5 Obstacles to Building an Effective Coaching Structure

“Coaching does not work here.”

I’ve heard that line many, many times.  Maybe you’ve said it yourself!  Very often, though, there are some incorrect assumptions that undermine coaching success.  See also, 5 Assumptions that Set Up Small Group Coaching to #FAIL.

There are also some real obstacles to building an effective coaching structure.

5 Obstacles to Building an Effective Coaching Structure

  1. Recruiting the wrong people.  Coaching is an essential ingredient of small group ministry that can only happen when you have the right people on the team.  You cannot build an effective coaching structure if you end up with anything less than high capacity people who are both fruitful and fulfilled in their role.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach and How to Recruit a Small Group Coach: My “Secret” Formula.
  2. Asking your coaches to do the wrong things.  It’s not unusual for mall group coaches to be recruited to the role of an accountant or a hall monitor.  Instead of mentoring group leaders, caring for them in a way that encourages leaders to follow Christ, coaches end up being asked to ensure that rosters are up to date and only approved curriculum is being chosen.  If the job description you use for small group coaches describes anything less than “doing to and for your small group leaders whatever you want your leaders to do to and for their members” you have the wrong job description.  See also, Life-Change at the Member-Level.
  3. Assigning coaches to the wrong leaders.  It’s very common for small group pastors to decide to try coaching one more time and simply assign every small group leader to a coach.  Doing this underestimates the power of one of the most important obstacles to understand.  Experienced leaders who currently don’t have a coach know intuitively that they do not need a coach.  They reason, “Obviously, I already know what I need to know.  If I didn’t need a coach when I was beginning to lead a small group, why would I need one now?”  This logic is nearly irrefutable.  We have rarely painted an accurate  picture of the role of a coach and it is difficult for leaders to see anything other than what they’ve always imagined.  Better to assign coaches to new leaders and adopt another strategy for caring for experienced leaders.  See also, How to Provide Coaching for Experienced Group Leaders.
  4. Insufficient investment in your coaches once recruited.  If your pattern is to recruit coaches and then release them on their own recognizance to coach small group leaders you face an insurmountable obstacle.  This obstacle can only be overcome by changing your pattern and beginning to invest time and energy in doing to and for your coaches whatever you want your coaches to do to and for the leaders they are coaching.  See also, 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.
  5. Failure to evaluate the performance and fit of your coaches.  If your coaching structure has the feel of the Supreme Court (lifetime appointments), you will have great difficulty building an effective coaching structure.  If you want to build an effective coaching structure, you must become wiser about who you recruit and how you recruit.  You must also begin to evaluate the performance and fit of your coaches.  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System and How to Recruit a Small Group Coach: My “Secret” Formula.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Fight Back with Joy: A Powerful New Study from Margaret Feinberg

fight back with joyI had the opportunity to preview a new study from Margaret Feinberg this week.  Fight Back with Joy: Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears is a new 6 session study and it is one you are going to want to add to your recommended list.

Margaret Feinberg was recently named one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today by Christianity Today, one of the 30 Voices who will help lead the church in the next decade by Charisma magazine and one of the ’40 Under 40’ who will shape Christian publishing by Christian Retailing magazine.

In Fight Back with Joy Feinberg asks the question, “What if joy is better than you imagined?”  She points out that although “this virtue has been stamped on coffee mugs, sewn on decorative pillows–even displayed on dish soap…joy is more than whimsey; it’s the weaponry you can use to fight life’s greatest battles.”

DVD-driven, the session videos feature the captivating teaching of Margaret Feinberg.  At an average length of 23 to 25 minutes, there are some speakers that would lose their audience.  That doesn’t happen here.  Truly a creative writer, Feinberg’s language is as imagination-provoking as humanly possible.  Your group members will stay engaged as she explores these important biblical truths.

