More from Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Small Group Coaching Strategy

Yesterday, Steve Gladen began talking about how Saddleback provides coaching and care for over 4500 small group leaders.  If you missed part one, you can read it right here.  In today’s continuation he’ll be talking about providing coaching and care for the group I sometimes call…well, I think I’ll let you fill in your own name for this group!

Mark: Okay, so tell us about the stubborn groups in your system. How do you care for them?

Steve: We call this Persistent Care. And oh boy do we have to be persistent! These are the late adopters—groups who have probably been doing small groups for many years. They may have been at the church before you, and they are not hesitant to remind you of that fact. They are often reticent to try new things you suggest. The only thing they want to know is who to go to if they have an issue. Beyond that, they usually just want to be left alone. Here we just leave a prayer monthly on their voice mail…seriously!

Mark: So you’re really providing different levels of care for different groups — kind of personalized care concept. How did you guys arrive at this strategy?

Steve: For so long, small group theory has dictated that we need to give equal care to each group, but we have found that line of thinking is faulty—not every group needs equal care. Some groups are going to thrive with or without a community leader, and some groups are going to drain the life out of any community leader assigned to them. So we ask our community leaders to categorize their groups into one of the four categories above and proceed accordingly. We encourage them to spend 80 percent of their time with groups in the first two categories—priority care and personal care—so they are working with the people who want their assistance. This is proactive care, and we encourage them to stay on top of these leaders, work with them, and keep a close eye on them. The other two categories are more reactive care. We stay connect to them through email or voice mail and when they need us, they know who to call.

Mark: I know a questions lots of folks will have is about your term Community Leader (as opposed to Coach). Can you describe this role? Are they paid or volunteer? How many groups are they caring for?

Steve: Wow, there is a lot to say on this. We started with 4 paid Community Leaders (CL’s), built it to 52 paid CL’s (with still over 100 volunteer CL’s) and then took the whole thing totally volunteer. Most ask, if I could do it over the same, would I? In a heartbeat! Nothing wrong with paying some and having some volunteer, but at some point it isn’t scalable, which is why we went back to all volunteer. Every church is different, just know if you start paying people, it won’t last forever. CL’s would generally oversee 25 groups. Obliviously, if they had all groups in the first two categories, their ratio would be less; but generally 1:25. The job description is simple, lead people relationally down our pathway. Once they can implement, then you can move on.

Update: I asked Steve if he’d provide some information about Saddleback’s Leadership Pathway.  You can read part 1 right here.

About Steve Gladen: I’ve said this a number of times, but I want to be sure and say this again. Steve is a couple of things. First, he’s one of the smartest GroupLife guys on the planet. He’s also one of the most helpful small group experts on the planet. Seriously. While we’re on the subject, I want to suggest again that all of you pre-purchase Steve’s upcoming book. Here is the link: Small Groups with Purpose and here’s more info about the book.

Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy

In last week’s series of articles on small group coaching I shared an idea that I got from Steve Gladen and my friends at Saddleback.  Wanting you to get the info straight from the source…I’m really honored to have Steve’s responses to some questions I emailed him last week.  Here’s how it went:

Mark: Saddleback gets a lot of attention for the large numbers of groups launched as a result of church-wide campaigns (40 Days of Purpose, Life’s Healing Choices, Decade of Destiny, etc.).  But, I don’t think you get as much attention for the way you provide care for as many group leaders as you have.

By the way, how many groups do you have currently?

Steve: We have 4,576 adult groups coming out of our Fall Campaign, but we know that number will drop….

Mark: One of the things I really like is the thinking you guys have done, recognizing that not all groups are the same; that there really are four kinds of groups.  How have you classified them?

Steve: As we looked at our groups, we started to see a pattern. We found the groups could be classified in one of four categories: (1) new groups, (2) seasoned groups, (3) veteran groups, and (4) stubborn groups. Looking at these categories, we realized all of the groups required some form of care, but not all groups required the same type or amount of care.

Mark: Makes sense.  How does that affect the kind of care you provide for new groups?

Steve: We launch a lot of new groups at Saddleback. We give them what we call Priority Care. They are full of questions and unsure of themselves in the beginning, so we stay in close contact with them to give all of the support they need. They love the connection with community leaders and the community leaders love serving them. The goal here is to get them through Leader Training 1 (Steve talks about the Saddleback Leadership Pathway right here) to get the strategic overview, their survival guide and the systems we support them with.

Mark: What happens once they make it through those early days?  Do you do anything different?

Steve: Once they know the ropes, we provide Personal Care.  Seasoned groups are often early adopters and are still open to connecting with their community leader in person.  They are excited and ready for direction and encouragement. Here we teach them “how” to balance the purposes in their small group and develop a plan. They are good enough to be dangerous!

Mark: What about the Phone Care category?

