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Skill Training: How to Identify a Potential Small Group Coach

identifyI’m frequently asked how to find potential small group coaches. It happens all the time but often right after I’ve spoken or written about the fact that without coaching in place it will be next to impossible to build a thriving small group ministry. And unless you have so few groups that your small group pastor can personally disciple and develop your small group leaders…well, you get my point.

If I were hiring a small group pastor, I’d look for the habit of identifying, recruiting and developing high capacity leaders of leaders. See also 5 Habits I’d Look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor.

So, how do I identify a potential small group coach?  Here’s how I do it:

How to identify a potential small group coach

First, I begin my search for potential coaches within my group of existing small group leaders. Why? Because brand new small group leaders often need access to someone who knows how to lead a group. The promise of a weekly check-in with someone who knows the ropes is very reassuring. When you introduce the coach to the new leader it is a tremendous advantage to be able to say, “Bill has been leading groups for a long time and really knows what he is doing.”

With me so far? That’s the first filter.

Second, I run my existing small group leaders through a capacity filter. I got the idea from something Bill Hybels said years ago as he spoke about Jesus’ line about the relative capacity of a seed (30, 60 or 100 fold) from Mark 4:1-20. Jesus isn’t talking about the maturity of a seed.  He isn’t challenging 30-folds to become 100-folds.  He is simply observing that there are seeds that have a higher capacity.

When I’m on the hunt for coaches I begin with my existing leaders and run them through the capacity filter. I ask myself, “Which of them are just head and shoulders above all the others in terms of their capacity?” Sometimes I imagine locking all of my leaders in a large room over a weekend and speculate who would emerge as leaders of leaders. Those are the hundred-fold leaders. That is what you’re looking for.

Now, if you really worked the exercise this way, once you pulled out your hundred-fold leaders, you’d begin to notice that there is another group of leaders who have more capacity than the average leader (thirty-fold) but less than the hundred-folds. They’re a sixty-fold leader and they also can make a good coach.

See where I’m going? That’s the second filter. See also, 6 Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.

Third, I run my list of hundred-fold and sixty-fold candidates through a spiritual maturity filter. This is an essential step. Knowledge about how to lead a group is most important in the very beginning of the relationship between a coach and a new small group leader. Once a new leader makes it through the first few months, the need for coaching on technique is rarely important. What endures is the coach’s relationship with the leader. When the coach can say, “follow me while I follow Christ” you have the essence of a powerful mentoring and discipling relationship.

This is an important filter. I believe whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first. In most cases this is about what the coach is doing to and for the leader. The coach’s spiritual maturity makes this possible. See also, Life-Change at the Member Level, Model What You Want to Happen at the Member-Level, and Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciples Leaders.

Still with me? That’s the third filter.

Finally, I run my candidates through an availability filter. The right people are almost always busy people. They are rarely sitting at home watching television. They often are already committed to several ministries. For a high capacity leader with the right level of spiritual maturity to be a legitimate coaching candidate, they will have to make room for a 10 to 13 week commitment (I’ve learned that the best way to recruit a potential coach is with a test-drive, and I explain that in part two of this series).


If you want to build a thriving small group ministry, you need to know how to identify, recruit and develop high capacity leaders of leaders. This is how I identify potential coaches. Tomorrow I’ll tell you how I recruit them.

Image by Kevin Dooley

5 Steps to Sustaining the New Small Groups You Launch

space launch

“We’ve launched 25 new groups!  How can we help them continue to meet?”

With the development of strategies like the small group connection strategy and the HOST strategy it is not hard to launch a wave of new small groups. In fact, it is very easy to do. But like I always say, “There’s an upside and a downside to everything.”  What’s the upside? They’re easy to start. The downside is that they come with a life expectancy of about six weeks. See also, 3 Strategies that Launch a Wave of New Groups.

Six weeks? That’s all? Isn’t there anything that can be done? I’m glad you asked!  And the answer is “Yes!”

The step before the first step:

I think there are five steps to sustaining new groups, but there is a very important step that happens before your new groups even begin.  What is it?

Choose the right launching study.

Choose the right launching study. This is an important key because if you don’t choose the right launching study, the groups that do launch will struggle immediately. How can you choose the right launching study? It will be on the right topic and easy to use. This should be self-evident, but sometimes a little explanation is helpful. The study you choose will determine both who will say yes to hosting a group and who will say yes to joining a group (or attending a connection). If you want your hosts to fill their own group you’ll need to find a topic that is very invitation friendly. I’ve written about what I call the Easy/Hard Continuum. If you want to connect the largest number of unconnected people you will need to choose a study that has broad appeal. There are a growing number of great studies to choose from.  I’ve written about some of them right here. See also, 5 Best Church-Wide Campaigns for 2015.

