Diagnosis: The Coaches in Your System

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One of the most important steps in diagnosing your small group ministry is to accurately assess the health of your coaching system.  Much like your physical body, having a respiratory system is essential…but it has to be a working respiratory system.  Here are what I think are the most important diagnosis questions about coaches:

  • Have you developed a job description for the coaches in your system? This is a prerequisite step.  It will be very hard to diagnose without a set of expectations.
  • Do you have coaches in name only? They may have the title, but they’re really only place-holders.  You learn that you need one coach for every five small group leaders…so you recruit a few “coaches” but they’re not the right people and they really don’t do anything.  Expectations are very low and their work is never seriously inspected.  Symptoms: Small group leaders don’t know who their coach is or can’t remember the last time they talked.
  • Do you have 30-Folds in the place of 100-Folds? This is a very common mistake.  It is a great temptation to use “warm and willing” instead of “hot and qualified,” but it is a huge mistake.  I’m using Jesus’ “30, 60, and 100 fold” to describe the relative capacity of people.  When you put a 30-fold into a slot you need to realize that they’re not going to be able to influence even another 30-fold.  Don’t let idealism get in the way of reality.  Symptoms: Leaders aren’t drawn to their coach.  No zip to the relationship.
  • Do you have 100-folds wearing multiple hats? This is also very common.  You get the right people on the team but don’t help them clear their calendar.  Bandwidth is a precious thing.  If you’ve openly declared small group ministry to be a key to your strategy, you’ll need the full attention of these key players focused on this one responsibility.  Symptoms: Coaches aren’t clear on what to prioritize.  Leaders don’t feel prioritized.
  • Do your coaches have clear objectives? This works both ways.  Coaches are often unclear about what their role is.  This results in their defaulting to a kind of accountant, checking on whether the group meets, who is in the group, etc.  The flip side is that leaders are also unclear about the role of their coach.  Their most common comment is that they don’t need a coach. Symptoms: Leaders don’t look forward to connecting with their coach.  It’s a chore for both parties.
  • Do you have unrealistic expectations for your coaches? This also works both ways.  Many times a new coach is recruited and released into action without anyone preparing the leader.  Because first impressions are so important this results in an unexpected call and results in an insurmountable barrier between the new coach and the leader.  On the flipside, the leader is introduced to their coach but poorly prepared for the coach’s involvement.   Thinking that the coach is a watchdog or an accountant when they could be a mentor.  Symptoms: “Who are you?  Why are you calling me?”
  • Poor matches between coaches and leaders? This may be the second most common problem with the whole coaching idea.  I refer to it as “the arbitrary assignment” issue.  Here’s the situation: I’ve got 20 groups and I want to develop a healthy span of care so I recruit 4 coaches and deal out my leaders.  Five for Bob.  Five for Steve.  Five for Joe.  And five for Debbie.  And we’re done.  The problem is that it’s tough to make a meaningful assignment that way.  It’s arbitrary.  Symptoms: The start-up energy is too great and takes too long before actually paying off and seeming like a good investment to either coach or leader.  It’s a formality.
  • Was there a time lag between the group’s beginning and assigning the coach? This is the number one problem and the main reason coaching fails.  Without question the easiest time to assign a coach is at the very beginning.  Any time after that only increases the likelihood that the graft won’t take.  Once a group has made it through their first 6 to 12 meetings they’ve figured out most of the very basic coaching issues (how to engage Sue’s husband, how to help Bob and Carol to come on time, how to help Bill not dominate, etc.).  The groups that couldn’t figure out the basics are dead anyway.  They often don’t make it through this season.  The leaders of the groups that do make it have legitimate questions about why they need a coach.  Symptoms: “Why do I need a coach?”

Coaching is an essential element of an effective small group ministry.  These questions should help you diagnose your current coaching solution.  For more information on building an effective coaching structure, take a look at my four part series.

You can read the next article in this series, Diagnosing Senior Pastor Buy-In, right here.

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