Steve: These are the groups that have been in the game for quite a while and they know what they are doing. They’re not immune to issues.  But when a problem comes up, they’re veterans and know to whom they should go to. These are the groups who want communication to be done primarily through phone or email, they tell us which. They are also typically mid-adopters. They have been meeting together for quite a while and are doing our continued education which we call Leader Training 2 (Steve will be sharing about their leader training strategy in an upcoming article).

(You can read part two right here!  And if you want the whole story, be sure and read about the Saddleback Leadership Pathway.  If you’re not signed up for my updates you can do that right here.)

About Steve Gladen: I’ve said this a number of times, but I want to be sure and say this again.  Steve is a couple of things.  First, he’s one of the smartest GroupLife guys on the planet.  He’s also one of the most helpful small group experts on the planet.  Seriously.  While we’re on the subject, I want to suggest again that all of you pre-purchase Steve’s upcoming book.  Here is the link: Small Groups with Purpose and here’s more info about the book.

Imagine If Your Coaching Structure Was Like This

In yesterday’s post I described what I think are some key aspects of the end in mind when you’re developing a coaching structure.  Today I want to help you imagine your coaching structure as a finished–but steadily developing–product.  Sounds like a contradiction in terms, I know, but I just follow me for a moment.

I want you to imagine that in your congregation with an average worship attendance of 325 adults you’ve got 28 groups.  You want to add more groups this year, because you know that your Easter adult attendance of 475 adults means that you’ve got a lot of people who don’t come every week.  And you want to get as many of them in a group as you can.

I also want you to imagine that in addition to your 28 small groups you’ve got a coaching structure that’s coming along.  In fact, over the last two years you’ve built a team of 5 coaches and they’re all doing great.  They really are focused on encouraging and caring for their leaders in a way that helps the leaders experience first what you want happening at the member level in your groups.

Don’t forget that before you even got started on your two year effort to build this coaching team you had to do a few things first.  You had to develop and implement a coaching job description and then meet individually to talk through responsibilities and expectations with the 4 coaches you inherited.  See also, Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System.

If you remember, you were a little squeamish about it at the time.  It was more than a little uncomfortable setting up the 4 meetings.  But you worked through those conversations and then over a 6 month period helped 3 of the 4 realize that they were a better fit for a different role.  In fact, 2 of the 3 that you helped reposition are now really excited about their new ministry opportunity.  One’s not your friend anymore…at least right now…but that’s the life of a small group champion.  See also, Recruiting Coaches: When Not to Compromise.

So you actually had to recruit and test-drive 8 coaching candidates in order to end up with the 5 that are doing great.  But…you were smart.  When you recruited potential coaches you invited them help you with an upcoming church-wide campaign and assured them that it was a 10 to 13 week commitment.  You gave them the launch-phase job description and evaluated their effectiveness during the campaign.  When the campaign was over you met individually with each of your launch-phase coaches, expressed appreciation for their efforts and commended the ones that had worked hard and done well.  Then, you asked them the key questions:

  • What did it feel like to know that 2 of their 3 campaign groups had decided to continue?
  • Did you enjoy working with these new leaders?
  • Is this a role in which you’d like to continue?

If they said yes, you got really excited, and began going over the responsibilities and expectation for an ongoing coach.  If they said no, you thanked them for helping and that was that.

And then there a few (3 of the 8 you recruited) that really didn’t do what they were supposed to during the campaign.  They came to the training.  They came to the new leader orientation.  But they really didn’t make their phone calls or follow up with their new leaders.  So…when you had their exit interview, you thanked them for helping with the campaign but didn’t offer them a chance to continue.  And they really didn’t care, because it wasn’t a good fit for them anyway.

And now, here you are!  You’ve got 5 coaches that are doing a good job.  But you’re hoping to add another 8 groups at the upcoming small group connection.  And you know you’re going to need at least a couple new coaches.  So what do you do now?  That’s the subject of the next post in this series.  We’ll cover that aspect next.  If you’re not signed up to get my updates, you can do that right here.

Dilbert’s Take on the Parable of the Talents

The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure

Ever gotten part way into a story and realized that in order to really tell the it properly…you needed to go back and fill in a few details?  Maybe you thought you could give an overview or sketch the big picture, and then as you were telling the story it got crystal clear that without the details, the nitty gritty details, it just wouldn’t be an accurate telling.

Ever had that happen?  It happened to me yesterday.

I started out yesterday giving you three keys to a coaching tune-up.  I wrote it and then published it.  And then several hours later I got an insightful comment that said:

“Loved 1 & 2 but #3 really?!? Help me understand the ‘ask If you can count on them in the future.’ you’re basically firing them and I was hoping for some tips on doing that more delicately… Any other suggestions?” (If you missed yesterday, you might want to go back and read it to catch up)

And when I read the comment…I realized that I had assumed you all were already thinking about coaching the way I think about it.  And I realized that I had assumed that you all were already setting up your coaching structures the way I work to set them up.  And if you want to know the truth, I said, “Dohhhhhhh!  Missed it on that one!”