Here are the 5 steps to sustaining the new groups you launch:

  1. Encourage every new group to begin with a co-leader. Regardless of how your new groups begin, make it a priority for every new leader to identify a co-leader (who is not a spouse) as their first step.
  2. Give them a coach on the front end, before they even begin, who will connect on a weekly basis, walk alongside them and help them get started.  This is important.  We’ve talked about this before. New hosts are usually very receptive to this idea in the beginning than they ever will be again.  Caution: It is important to recruit coaches based on who’s right for the job, not who’s available.  The best candidates are almost always already serving.  Freeing them up to move to the right seat on the bus separates fruitfulness from “in-name-only.”  Don’t give in to the temptation to fill an org chart with available bodies.  If you want to sustain groups, you’ll need the right people. See also, How to Recruit Additional Coaches for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  3. Choose a study to do next that is similar in kind (before you even begin) and give it to your new groups by week 4 or 5.  There are two important parts to this step. First, what you give them to do next must be similar to the study they start with.  DVD driven?  Give them a DVD study to do next. 6 weeks? Give them another 6 week study to do next. Easy to prepare? You get the idea. Keeping them in a similar format ensures that your new hosts will not be intimidated. Second, telling them what’s next by week 4 or 5 catches them while they’re beginning to develop a rhythm of getting together.  Caution: Allowing each group to come up with their own follow up study almost always leads to the selection of a study that is too hard or too long. See also, 5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies for Church-Wide Campaigns.
  4. Encourage your new groups to take turns facilitating.  Session one ought to end with a brief look at the calendar and the invitation for group members to share responsibility for the group by taking a turn bringing refreshments, coordinating the prayer list, or even facilitating a session!  Recruiting one member in advance to take a turn is often all you need to prime the pump.  Groups that rotate facilitators are much more likely to continue meeting.  Caution: Do this in a way that is not forced.  “Everybody needs to take a turn” is not the idea.
  5. Encourage your new hosts to find at least one other member who is willing to open their home for a meeting.  Groups that can meet even when the host is out of town are much more likely to continue.  Caution: It should be nearby. Moving week four’s meeting to a home 15 miles away is not a good idea.

Image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

You might find these articles helpful:

Review: Discussing Mere Christianity

discussing mere christianitySpent some time this week with a new resource from Zondervan. Discussing Mere Christianity is an 8 session study of C.S. Lewis’s greatest book. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is one of the most read and beloved Christian books of all time. But seventy years later from when it was first delivered on radio, what relevance does it have to our world today? Host Eric Metaxas and a variety of Christian leaders help us understand the timeless message of C.S. Lewis in fresh ways for a new generation.

Hosted by Eric Metaxas, this is far more than a literary exploration and will generate something far beyond a discussion. Metaxas is the author of the New York Times #1 bestseller and ECPA “Book of the Year,” Bonhoeffer, the bestseller Amazing Grace and more than thirty other books. He lends the perfect tone for the study.

The 8 topics covered in the study include:

  • Our Sense of Right and Wrong
  • What’s Behind Our Sense of Right and Wrong
  • The Rival Conception of God
  • Free Will and the Shocking Alternatives
  • Christian Behavior and the Great Sin of Pride
  • The Christian Virtue of Hope
  • God in Three Persons
  • Counting the Cost

DVD-driven, the 8 sessions range in length from 19 to 25 minutes and “features teaching from a variety of well-known Lewis scholars and readers, well as comments from two people who met Lewis when he was alive: Walter Hooper, who was Lewis’s secretary and then became the literary executor of the C.S. Lewis estate, and Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson.” Each session is a combination of insightful commentary on the topic and historical footage from the era.

The study guide is not meant to replace reading Mere Christianity, but rather to provide a better understanding of Lewis’s classic work. Each of the 8 sessions includes a reading assignment as well as commentary and group discussion questions that will assist you in your study of the book. A section for personal study is included at the end of each session.