The Bible study book is a very creative experience as well.  Far more than a set of discussion questions, each session includes a variety of experiences that will help unpack a number of profound ideas and life-changing truths.  Every group session begins with an experiential activity “designed to be a trigger for group engagement and help move people toward the ideas explored in the teaching.”

Included in the Bible study book is a set of daily studies to be done in preparation for the upcoming session (except for the first session).  A manageable length, most participants will find them to be a satisfying experience and just the right length to pull them along in the journey without overwhelming.

The Bible study book also includes a simple video notes section with many of the main statements and quotes, allowing members to capture other ideas that grab their attention.  The study book concludes with a “joy bomb journal” designed to be a place to capture those amazing daily moments when God explodes on the scene with a sunset or a warm hug or an unexpected note from a friend.

While reading the book Fight Back with Joy is not required, it will help some participants get the most out of the experience.  Margaret points out that “this is especially true for those facing a crisis of their own, whether a diagnosis similar to Margaret’s or something completely different.”

Fight Back with Joy is a powerful study that will be life-changing for many.  I’m adding this study to my recommended list and I think you will too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Freefall to Fly: A Powerful New Women’s Study from Rebekah Lyons

freefall to flyFinally had the opportunity to preview a new study from Rebekah Lyons.  Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning is a six session study based on Lyon’s 2013 book by the same title.  If you’re unfamiliar with Rebekah Lyons, she serves alongside her husband, Gabe, as cofounder of QIdeas, an organization that helps leaders winsomely engage culture.

In her bio Rebekah Lyons is described as “an old soul with a contemporary, honest voice who puts a new face on the struggles women face in living a life of meaning. Through emotive writing and speaking, Rebekah reveals her own battles to overcome anxiety, depression, and consumer impulses-challenging women to discover and boldly pursue the calling God has for them. Rebekah wears her heart on her sleeve, a benefit to friends and readers alike.”  After spending some time with Freefall to Fly, I can tell you her bio is an accurate reflection!

Freefall to Fly is a powerful study that will resonate with many, even while it may intimidate a few.  With excerpts from Lyons’ book, participants will have a 15 to 20 page reading assignment each week in preparation for their meeting.  Interspersed in the reading is a set of questions that are designed to help prompt personal reflection.

This is a well-written and deeply engaging study.  I really like the way Lyons weaves scripture into her writing.  Some participants will be tempted to skim chapters, but they would be wise to slow down, wrestle with the ideas here, and savor the rich experience.

Although not DVD-driven, there is a set of short introductory videos are available free of charge at Lifeway.com/freefall.  A very complete leader’s guide is included in the member’s book, making this a study that can be done with a newer or less experienced leader.

I like this study!  Freefall to Fly will not be for every group, but for those groups ready for a study that will take them deep into the mystery of how God can turn our greatest struggles into our greatest strength…Freefall to Fly makes my recommended list!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

How to Help a HOST Become a Small Group Leader

dirt roadIf you’ve been following this conversation at all, you know one of my major themes is I want to make it easy to take first steps into hosting a small group and nearly automatic for hosts to take the steps that lead to becoming an authentic shepherd.  I’ve referred to this idea many times as lowering the bar in terms of who can be a leader and simultaneously raising the bar in terms of the coaching and development the leader receives.

These are two very important ideas.  Let me repeat them:

  • Make it easy to take first steps into hosting a small group and nearly automatic for hosts to take the steps that lead to becoming an authentic shepherd.
  • Lower the bar in terms of who can be a leader and simultaneously raise the bar in terms of the coaching and development the leader receives.

These are two very important and interrelated ideas.  I believe the primary way you make it nearly automatic for new hosts to take the steps that lead to becoming an authentic shepherd has very little to do with centralized training.  What we’re really talking about is life-change and as we all know, life-change rarely happens in rows.

At its essence, helping a host become a leader, an authentic shepherd, is about modeling.  Helping a host become an authentic shepherd is about doing to them and for them whatever you want them to do to and for their members.  And modeling is really what coaching is all about.