So today I want to begin to talk about how I want things to look and feel when coaching is developed properly (at least, according to me).  Continue Reading…

3 Keys to a Coaching Tune-Up

You made it through the holidays.  You’re getting ready to start the second best run for new groups (see How to Build an Annual GroupLife Calendar).  Now is a great time to evaluate the performance and readiness of your coaching team.

First Key: Evaluate Your Coaching Team

You’re really looking for two things.  First, you’re looking for fruitfulness.  You want hundred-fold players that are actually doing to and for your leaders what you want your leaders to do to and for your members.  It’s as simple as that.  After all, this is not a role that you want to fill slots just to have a certain number of coaches.

Second, and this is just as important, you’re looking for fulfillment.  It’s not enough to find people that are fruitful…but unfulfilled.  You really want both.  You really need both.  Coaches who are fruitful and fulfilled stay in their role for a long time.

Why not run a simple yes/no evaluation on how closely your coaching team members match what you’re looking for?  You can see that it’s pretty easy to determine whether they’re fruitful, right?  Did their groups survive?  Are their leaders flourishing?  Do they have chemistry?  You can think up the right questions.

Second Key: Invite the Right People to Continue

Once you’ve determined fruitfulness, you’re ready to move on to testing for fulfillment.  So…what about fulfillment?  If they need both, how can you test for fulfillment?  Here’s how I do it.  Once I’ve determined whether they’re fruitful, I simply ask them “what it feels like to know that their effort, their engagement in the lives of the leaders in their huddle has made a difference?”  Sometimes I’ll say, “4 of your 5 new groups are continuing!  How’s it feel to know that you made that kind of difference?  Is it something you’d like to continue doing?”

The ones that are both fruitful and fulfilled get asked if they’d like to continue.

Continue Reading…

Will You Reach Far Enough in 2011?

Who will you connect in 2011?  Will you focus your efforts on the usual suspects?  Those still unconnected folks that already attend your weekend services a couple times a month but have been resisting commitment since before there was Sunday School?

Who will you connect in 2011?  Will you take a shot at connecting the folks that only come a few times a year…but might come to a small group connection if the topic was right?

Who will you connect in 2011?  Will this be the year that you choose a church-wide campaign that is actually designed to reach the neighbors and friends of the folks in your congregation?

Can I tell you something?  I already know who you’ll connect this year.  It’s not a magic trick either.  Want to know what I know? Continue Reading…

My Weirdest Post Ever…and a Request

Okay…I know this is weird.  But I have to get your help on this.  I want you to watch a music video and then tell me what you think about my idea.

First, here’s the idea.  As I’ve now mentioned many times, Tim Steven’s great post about the widening 60% that will never be reached by a church always has me thinking.  Always.  On a technicality, I arrived at this conviction independently and have been wrestling with this for several years.  In fact, it’s the basis for my article on exponential outreach.

If it’s true…and I believe it is…how will we reach them?  How will we reach the 60% that will never come to church?  I have an idea.  Here’s my idea: What if we could help the crowd, who are more connected to the community than they are to the congregation, learn to simply launch a conversation?

Now for the weird part: I want you to watch a Nickelback video.  That’s right.  Nickelback.  I want you to watch their Savin’ Me video and imagine watching it with your non-Christian friends.  Listen to the lyrics.  Watch the images.  Seriously.  I want you to watch it and then let me know what you think.

But before you watch it, keep a few things in mind.  To the best of my knowledge, Chad Kroeger, songwriter and lead singer of Nickelback, is not a Christ follower.  Equally, Nigel Dick, the award winning director of the video is not known to be a Christ follower.  Nickelback is not a Christian band.  At the same time, Nickelback sells out stadiums and goes platinum quickly.  All that said, I want you to watch for some things while you’re watching:

  • What does the tattooed image (name and 2003) mean at about the 1:00 mark?  (That’s Mike Kroeger, Nickelback’s bass guitarist).
  • What are some things from which we all need saving?
  • What do you think is meant by the dual countdown clock at 3:12?  Isn’t it interesting that an unborn baby would have a countdown clock in a rock video?
  • What do you think about the way the main character goes right back to “business as usual” right after saving the girl?
  • What do you think about the idea that everyone has a countdown clock?
  • What do you think happens when the clock runs down?

Remember, imagine watching the video with friends.  Here’s the link: Savin’ Me (It will open in a new window).


