Posts Tagged management
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.
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Let’s start by saying, “Congratulations, you’re group is talking.” That’s a plus. But, it sounds like your group can’t get enough of a good thing. A good discussion can last anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours. If you still don’t have enough time to talk, there might be several reasons:
1. Your group might be too big. If your group has more than eight people, it’s no longer a “small” group. Usually when a group grows to be larger than eight, the more vocal folks take over and the less vocal folks hide. The easy solution here is to sub-group during the discussion. Now, this doesn’t mean that the evil small groups pastor is going to split up your group. I would never do that. Sub-grouping can be as simple as creating smaller circles of 3-4 people for part or all of the discussion, then coming back at the end of the study to conclude the meeting. Another effective method is to have group members discuss the question with one other person, then share their discovery with the rest of the group. In educational circles, this is known as “neighbor nudging.” Either of these methods can get your whole group talking.
2. Your group might be trying to cover too much. A good group discussion doesn’t have to cover every question in the study guide. In fact, some of the best discussions might only touch on five or six questions. The strength of your discussion will be the thoughts of your group members based on the Word of God and on their life experiences. As your group gets to know each other, it won’t take as much to get them talking. Use the lesson as a tool to facilitate discussion, not a referee to rule the discussion. You’ll need to keep things on track, but that doesn’t mean covering every question in the book. You might even need a couple of meetings to complete one lesson. Or, you can just cover the gist of the lesson and move on to the next.
3. Your group might be prone to chasing rabbit trails. While there is a place for catching up with each other, when it comes to the Bible discussion, the leader’s job is to keep the discussion on track. If your Bible study on the character of being a good friend leads to a discussion of the end times, you’re group is probably off track. The leader can just simply say something like “Well, that’s a whole other can of worms” or “We’ll need to save that topic for another day.” Then, move on to the next question. Discussions that meander and frequently get off topic can become frustrating to your group members. Sometimes people don’t even know how to stop the rabbit trail and get back on track. A gentle reminder from the leader and a move toward the next question does the trick.
4. Your group might have a big talker. If someone is dominating the discussion or is answering every question, the leader needs to step in for the sake of the whole group. If after the first couple of meetings you notice that someone is taking over the group, you might say something like, “On this next question, let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet today.” If your big talker still doesn’t get it, then for the next question, intentionally avoid eye contact with the talker. This might discourage them from chiming in. If all else fails, sit next to the big talker at the next meeting. When they start to response again, reach over and tap them on the leg. This will cause them to pause long enough for someone else to answer.
If they still don’t get it, then talk to them after the meeting. Ask them to help you draw out some of the quieter members of the group. You might say something like, “Have you noticed that several people in the group haven’t shared much in the group? How do you think we can help them contribute?”
My guess is that your big talker is probably a leader, and with a little bit of direction, they could lead their own group before you know it. If a few of your members go along with this new leader, then your group may have solved the “not enough time to talk” issue.
5. Your group might not be spending any time together outside of the group meeting. What happens outside of the meeting will greatly influence what happens in the meeting. Service projects, block parties, prayer partner meetings or even a cup of coffee between members will help your group become better connected. This will provide a less formal opportunity for conversation and relationship. These “meetings between the meetings” offer some needed relationship building so that everything doesn’t have to happen during the small group meeting.
There is an art and science to group discussion. Leaders should avoid legalistic rules of discussion, but should also avoid the extreme of “anything goes.” Finding the right balance for your group is something that needs to be fine tuned weekly. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and to your group members will go a long way in directing your discussions.