FAQ: What to do when a new “leader” doesn’t meet leadership standards?

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One of my most popular posts has been FAQ: What If a New “Leader” Doesn’t Meet Leadership Standards? The 2016 article was written to answer this question:

"What do I do if someone who doesn't meet our leadership standards ends up being chosen as a group leader in a small group connection."

Note: You've probably already realized this reader was referring to an important element at the conclusion of a Small Group Connection where the group chooses "someone they'd be willing to follow for the first 6 weeks of the study."

Now, it's important to note that the main point of my answer to the reader's question was "every church must determine for themselves the standards a person must meet in order to be considered a "leader." At the same time, every church ought to be open to carefully re-examining the standards a person must meet in order to be considered a 'leader.'"

When I reposted the article last week I got two excellent questions related to the 2016 article. And like all frequently asked questions (FAQs), these two are a little complicated, but well worth the time it takes to think through the essence of their questions and clarify.

Here's the first question:

"When the group selects the wrong leader (and I know this will only be a small minority of times but still, it will happen over and over again over the years), I'm anticipating several things happening that could be unhelpful to everyone.  First, the person is embarrassed when they are asked to step back for reasons related to their lifestyle." Note: there was more to their observation but this is the essence of their question.

The second question was equally interesting:

[In the article] you mentioned what to do beforehand to set the stage for a conversation and then you said, when this situation does happen, you have to have a hard conversation. [My question is], How do you have the hard conversation [without embarrassing the leader candidate?"

Two very good questions, don't you think?

Here's my answer:

First, while it is never our intention to put those who are chosen by the group in an embarrassing situation, a great deal of the potential for an embarrassing conversation can be mitigated by (A) working in advance to clarify (and where possible edit in light of the position for which they're being chosen) the actual leadership standards with the powers that be,

Note: Many churches have determined their leadership "standards" in such a way that they are beyond what the church can actually produce (i.e., "in order to lead a group you need to be a tithing member."). I've mentioned this scenario in other articles because it actually was the leadership standard in a church with which I consulted. I led them to reconsider when it was determined they didn't have enough tithing members to lead enough groups to connect the unconnected people in the congregation, let alone the crowd.

(B) carefully leading new groups through the process of choosing leaders (describing and clarifying the standards as needed BEFORE choosing.

Note: I've led small group connections in 5 of the churches where I've been the small group pastor (and helped guide many of the churches I've coached or consulted). Every church is different and has their own version of the standards they have determined.

Second, the dealbreaker characteristics (i.e., what would not meet the standards) can be anticipated and a guardrail could be used at the point the group is ready to choose. For example, if membership is essential, a quick hand raise to indicate who is eligible to be chosen. If only married couples can lead a couples group, the moments right before choosing can explain that.

Third, another card to be played is to use the updated Connection strategy now highlighted on the blog. By adjusting the connection process to only select a "facilitator" for the first 4 to 6 weeks AND using North Point’s Circle Up study, the dynamic is altered significantly. You still have the advantage of identifying potential leaders from the much larger segment of unconnected people but the nomination process built in to the 4 to 6 study (genius) eliminates the issues you mention.

Fourth, don’t get me wrong. I agree with you about the timing of disagreeable conversations and while there is no problem free solution, I find the problems reasonable. It is simply a matter of setting up the choice well and describing it carefully and accepting the occasional "tough" conversation as an opportunity for discipleship and development. For example, we had a HUGE connection and ended up with 30ish couples groups (of which 5 had a leader who wasn’t married). That led to 5 individual and sensitive conversations and eventually to at least two weddings.

Finally, the upside for me in all of this is leveraging strategies that help find high potential leaders from the largest segment in most churches, unconnected people (take the reverse of your percentage connected). In most churches the largest number of high potential, high capacity leaders are not currently in a group. If this is true for your church…then you have to figure out how to identify them. And that should be added to your list of problems you’d rather have.

Key Takeaways:
First, these questions are good examples of "no problem-free" thinking. Both readers see the advantages of choosing "leaders" from the unconnected (and unknown) majority in their churches crowd and congregation. In addition, both readers are working with pre-existing sets of "leader" qualifications. One of my contentions has always been there are more high potential leaders who are not currently in a group than there are already in a group but not leading. If that is true, you must find a way to choose or recruit from the unconnected (and unknown) people in your crowd and congregation. I would much rather have the problems that come with choosing the occasional "wrong" candidate.
Second, if you look carefully at Jesus' criterion for the 12, you should see that he didn't have the usual standards. In fact, what his standards were seem to have been a pretty low bar. I'm mainly arguing for standards that are reasonably attainable.
Finally, be careful that your effort to eliminate the possibility of "tough" conversations doesn't cheapen or eliminate the opportunity for discipleship and development of the leaders in your ministry. Setting up well the selection/choosing or nomination of a new leader/facilitator adds an important element to the eventual discipleship/development conversation you will want to have with every leader in your small group ministry. See also, Skill Training: Equip Your Coaches to Develop and Disciple Your Leaders and 7 Things You Must Do TO and FOR (and WITH) Your Leaders.
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  1. Crissy on June 28, 2022 at 10:35 am

    Hi Mark, you have said before about coaches that they need to have, “…the art of appropriate self-disclosure; …learning to be appropriately transparent about their own journey.” Do you have any resources or training materials you could point to to help with training coaches in this?

  2. Mark Howell on June 28, 2022 at 12:54 pm

    The best I’ve got is Skill Training: How Transparent Should I Be as a Group Leader https://www.markhowelllive.com/skill-training-how-transparent-should-i-be-as-a-group-leader/ Although the article is intended for group leaders, it’s the same principles at work.