Building an effective coaching structure is one of the great challenges of small group ministry. Every church wrestles with it. And I mean every church. I’ve not found a church yet that really has it figured out. They may have a solution that works for them…but it’s not a problem-free solution. It’s just the best they can come up with right now.
Open the floor for questions at any small group conference and questions about coaching are always among the first to be asked.
- “Where do you find good coaching candidates?”
- “How do you introduce coaching to an existing small group ministry?”
- “What do I do if my small group leaders don’t want a coach?”
- “What does a coach do?”
Good questions. Great questions! Maybe you’ve asked them. They really are good questions. So good that I’ve decided to begin a series that will answer them one at a time. I’ve also developed a four-session coaching program called Building an Effective Coaching Structure designed to help churches take this important step. You can find out all about it and sign up right here.
First What Then Who
With apologies to Jim Collins, you’ve got to start with the question, “What do you want your coaches to do?” Admittedly, there is a great temptation to start with the question: “Where do you find good coaching candidates?” That is a question that many churches struggle with and it is a key question. But before you tackle it, I think you have to start with a very clear understanding of what you want your coaches to do. In other words, before you can think about the “who” question, you better spend some time thinking about the “what”. So, what do you want your coaches to do?
Let’s acknowledge right away that a few minutes with a blank sheet of paper could produce a fairly complete job description. You might already have one! Maybe it includes things like: encourage leaders, visit their groups, keep track of what’s happening in groups, help with problem-solving, train leaders, mentor leaders, serve as a link between staff and small group leaders. You could easily end up with a one or two page job description. But would that help you find good coaching candidates?
It might…but truthfully, sometimes it might make it a little harder. I actually think a one liner might get you closer to the essence. Clarifying what a win is for each of your coaches in a single sentence may seem like a minor thing. In fact, it’s a huge thing. I love what Andy Stanley says about the importance of clarifying the win in his book The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry. He says when it comes to staff expectations you ought to be able to boil down a job description to a one sentence version.
So here’s the question: “How would you summarize the role of a coach…in a single sentence?”
Single Sentence Job Description for a Coach
Here’s mine for a small group coach: “A Small Group Coach needs to do to and for their small group leaders whatever you want small group leaders to do to and for their members.”
Need a translation? If you want your small group leaders to be praying for their members…you better have someone doing that for your leaders. If you want your small group leaders to help their members grow spiritually, and you believe that people can only give away what they’ve personally experienced…then someone better be building into the individual lives of your small group leaders. If you want your small group leaders to help their members take spiritual next steps…then you better have someone helping your leaders take spiritual next steps.
“A Small Group Coach needs to do to and for their small group leaders whatever you want small group leaders to do to and for their members.”
Think about that statement. The “what” question is the essence of the job description, and “what” comes before “who”. So if we’re clear on what a coach needs to do, we can move on to where do you find good coaching candidates because that is another way of asking the “who” question.
After What, Then Who
So once you’ve developed your own one sentence way of talking about what a coach needs to do you’re ready to start thinking about “who”. And before we go any further I need to make sure that we’re on the same page about a key concept. Here the short version: Wishful thinking won’t get the job done.
Here’s the long version: Only the right people are legitimate candidates for the coaching role. Recruiting the right people will require sacrifice. You will be tempted to compromise by filling the position with warm and willing instead of hot and qualified. Wishful thinking won’t get the job done.
Let’s break that down:
Only the right people are legitimate candidates for the coaching role. Clearly they must be able to do the “to and for their leaders” part. If they don’t have that capability, you’re not talking with the right people. You need to be able to envision them actually having that kind of relationship with the small group leaders in your system. Can you see it?
Recruiting the right people will require sacrifice. Serving is a zero sum game. In other words, we all have a finite amount of time and energy. If you find a potential coach, but they’re already serving in another ministry, they may not have time to wear two hats. In fact, if you’re really serious about the importance of your small group ministry, the coaching role will need to be the biggest hat they have on. Moving to a different seat on the bus always means getting up out of the seat you’re in right now. Feel the tension?
You will be tempted to compromise by filling the position with warm and willing instead of hot and qualified. It will seem easier. The leaders of other ministries won’t feel threatened. You will feel like you’re helping more people get in the ministry game. If you want the right people you will have to resist this temptation. Warm and willing might seem good enough…but it isn’t. Only hot and qualified delivers.
Wishful thinking won’t get the job done. You’ve been given the assignment. Build a small group system where no one stand alone. Help us become a church of small groups. Lead us to become the kind of church where people organically connect in community. Don’t miss this point. Wishful thinking won’t get the job done. If you want to go to any of these places…you’ll need a coaching system that finds a way “to do to and for their small group leaders whatever you want small group leaders to do to and for their members.”
Read Part Two of this series right here.