4 Small Group Coaching Insights that Might Be Eye-Opening

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I’ve written a lot about small group coaching.  A LOT!  And yet…when I get into a real conversation with a small group pastor it almost always comes back around to coaching.  Almost always.  These conversations center on a few key questions:

  • How do I find the right people…the hundred or sixty-fold players you write about?
  • How do I recruit the right people when I find them?
  • What does a coach really need to do to be effective?
  • Do my existing small group leaders really need a coach?

Here’s how I answer these questions:

How do I find the right people…the hundred or sixty-fold players you write about?  Every church has these high-capacity people.  If you think about your existing small group leaders you can probably figure out who some of them are by just imagining them all in a group that gets locked in a room over the weekend.  By the end of the weekend, the highest capacity people will always end up leading the others.  Their groups will tend to be larger and their capacity will tend to show up in their day job (i.e., they’ll often lead others whether they work outside the home or not).

Still can’t see any of your existing small group leaders that way?  It might be that the highest capacity players aren’t small group leaders.  Sometimes they are leading in other ministries and view their small group as a “where we get fed or cared for.”  If they truly are the right people, they can still serve as a coach.  But be careful to recruit them the right way.  See also, Coaching FAQ: What Are the Essential Ingredients of an Effective Coach?

How do I recruit the right people when I find them?  If you’ve been in ministry any length of time, you know it’s a lot easier to get someone into a role than out of it.  That said, it’s always best to start with a test-drive or a toe-in-the-water.  I make it a practice to start by just asking for their help for a 10 to 13 week commitment.  I actually say something like this:

“Bob, I’ve been watching the way you lead your group.  You really know what you’re doing and you do a great job.  We’re about to launch some new groups and I’m wondering if you’d be willing to come alongside a few of our newbie group leaders and help them get off to a good start.  If you could give them a little attention for about their first 10 weeks, you could really make a difference.  Should only take about an hour or hour and a half each week, but it will make a big difference to them.”

Obviously, there is more to it than that but that’s how the recruiting conversation starts.  Notice that I’m not calling them a coach.  Also notice that I’m emphasizing the short term nature of the job.  See also, The End in Mind for an Effective Coaching Structure.

What does a coach need to do to be effective?  At its most basic level, the role of a coach is “to do to and for the leader whatever you want the leader to do to and for their members.”  The role of a coach isn’t about “checking on” or “making sure.”  It’s not even very much about “teaching how to lead a group.”

Since most new small group leaders can really get the hang of leading a group in the first 3 to 6 months, if coaching is going to be truly effective it must be about more than technique.  It must be about helping the leader to experience first whatever you want group members to experience.  Remember, you can’t expect a leader to give away something they’ve never experienced themselves.  See also, 6 Essential Characteristics of an Effective Small Group Coach.

Do my existing leaders really need a coach?  Not in their own eyes.  Existing leaders already know how to lead a group.  If they needed a coach, wouldn’t they have needed one when they first started?  Right?  Isn’t that what they are thinking?

I have found that the easiest way to provide the essence of what existing leaders really need is to approach it from a completely different angle.  Here’s the gist of what I do:

  • Invite them all to a gathering.
  • Group them at tables in a way that makes the most sense (i.e., life-stage, affinity, etc.).
  • Give them a guided experience and then ask them to discuss it at their tables.  The best experience I’ve found is teaching them to use Saddleback’s Spiritual Health Assessment and Plan.
  • At the end of the gathering challenge your leaders to meet again in the same groups in 30 to 45 days to talk about how they’re doing.

See also, How to Implement Coaching for Existing Leaders.

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

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