While Discussing Mere Christianity will not be a study that appeals to every group, there will be groups for which it is an excellent addition to your recommended list. Mere Christianity is often mentioned as a must read or a book that has profoundly impacted the lives of many. Discussing Mere Christianity provides a helpful guide to a classic book by C.S. Lewis, considered by many the most important writer of the 20th century.

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. I am also the Small Group Specialist for LifeWay. 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.”

Thinking Thursday: Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is … noticing

tony fadellAs human beings, we get used to “the way things are” really fast. But for designers, the way things are is an opportunity … Could things be better? How? In this funny, breezy talk, the man behind the iPod and the Nest thermostat shares some of his tips for noticing — and driving — change.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

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Quotebook: Self-Control

self controlI know (and you know) that “whatever you want to happen at the member level, will have to happen to the leader first.” We know this. It is not a mystery or some kind of secret code. I know (and you know) that what happens at the member level is ultimately influenced by what happens in our lives. This also is not a mystery or secret code. It is self-evident.

And I much as I write about the habits I’d look for if I was hiring a small group pastor and the 8 habits of a life-changing small group leader, I know intuitively (and so do you), that we are fools to expect anything more than what we are living at the member level. See also, 5 Habits I’d look for If I Was Hiring a Small Group Pastor8 Habits of a Life-Changing Small Group Leader and Model What You Want to Happen at the Member Level.

And this is why it has become my preoccupation for the next season to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

To that end, here are two lines that I’ve written out on post-its so they’ll become part of my daily routine:

“Self-control begins when you begin to take your thoughts captive.” Clay Scroggins, Wish You Were Here, Control Yourself

“You only have control over three things in your life: the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions you take.” Jack Canfield, Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life by Orrin Woodward

Image by Dave

What Do You Need to Abandon?

abandonedThis program has meant so much for so long to all these people! How can you even think of getting rid of the program that helped all of us start following Jesus? Old Mrs. Jones would roll over in her grave if she knew that the class named after her was being cancelled!

Who hasn’t had this “discussion” (read argument)?

The prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising

Peter Drucker wrote that “planned, purposeful abandonment of the old and of the unrewarding is a prerequisite to successful pursuit of the new and highly promising.  Above all, abandonment is the key to innovation—both because it frees the necessary resources and because it stimulates the search for the new that will replace the old (Managing for Results, p. 143).”

Of course, Peter Drucker wasn’t writing about a church. He was writing about business, right? Actually, Drucker often focused his attention on non-profits and personally mentored both Rick Warren and Bill Hybels.

Corporations, both for-profit and non-profits, struggle with the difficult task of putting an end to programs that were successful in the past; with things that were once the bread-winner and now are mostly a resource drain.

Still, the truth is most businesses, most non-profits struggle to do what they know they should do…and a few make hard but necessary decisions and then reap the benefit.

INTEL actually provides one of the most dramatic examples of a company that abandoned a successful product in order to make resources available for the product that would carry them into the future. Beginning to see the handwriting on the wall of the memory chip business, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore knew they must move to microprocessors. Finally, they reasoned, “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?  Why shouldn’t we walk out, come back in and do it ourselves?”  Andy Grove, Former CEO, INTEL

The question today is, “What do you need to abandon?” See also, Andy Stanley: Random Thoughts on Leadership.

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4 Keys to Connecting People No One Else Is Connecting

face in the crowd“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.”

That was the line I heard from Craig Groeschel at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit in 2008. I remember where I was sitting in the Bayside Community Church auditorium when I heard the line. I can’t tell you anything else I heard at the Leadership Summit that year, but I’ll never forget that single line.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one rocked by the line. Andy Stanley referenced it in a memorable Drive Conference session. You can listen to him recount its impact right here: What no one else is doing.

“To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing.” If there was ever an idea that was self-evident, that was and is one.

To connect people no one else is connecting

When I heard the line, it was only a short leap to rearrange it this way:

To connect people no one else is connecting, we must do things no one else is doing.”

And like Groeschel’s original line, what this means is that simply improving what we’re already doing won’t get it done. In the same way moving from pews to theater seating and from a pipe organ to a band left many still unreached, so it is that improving the way we train small group leaders or installing a better online small group finder will still leave many unconnected.

What will enable our small group ministries to connect people no one else is connecting? Doing things that no one else is doing.

How can we crack the code? How can we develop the new ideas that will connect people no one else is connecting? Here are what I believe are 4 keys.