Prison gates won’t open up for me
On these hands and knees I’m crawlin’
Oh, I reach for you

Well I’m terrified of these four walls
These iron bars can’t hold my soul in
All I need is you

Come please I’m callin’
And oh I scream for you
Hurry I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’

Show me what it’s like
To be the last one standing
And teach me wrong from right
And I’ll show you what I can be

And say it for me, say it to me
And I’ll leave this life behind me
Say it if it’s worth saving me

Heaven’s gates won’t open up for me
With these broken wings I’m fallin’
And all I see is you

These city walls ain’t got no love for me
I’m on the ledge of the eighteenth story
And oh I scream for you

Come please I’m callin’
And all I need from you
Hurry I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’

Show me what it’s like
To be the last one standing
And teach me wrong from right
And I’ll show you what I can be

And say it for me, say it to me
And I’ll leave this life behind me
Say it if it’s worth saving me
Hurry I’m fallin’

And all I need is you
Come please I’m callin’
And oh I scream for you
Hurry I’m fallin’, I’m fallin’

Show me what it’s like
To be the last one standing
And teach me wrong from right
And I’ll show you what I can be

And say it for me, say it to me
And I’ll leave this life behind me
Say it if it’s worth saving me
Hurry I’m fallin’

And say it for me, say it to me
And I’ll leave this life behind me
Say it if it’s worth saving me

Thoughts? I’d love to know what you think about this video and it’s use as a discussion starter.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have a short interview with the songwriter or video director to hear their take on the meaning behind the lyrics and the images?

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

One Last Look into the Archives

Miss the action earlier this week?  I’ve been poking around in my archives, digging up the articles that have gotten the most attention.  I also grabbed a list of my 10 favorite articles.  Everything you need is right here:

2010′s Most Popular Articles

The conversation has really grown here over the last 12 months.  If you missed any of these articles (or if you joined us in progress), you might want to go back and take a look at what you missed.  Here are the most popular articles in 2010:

  1. Top 10 Reasons Saddleback Has Connected Over 130% in Small Groups.  If you’re a student of small group ministry, this is a must read.  In many ways, what is happening at Saddleback is a model many small group practitioners are looking at for inspiration, so it’s good to understand how they are doing what they are doing.
  2. How to Launch Groups Using a Small Group Connection.  This is part one of a 5 part series and although I wrote it in 2008, it remains one of my most popular articles.
  3. Add 5 to 10% More Hosts with This Jedi Move.  Although this article has a quirky title, it got picked up by Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox and had a ton of page views.  If you didn’t read it, this strategy has the details on an important secret ingredient for any church-wide campaign.
  4. 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.  This is another article from 2008 that remains very popular for good reason.  Launching new groups takes a lot of energy.  All of us want to try and sustain what gets started.
  5. Looking for a New Church-Wide Campaign.  Still another key article from 2008, this one remains very popular.  I update this article at least twice a year to try and keep the content fresh.
  6. About Mark Howell.  This is a little weird to me, but my “about” page always gets a lot of traffic.
  7. 10 Essential Small Group Leader Skills.  This article is actually the anchor page to a 10 part skill-training series.  Each article is intended to be used to train small group leaders on an essential skill.  As always, you have permission to print them and use them for training provided you attribute the content to me.
  8. The Exponential Power of a Church-Wide Campaign.  Although this article was written in 2009, it remains very popular and provides a good overview of some of the keys to planning a church-wide campaign.
  9. Subscribe to Mark’s Blog – Three Methods.  I don’t know what it says when one of your most popular articles is your subscription page.  You’d think there was some kind of prize offered there!
  10. What’s the Best Way to Launch New Small Groups? Another article from 2008, this one integrates the “no problem-free idea” and looks at the problem sets of each of the most common ways of starting new groups.  It always stays near the top of the list.
  11. Groups Interactive’s New Version Takes a Big Step in the Right Direction.  Right after I posted this article, Max Lucado tweeted the link.  Huge traffic…the power of influence.
  12. How to Choose a Small Group System or Strategy.  This post is both a list of 9 of the most common small group systems and some advice on how to choose the best fit for your church.
  13. Reading List.  Hundreds of readers take a look at my reading list every year.
  14. Host: What Does It Mean? You’ve heard of a small group leader.  You might have heard of a host.  But what is a small group host?  Is it the same thing?
  15. What’s the difference Between a Cell Group and a Small Group? This article was actually a response to an article that Randall Neighbour contributed to  I didn’t agree with him then and I don’t agree with him now.
  16. Consulting, Coaching and Speaking It’s amazing to me, but this page is very popular.
  17. Top 10 Articles on Small Group Coaching One of the toughest challenges for almost everyone is building an effective coaching structure.
  18. DVD Driven Curriculum One of keys to launching and sustaining new small groups is an easy-to-use curriculum.
  19. Santa Went Down to Georgia Another of North Point’s very creative openers, this one really got a lot of traffic.
  20. Top 10 Fantasies of Churches WITH Small Groups This is the anchor post for a series of articles on each of the 10 fantasies.