Brett Eastman on Trends in Small Group Ministry
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
When our family was living in Orange County, California, we had the privilege of being part of Saddleback Church. Saddleback is an awesome church. While they currently have an attendance of about 30,000 people and 3,000-4,000 small groups, my impression is that they are just getting started.
As I traveled with Brett Eastman and the team from Lifetogether.com, I was often asked, “So how’s your small group going?” I would sheepishly bow my head and reply, “I’m not in small group right now.” I knew that this “do as I say, but not as I do” thing would not stand up for long. So, I decided to join one of Saddleback’s then 2,000 small groups back in 2006.
I filled out the response card on Sunday morning requesting information on men’s groups. I received a letter in the mail directing me to look on the website. I had already been on there. That’s partly why I turned in the response card. The website gave me what every small group website gives you: Group Name, Leader Name, Day of the Week, Time of Day, Location and Current Study. How did I know which group to try? It was a crap shoot.
Now, I was a bit of an odd duck at Saddleback. Through my position at Lifetogether, I knew all of the pastors. I just didn’t know many of the members. If a friend had invited me to Saddleback, then they would have shown me the small group ropes. But, I was an “outsider.” I didn’t have that connection.
What I began to realize that day was every church has a lot of “outsiders.” A job or a warmer climate brought them to the area. They don’t have extended family. They like the Sunday morning service, but beyond that they are just at a loss as to where to get started.
Some brave souls will roll the dice and contact a group through the web. They believe in the importance of small groups, so they will tough out the awkwardness of the introduction to get to the good stuff. But, there is a better way.
For seven years now, at both New Life Christian Center and Brookwood Church, we have offered a Small Group Connection after the services on the Sunday morning prior to a new series and the Sunday morning of the new series. Group leaders and new group hosts are available to meet prospective members face to face. Most people have a sense of the leader within the first 30 seconds. Is this a person they would hang out with for the next six weeks? If so, then they sign up right on the spot. If not, then they meet another leader until they find a group they would like to try.
I’ve found that prospective members discover old neighbors, high school classmates and even co-workers. Even those who don’t know any of the leaders at least have a face with a name, so they aren’t walking into someone’s house cold turkey on the first night of group.
There is a place for the small group website, but honestly, why depend on a programmatic method to form small groups that are highly relational? There is no substitute for a personal invitation and a face to face meeting.
I eventually found a men’s group at Saddleback Church. The leader was a former preacher. He talked too much. I went twice, then I stopped going. Today, I have a great lunchtime group that has met every Wednesday for two years. It also is probably led by a preacher that talks too much.