Four keys to connecting people no one else is connecting:

  1. Develop a conviction that there is no problem-free strategy or solution.  Don’t miss this important concept. As long as you are hunting for a problem-free solution you will be procrastinating the moves you need to make. Until you abandon the search for problem-free you will be quick to delay decisions that ought to be made. You must develop a conviction that there is no problem-free. Beyond that, you must own the idea that the pursuit of problem-free inhibits and prevents more ministry than anything else. See also, Breaking: No Problem-Free Small Group System, Model or Strategy.
  2. Cultivate the willingness to try and fail.  Redefine failure as fear of failure.  Adopt the attitude that in failing faster you’re moving closer to a winning strategy. I love the thinking of David Kelley, founder of legendary design firm, IDEO: “At IDEO, we believe that enlightened trial and error beats the planning of flawless intellects. In other words, we fail faster to succeed sooner. The reason is simple: the best solutions to most problems are rarely the most obvious.” See also, Beware of the Lure of the Status Quo.
  3. Always look at the individual variables within a working strategy (or even a sputtering strategy).  Many times tinkering with one variable is all it takes to turn failure into success or marginal success into a huge win. Not a failure by any stretch of the imagination, Saddleback expanded its small group impact exponentially in 2014 by adding a simple phrase to the HOST ask made in their church-wide campaign. The phrase? “If you have a couple friends you can host a group.”  See also, Saddleback Changed the Church-Wide Campaign Game…Again.
  4. Experiment continually with new possibilities knowing that the best way of connecting unconnected people hasn’t been tried yet.  Do this even when you’re existing strategies are working because you know you’ve not yet connected everyone. See also, The Unexpected Twist in Saddleback’s Exponential Growth Formula

Want to connect people no one else is connecting? You must do things no one else is doing. Image by Scott Cresswell

5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies for Church-Wide Campaigns

fiveI’ve pointed out a number of times that one of the most important keys to sustaining new small groups is giving them a study to do next that is similar in kind. By that I mean similar in several ways:

  • Similar format. If you launch a group with a DVD-driven study, be sure and choose a follow-up that is also DVD-driven.
  • Similar leader preparation required. If the first study required only basic preparation, be sure and choose a follow-up that is easy on the new leader.
  • Similar member preparation. If the launching study had no homework or preparation, choose a follow-up that is easy on the member.
  • Similar interest level. If you used a cross-cultural study to launch the new group, choose a follow-up that will appeal to new members (or the friends and neighbors of new members).

I’ve also pointed out that it is wise to choose the follow-up study before you begin your church-wide campaign. You’ll want to introduce your recommended follow-up study in about week 4 of the launching study and you won’t want to be scrambling to figure out which study will appeal to your newest leaders and their members. See also, 5 Keys to Sustaining New Groups.

5 Recommended Follow-Up Studies

Keeping these criteria in mind, here are a five of what I think are the best follow-up studies:

OverwhelmedOverwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry is a six week, DVD-driven study on a topic that is dead center for many, many people.  Noble, the founding and senior pastor of NewSpring Church, “a growing, vibrant church with multiple locations all over the state of South Carolina,” is a gifted communicator and teacher, convicted about speaking the truth as plainly as possible.

Overwhelmed is a DVD-driven study, featuring the dynamic teaching of Perry Noble.  At 20 to 23 minutes in length, these sessions will hold everyone’s attention.  Clipped from a weekend message series at NewSpring, there is never a dull moment.  Powerful personal examples and great visuals will captivate your members. You can read my full review right here.

jesus isJesus Is: Find a New Way to Be Human is an 8 session small group study that reveals the character of Jesus in a powerful way.  Judah Smith is the Lead Pastor ofThe City Churcha multi-site church with thousands in attendance each weekend in the Seattle area.  He’s also a popular speaker at conferences and events in the United States and abroad.

(From the introduction) “Jesus is ______________?  That question was at the heart of a campaign The City Church launched with the goal of getting Seattle to think about Jesus.  Given a chance to fill in the blank on a website,, thousands of answers came in.  “Some were profound.  Some were hilarious.  Some were spiteful.  But all of them said something about the spiritual journeys of the people filling in the blanks.” You can read my full review right here.

followFollow: No Experience Necessary is DVD-driven and each of the sessions is a 17 to 22 minute clip from an Andy Stanley message.  One of the most compelling communicators in America, this is must see TV.  Never flashy or fancy, Stanley is known for his ability to draw out life-changing truth and deliver it in a way that is both inspiring and very memorable.  Follow is an excellent example of his pattern of taking difficult or challenging ideas and presenting them in a way that leads to application.