What does a coach model?  What if they started with the 8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader?  And don’t forget, this will also inform what someone will need to model for your coaches (depending on your structure, that might be you).

When does it happen?  It should be a combination of:

  • one-to-one conversations (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on the stage of maturity)
  • group meetings with the other leaders in the coach’s huddle (3 to 6 times a year), and
  • centralized meetings will all leaders (once or twice a year).

You can see how this works on my coach’s job description.

How long does it take?  Can you see that this is something different than a course to be completed?  Can you see that it’s really a journey to be taken?  See also, From Here to There: The Preferred Future for Small Group Leaders.

What do you think? Want to argue? Have a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.


Very Little Surprise Here: 21 Days of Flesh Has Real Possibilities

21 days of flesh.1Earlier this month I reviewed Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth, a new book by Hugh Halter.  Spoiler Alert: I loved it!  Let’s just say I found it “challenging with just a dash of scary–but so inspiring!”  You can read my full review right here.

I learned from Hugh that they’ve developed a 21 day church wide campaign and after looking at the concept, I think will be just the thing for some churches.  It won’t work for everyone, or at least not for every campaign.  But it’s a powerful topic and focused on the very thing that many of our churches need to develop.

What is the topic?  This paragraph from the 21 Days of Flesh resource page does a very good job of highlighting the big idea:

Flesh teaches people how to live their human lives like Jesus lived His human life. Everyone is talking about being missional these days, but missional only means “to be sent.” Incarnation is the key to everything because being incarnational is about going to the world like Jesus did. Hugh believes that almost every problem we have in church leadership and in our influence on the culture stems from the lack of incarnational Christ followers—and the Flesh campaign is designed to finally get at the issue.

A very simple campaign, there are just three ingredients:

  1. Listen to the weekend message for four weeks (the 21 Days of Flesh resource page has free sermon outlines that are fairly robust and far beyond what I would call an outline).
  2. Read a section of the book each week (Hugh’s style is very readable and packed with stories.  Every chapter concludes with a set of questions that will challenge and motivate those who take this journey and could easily be used to guide the small group discussion).
  3. Read a simple daily devotional for 21 days (also available as a PDF on the 21 Days of Flesh resource page and could be distributed by email to participants).

I really like this idea!  If you’re looking for a simple campaign that will introduce your congregation to a more incarnational form of ministry, don’t miss 21 Days of Flesh.  It may be just what you are looking for!



Can Your Small Group Ministry Take These Four Next Steps?

When you are a beginner, you do what beginners can do.  Think about when a newborn turns over for the very first time.  Or takes their first step.  Or puts a phrase together.

Clearly, there are things that you do when you are a beginner.

And then there are things you can only do once you have mastered the basics and are ready for what’s next.

I think there are small group ministry steps like that.

Actually, I think the best way to begin is to begin.  Sure, there is the temptation to carefully lay the groundwork and slowly build a solid foundation.  But I believe that long preparations come at the expense of unconnected people.  And unconnected people are always one tough thing away from never being at your church again.  See also, What’s Your Urgency Level for Connecting Unconnected People?

So the best way to begin is to begin.  And build the bridge as you walk on it.

But once you’ve begun it will soon be time to take next steps.  Like what?  Like these!

Four Next Steps for Small Group Ministries:

Refine your preferred future.  You’ve given some thought already to the preferred future for your small group ministry.  Now it’s time to refine it and fill in some blanks.  Writing down, wordsmithing or crafting the picture of your preferred future will help you get there.  Clarifying today what your small group leaders and coaches will be like in your preferred future will help you arrive.  More importantly, knowing where you are going will help you make decisions along the way(i.e., “If we are going to arrive there, we will do this and not this.”)  See also, Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future.

Create a preferred future “org chart.”  In his groundbreaking book, The E-Myth, Michael Gerber described the power of creating an org chart for your future organization complete with every role you will one day need:

  • filling in the names those currently owning the responsibilities (often it will be your own name)
  • systematically writing job descriptions for these roles, and
  • recruiting the right people to fill the roles

What a fantastic idea!  Can you imagine the potential of this simple next step?  See also, Creating the Organization You Will Need Sooner Than Later.

