems, grief or a life controlling issue, then a specific support group may offer better help (Read more here).
There is no perfect way to organize every small group meeting. Your group can’t offer only Bible study at the expense of care. But, your group also can’t avoid Bible study and only focus on care. As Andy Stanley says, “This is a tension to be managed rather than a problem to be solved.”
If during the discussion, you notice a group member getting teary or tender, stop and ask if they want to talk about it. They might or might not. The last impression you want to leave is that the meeting agenda is more important than the group members in the meeting.
These are the Most Read Posts for allenwhite.org in August 2011:
By Allen White
1. How Do You Know When God is Speaking to You?
2. Are You Discipling Your Online Followers?
3. Why Bother? (Smallgroups.com article)
4. The Power and Potential of Small Groups By Brett Eastman
5. How Can I Get My Group to Share at a Deeper Level?
6. How to Beat Small-Group Burnout
7. Is Pornography Adultery?
8. Is Worship in Small Groups Even Possible?
9. Connecting the Last 30 Percent: Engaging Introverts (3-Part Series)
10. How Do We Balance Developing Relationships and Completing Lessons in a Group?
By Allen White
The delusion of success is that what we need next is more of what we’re already experienced. After all, if Host Homes and Turbo Groups and Apprentices and Church-wide Campaigns helped us connect the first 70 percent of our members into groups, then one last push should put us over the top. For those of us who have achieved 71 percent or more, we understand that this simply isn’t true. What connected the first 70 percent will not connect the last 30 percent – no matter how attractive the appeal.
The last 30 percent fall into one of three categories – Independent, Introverted or Isolated. These folks do not want to fit into anyone’s system. They would rather practice personal spiritual disciplines like contemplation rather than face their greatest fear – your living room. They might have a disability or a disadvantage that keeps them away. A cookie cutter approach is not the answer.
Independent people struggle with our systems. They are smart enough to know that they don’t really need one. They don’t buck the system as much as they just avoid it. There natural leaders look at things much differently than the connected 70 percent.
Our church was launching a church-wide campaign in Fall a few years ago. A long-time member called and told me that he had an unofficial small group. I’m never threatened by such an admission. Secretly, I wished every member had this news to share. He asked if his group could do the church-wide study. I told him, “Absolutely not,” and then I laughed. Then, I asked him why his group was flying under the radar.
“Well, it’s like Dean Martin used to say,” he started. (Huh?) “The difference between a drunk and an alcoholic is that drunks don’t go to all of those meetings.” (My apologies to folks in recovery. The meetings are a good thing). I told him that I only had two meetings a year. He said that might be possible.
Independent folks don’t want to fit into a system. And, they know that they don’t have to. They’re not rebellious as much as they just dance to the beat of their own drummer. They don’t want recognition. They don’t want training. They don’t want supervision. They just want to get together with friends. Sometimes they’ll discuss spiritual things. Other times they’ll go to dinner. They are a small group. They just don’t obsess over structure like most pastors do.
Independents won’t attend Host Briefings or Leadership Training. It’s not that they’re above that. It’s just against their nature. Most independents possess a leadership gift already. They are capable to lead. They just need an opportunity. So, how do you get independents involved in groups?
Give them the material with no strings attached. They know how to lead. They know how to gather a group. They just need the materials. Now, for all of the control freaks who are hyperventilating at this point — by selecting the curriculum, you have given direction to the group. Most leaders are not working hard to teach heresy or form a cult. They are devoting themselves to vacuuming their living rooms and preparing refreshments.
Starting groups for independents is as simple as putting a table in your church’s lobby with a sign that says, “Start Your Own Group.” Find out who they are and get their contact information. Give them all of the resources you would give any new leader. Give them access to a coach who can answer their questions at their request. When the six-week study ends, invite them to leadership training. They may or may not attend. That’s okay. When they need help, they will come and find you. Independents need a long, invisible leash.
Some pastors object. “Why can’t these independent folks honor the authority that God has placed over them by doing it my way?” Whoa. Calm down. That kind of thinking will keep you right at the numbers you currently have. Community is much bigger than your system or even your church.
To attract the Independents in the last 30 percent, you must be willing to take a different approach. If you start where people are comfortable, then you can lead them to other things. If you try to start where they’re uncomfortable, you’ll lead them nowhere.
Connecting the Last 30 Percent Part 2: Engaging Introverts
Including the Isolated