The participant’s guide includes everything you need to unpack the profound set of ideas that form the basis of this series. You can read my full review right here.

wiser togetherWiser Together: Learning to Live Together is a short study, just 5 sessions.  Featuring teaching by Bill Hybels, the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the sessions are classic examples of his style.  Each segment is a manageable length, the average time is 13 to 18 minutes.

The study guide includes all of the elements needed for a very good time together.  Along with a video viewing guide, each session includes a warm-up question or two designed to get your group engaged and talking.  A good set of discussion questions pulls members into a better understanding of the wisdom of scripture and adeeper study section provides another question or two if you have time to go further. You can read my full review right here.

five thingsFive Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith is not a new study. Published by Zondervan in 2009, the study is based on five faith catalysts that North Point has identified as the things God uses repeatedly to grow people’s faith.

DVD-driven, the six session study is anchored by excerpts from a North Point message series.  The sessions average 15 to 20 minutes in length and feature Andy Stanley, one of America’s most dynamic and creative speakers.  The DVD also includes all six messages in their entirety as a bonus feature.

Delivered in his classic application oriented style, Stanley zeroes in on the five faith catalysts of practical teaching, providential relationships, private disciplines, personal ministry, and pivotal circumstances. You can read my full review right here.

Image by chintermeyer

Thinking Thursday: The Secret Structure of Great Talks

nancyduarteTEDFrom the “I have a dream” speech to Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch, all great presentations have a common architecture. In this talk, Nancy Duarte draws lessons on how to make a powerful call-to-action. (Filmed at TEDxEast.)

I’ve loved both of Nancy Duarte’s books (resonate and slide:ology) and this is a great talk.

Can’t see the video? You can watch it right here.

Image by TED

FAQ: Can You Recommend an 8 to 12 Week Study for a Campaign?

FAQI get questions. I get a lot of questions. About all kinds of small group ministry topics.

Here’s a good one that I got last week:

I notice the trend for small group campaigns is 6 weeks. Can you recommend 2-3 favorite studies of yours that are 8-12 weeks?

When I asked why they were looking for a longer campaign, my reader said:

Longer campaigns have helped align small groups at our church and create more of a groups culture. I’d like to keep the momentum going.

As a follow-up question, I asked what their percentage connected was. Here’s his answer:

We still have lots of unconnected people at church and I would love to know if study length is a barrier for them.

The key ideas I wanted my reader to wrestle with were these:

Percentage connected is a good measure of who you’ve actually connected. At the risk of oversimplifying, if your percentage connected is stuck over several years, there is a good chance you are simply satisfying the needs and interests of the usual supects. Breaking through percentage connected barriers requires choosing topics/studies that appeal to unconnected people. See also, Three Keys to Connecting Beyond the Core and Committed.

The topics/studies you choose determine two very important things:

  1. Who will say yes to joining a group
  2. Who will say yes to hosting a group and inviting their friends.

Topics/studies from the hard end of the easy/hard continuum will only appeal to the already connected. Topics/studies from the easy end of the easy/hard continuum will appeal to unconnected people. See also, Warning: Your Topic Determines Two Huge Outcomes.

The length of the study is another very important factor.

  • 6 weeks is just about perfect. Short enough to persuade an unconnected person (or someone willing to open up their home and invite a few of their friends) to put their toe in the water and try a group. Pick the right follow up study and at week 4 of the launching study it is easy to encourage new hosts and new members to continue something they are beginning to look forward to.
  • Shorter than 6 doesn’t allow enough time for the connective tissue of new relationships to begin to form (and it needs to reach a certain level of anticipation and satisfaction).
  • Longer than 6 weeks sounds more and more like a lifetime commitment to an unconnected person (or someone considering hosting a group for the campaign).

Longer studies and more challenging topics can be included on your discipleship/curriculum pathway. Existing small groups that have made it into their third study can be coached to choose more challenging and longer studies/topics. Designing a discipleship/curriculum pathway can play an important role in making the kind of disciples you hope to make. See also, Small Group Ministry Myth #4: Leaders and Members Know Best What to Study.

Conclusion: Every church will make their own decision about the topic/study and the length that is appropriate for their campaigns. As a result of extensive personal experience (both in the churches I’ve served and the hundreds of churches I’ve coached and consulted), I make recommendations based on the assumptions listed above.

Image by photosteve101



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