Evaluate and reinvest in an effective coaching structure.  Developing a culture of evaluation is a wise step.  Casting vision for the value of open-handedness, the servant quality that acknowledges the truth that “I may not always be the best fit for this role,” is another very wise step.  The year in, year out refreshing of your coaching team will keep you moving toward your refined preferred future.  Committing again to invest in the development of your coaches is also an essential ingredient that builds a truly effective coaching structure.  See also, What Does Coaching Look Like in Your Preferred Future?

Establish a small group leader pathway.  Establishing a small group leader pathway is an important ingredient to building a thriving small group ministry.  Whether you have fully embraced my philosophy that lowering the leader bar and simultaneously raising the coaching bar produces more leaders and more groups, when you recruit a small group leader you ought to have a journey in mind for them that takes them from “host” or “newbie” to “shepherd” and “seasoned leader.”  See also, Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.

What do you think?  Have a question?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Church-Wide Initiative

emotionally healthy spiritualityFinally had a chance to finish previewing a new church-wide initiative from Peter Scazzero and Zondervan.  Emotionally Healthy Spirituality is an 8 session campaign based on Scazzero’s best-seller by the same title.  You probably remember Scazzero’s previous book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, a groundbreaking best-seller that was awarded a Gold Medallion by the ECPA.

The Main Idea

“The main idea is that emotional health (defined as our ability to be self-aware and love well) and contemplative spirituality (that is slowing down to cultivate our relationship with Jesus), offer nothing short of a spiritual revolution in our lives.”

The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) Church-Wide Initiative has a number of elements:

  • EHS Church-Wide Initiative Resource DVD: This includes the preaching series and promotional pieces as well as a How to Run the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Church-Wide Initiative.
  • EHS book (the workbook guides participants to read the chapters that correspond to the upcoming session)
  • EHS Day by Day book (includes devotional reading to be completed in the week following the session).
  • EHS Course DVD includes a short DVD segment to be watched by the group as the study session begins.
  • EHS Course Workbook will guide the group through their session together.

Small groups participate using The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course, an 8 session DVD-driven small group study. The video segments are short (11 to 15 minutes) and feature Pete Scazzero.  Scazzero’s content provides a good setup for the session and is delivered in a straightforward and easy-to-follow manner.

The EHS Course workbook is well designed and easy to use.  It includes an icebreaker question and a thought-provoking set of discussion questions.  Each session also includes a Bible study that will help the group make the connection between scripture and emotionally healthy spirituality.  The workbook also includes material for between sessions personal study (enhanced by readings in the EHS Day to Day book) and a simple leader’s guide.

The EHS Day to Day book is a kind of daily devotional with a very basic premise: “We need to intentionally stop to be with God more than once a day so that practicing the presence of God becomes real in our lives.”  As such, it includes a morning segment and a midday/evening segment.

The EHS book is not an especially difficult read, but it will be challenging from the standpoint of time commitment for the average group member.  The combination of readings from the Day to Day book and readings from the book itself will force many to choose between the two.  Although the group member experience will be enhanced by the reading, members can easily grasp the concepts without the book.

Emotionally healthy spirituality is not a topic that will easily capture the imagination or peak the interest of every member.  Pastors and group leaders will need to encourage members to wade into these waters.  At the same time, The Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course will provide a powerful life-changing experience for groups and group members that roll up their sleeves and do the work.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

The Big Idea Behind Small Group Coaching

Without a doubt, the struggle to build an effective coaching structure is one of the most challenging aspects in building a thriving small group ministry.  I hear this again and again.  I’ve probably heard this over a thousand times in my 20+ years of small group ministry.

Taking my cue from Jim Collins and Great by Choice I wrote SMaC Recipe for Small Group Ministry Coaching.  Recently I wrote 7 Rules at the Essence of Small Group Coaching.

