Connect Church is an 83-year-old Wesleyan Church of 400 adults in Lawrence, Kansas. In recent years, they’ve started groups through church-wide campaigns for the first time and knew they would need help to support the group leaders with coaches.
“Before we didn’t have any kind of a coaching structure,” said Elizabeth Scheib, Connections and Communication Director. “I was caring for all of the leaders and not doing a very good job of it. I also tend to be a control freak. I wanted to control a lot of the processes and the things the leaders went through. But, we were stuck. We had plateaued.” The church at the time had an adult attendance of 350 with 165 people connected in 16 small groups. “It wasn’t impossible to coach 16 groups. It just wasn’t effective because the whole thing in coaching is about relationships.”
As the church began to embrace the Exponential Groups strategy of creating their own curriculum and making the Lead Pastor the spokesperson for groups, they knew many people would respond to host a group. They also knew these new hosts would need help. “If the host came out of a group, then their former group leader naturally became their coach since there was already a connection.” But many more people were about to host a group for the first time as well.
The established small group leaders were already in the practice of joining Elizabeth for a huddle twice a year prior to the two annual group launches. “I explained at the huddle that we wanted to grow our groups, so we were adding a layer to our structure called coaches. I asked them, if they had a heart to come alongside a new host and help them get off to a great start, we needed their help. Then, I explained the responsibilities and gave them a starter kit that included a coaching description and a coaching timeline.” Their leaders responded.
One new host almost immediately got cold feet after she had volunteered to start a group. “We asked those who wanted to host a group to come down to the front of the sanctuary after the worship service. We gave them the information about starting a group and matched them up with a coach.”
In this case, a woman had talked herself out of hosting a group by the time she had left the sanctuary. “I can’t do it,” she said. “My husband is an introvert, and he never wanted to do it, but I felt like we should.” Elizabeth encouraged the woman to give the group a chance. Her husband could be the “kitchen guy and hang back where the introverts hang out.” She could lead the discussion. Elizabeth also encouraged her to talk to her coach.
When the coach called her, they talked for an hour. “It was laborious, but the coach was so gracious and had such a heart for this couple.” They ended up leading a successful group for the eight-week commitment and even added a potluck each week so the husband had a valued role. “It would not have worked if they did not have constant encouragement and prayer from the coach.”
Another couple decided to host a group. They were extremely gifted and had considerable experience leading groups. In fact, they were involved in campus ministries at local colleges. But, they still needed a coach to serve and support them, not in skills training, but in their own journey as believers. “They knew how to lead a group. There were not foreigners to this. But, I also knew that if I was going to make the coaching structure work, I couldn’t give them a pass. I couldn’t be their coach. I knew from being in a women’s group with the wife that they were going through some stuff.” The couple was matched with another couple who coached them. “I assigned them to coaches I knew would be able to really establish a deep spiritual relationship with them.” Not long after the assignment, Elizabeth discovered the coaches had already called them, and they had gone to coffee together. They didn’t need someone to tell them how to lead a group discussion. But they did need some prayer, encouragement, and friendship. They didn’t follow everything in the coaching timeline, but they received the coaching they needed.
By recruiting experienced leaders to coach new hosts, Elizabeth discovered the church could provide the care the leaders needed, and she could provide the overall guidance for how the leaders were coached. By loosening the reins on coaching, the groups at Connect Church became unstuck. They went from plateaued to thriving.