Over the last few years I’ve written a ton of posts in the effort to make building an effective small group coaching structure easier to understand and more likely to happen.   I’ve even created a downloadable short course to make it as easy as possible.

Still, I know it is a challenge.

Essentially, small group coaching is a big idea but a simple idea.  A very simple idea.

Here’s the big idea of small group coaching:

Identify, recruit and develop high capacity men and women who will invest their efforts in doing to and for (and with) leaders of groups whatever you want the leaders of groups to do to and for (and with) their members.

It’s a very simple idea.  It isn’t easy.  It is challenging to do.  But it is not complicated.

  1. Identify high capacity men and women.  It does require finding the right people.  You can’t build an effective coaching structure with warm and willing.  You need hot and qualified.  See also, First What, Then Who.
  2. Recruit them to the role.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to recruit.  How you recruit makes all the difference.  See also, How to Recruit a Small Group Coach: My “Secret” Formula
  3. Develop them.  Once you know what you want the member experience to be, it is easy to figure out what a coach must know how to do.  It is important that you understand that whatever you want to happen at the member level must happen to the leader first.  See also, Life-Change at the Member Level and 7 Practices for Developing and Discipling Your Coaches.

Ready to throw in the towel?  Don’t!  Coaching is an essential ingredient in building a thriving small group ministry.  It is challenging, but it is not complicated.

What do you think? Want to argue? Have a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

How to Do an “Exit Interview” for a Launch-Phase Coach

In a previous post I shared my “secret formula” for how I recruit a small group coach.  If you didn’t read it, you should go back and read it first.  What I’m going to tell you today will make a lot more sense.

Today I want to tell you how I do a kind of “exit interview” for a launch-phase coach when they come to the end of their “ten week commitment (again, if you didn’t read my previous post, go back and read it).

A 10 Week Commitment

The idea of a short-term commitment is important for two reasons:

  1. Just like when you make the HOST ask and it’s for 6 weeks, a short-term commitment appeals to a potential coach.  They are more likely to “give it a try” if it’s for 10 weeks than what appears to be a one year commitment or a lifetime appointment (like a supreme court judge).
  2. 10 weeks gives you time to evaluate their performance and satisfaction.  This is important because you want to end up with coaches who are both fruitful in their role and fulfilled in doing it.  They need to be BOTH fruitful and fulfilled.  One or the other will never do.  A coach who is anything less than fruitful and fulfilled will be a poor fit for the role.

How to Do an “Exit Interview” for a launch-phase coach:

With that reminder, here’s how I do an “exit interview” for a launch phase coach.

Step One

As the new groups the launch-phase coach is coaching are moving through their first study together, it will often be obvious whether their coach is actually engaged.  The leader’s will mention the coach and their helpfulness or the coach will mention their conversations with the new leader(s).  We are keeping close tabs on new groups and as they approach week 4 or 5 we want to know whether they are thinking about continuing and we ask the coaches to check in with each of their leaders about their plans.

Note: In the same way we want the coach to have a weekly conversation with each new leader by phone or in person, a community leader is touching base with each new coach every week during their 10 week commitment.

Step Two

When we schedule an exit interview we will already know how many of the coach’s new groups are planning to continue.  We’ll also have a sense for the coach’s effectiveness.  This awareness comes from our communication both with the new leaders and the coach.  It is inexact but offers a fairly accurate impression.

Scheduling an “exit interview” is as simple as, “Hi Dave!  I’d love to hear about your experience with the new leaders over the last few weeks.  Can we get a cup of coffee?”

Note: We don’t call it an “exit interview” and the launch-phase coaches don’t think of it as that.  It is just a conversation.

Step Three

The essence of the conversation is two-fold:

  1. We want to find out how they felt about what they were doing.
  2. We want to thank them for helping.

Finding out how they felt about what they were doing is important because it is the test for fulfillment.  We should already know whether they were fruitful (see steps one and two).  We need to know whether they liked doing it or not.  That usually is as simple as, “Dave, how does it feel to know that 3 of the 4 groups you were coaching are going to continue?”

There are three ways the exit interview can go:

  1. If the launch-phase coach expresses fulfillment in the role (i.e., “it’s cool to know that my groups are continuing!), and if they were fruitful (i.e., their groups are continuing), we will affirm them for their role and invite them to consider continuing as a coach.
  2. If the launch-phase coach was fruitful but is indifferent about the role of a coach (i.e., less than fulfilled), we will simply thank them for helping and ask if we can call on them again in the future.
  3. If the launch-phase coach was ineffective we will simply thank them for helping and ask if we can call on them again in the future.

Note: We want to build a coaching structure with hundred-fold people who are both fruitful and fulfilled.  Nothing less.

What do you think?  Have a question?  Want to argue?  You can click here to jump into the conversation.

It’s Not Too Late! Take Advantage of My 2015 Coaching Network

Have you thought about joining my 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network?  It’s not too late, but you need to act pretty quickly.  I have only a few spots left!

A few important details:

Before you decide you can’t participate, make sure you know a few important details:

  • There are several payment plans: All you need to get started is a deposit.  You can spread the balance over 4 payments.
  • All calls are recorded: I record every coaching call and you’ll have access to the recordings to listen later (or share with your team).  It’s not essential to participate in the live call and many have to miss a call now and then.
  • Make the Las Vegas day a team experience: You can bring a team member along to the day in Las Vegas in March.
  • Take your ministry to the next level: Whether you are a beginner, a seasoned veteran, or anywhere in between, my coaching network helps take small group ministries to the next level.
  • Build a thriving small group ministry that fits your church’s needs.  There are several systems that could work.  Choose the model that fits your church.

Have questions you need answered before saying yes?  Email Me.

I really want to encourage you to join my 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network; an experience designed to give you the tools and strategies you need in order to build a small group ministry that works in the 21st century.

Find out more and apply right here.

My 2014 Network has already had big results

Several of my 2014 alumni from quite a cross section of churches have already reported launching and sustaining record numbers of groups and connecting far more people than ever before.  I’d love to help you do the same thing!

Don’t take my word for it!

Here’s what three of my alumni had to say about the coaching network experience:

  • “I was a part of Mark’s Coaching Network and found it to be not only beneficial to helping me think outside the box, but also to hear from other pastors across the nation. If you are looking for a coaching network that will help you grow in your skills, sharpen your strategies, and guide you to take your next steps in small group ministry, make sure you sign-up for this coaching network!”  Jonathan Holcomb, LifeGroups and LifeMissions Pastor, LifeChurch.tv, South Tulsa
  • “I would highly recommend Mark Howell’s Small Group Ministry Coaching Network.  I had been studying small group strategies prior to joining the network and discovered I had all kinds of questions as to which was the best approach for our church.  Rather than try to figure it out all alone, the network was a tremendous resource for me personally as well as our church as we began to implement a small group system.  Mark did a great job encouraging, challenging, and resourcing us as we chose a model to help us identify and reach our ‘preferred future’.  My experience with Mark Howell’s Coaching Network was well worth my investment of time and finances.  It has had a profound and lasting effect on my perspective of small group ministry.”  Kem Stickl, Journey Groups Director, Whitehaven Road Baptist Church
  • “I joined Mark Howell’s coaching network because I needed to make several significant decisions in our church’s group ministry. Adding Mark’s experienced, strategic mind to our process for that season was super helpful. But the best part has been the relationship I’ve continued to build with Mark since the coaching network.”  Mark Riggins, Community Life Pastor, Bible Fellowship Church

Ready to join?

My 2015 Small Group Ministry Coaching Network begins in February and as of 1/12/15 I have 5 spots left. You can find out more and complete your application right here.

Still have questions?  Email Me for some quick answers.  I’m hoping you’ll come along!

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