Question: Why Not Gather Leaders Monthly for Leadership Community?

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In yesterday’s article on How To Build An Annual GroupLife Calendar I made the statement that “although the idea of a monthly leadership community has been the model for some churches, I’ve rarely found that to be a workable idea.”  This statement prompted a reader to ask, “Why isn’t a monthly gathering workable?”

First, that’s a great question!  After all, the idea of a monthly leadership community has long been a theoretical aspiration for small group ministry practitioners (going back even earlier than Carl George’s foundational Prepare Your Church for the Future).  Long time Willow Creek watchers will remember that the transition to a MetaChurch style group ministry included a monthly Leadership Community.  But it’s been a long time since that was on the calendar at Willow.

Here’s why I wrote what I wrote:

Idealism vs. Pragmatism

First, let’s get a key question or two out of the way.  Many will ask, “Isn’t it important that we invest in developing small group leaders?  Don’t they need more frequent encouragement and training?”  Yes and yes.  But it’s important to keep the lifestyles of a volunteer clearly in view when you’re setting  expectations.

When you’re building an annual calendar, keep in mind that this is a calendar for volunteers.  In fact, it’s a calendar for volunteers who are already giving 2 to 3 hours a week (or twice a month, depending on how often they meet) just for the small group meeting.  Add preparation time, contacting members who miss a meeting, and offline social gatherings with group members and you have a good picture of a healthy time commitment to a good project.

Now, take those same volunteers and add in a normal life.  That will often mean commuting to work, kids activities, school involvement, and important social opportunities with family, friends and neighbors.

When you add it all up, the average volunteer leads a very busy life.  It’s against that backdrop that we’re trying to build a calendar that will serve the volunteer base for small group ministry and get across the board participation.  And it’s against that backdrop that we’re pragmatic about what attending one 90 minute meeting at the church actually means because for most people you have to add the commute to and from the meeting.  A 90 minute meeting quickly becomes a 2 1/2 to 3 hour commitment.

A More Reasonable Alternative

Remember, I do think the development of small group leaders is important.  I just think a monthly centralized meeting isn’t workable in most communities.  On the other hand, a decentralized huddle with a coach that is geographically assigned can make a lot of sense.  Follow along:

Weekly Check-In

The assignment/job description of every coach ought to include frequent contact.  A weekly check-in by phone or in person is not an unreasonable expectation.  It can be a 5 to 10 minute phone call.  It can be a cup of coffee in between services or before work.  It can be convenient for both the leader and the coach…if the assignment makes geographical sense.

Monthly Huddle

The assignment/job description of every coach ought to include a periodic group huddle with the assigned leaders.  Again, if the assignment makes sense geographically, this can be a once a month breakfast together before work or dessert and coffee in the evening.

You might say, “What’s the difference between this and a monthly centralized meeting for all leaders?”  Easy.  If it’s just a coach and their 4 to 6 leaders and the huddle is near where they live or work…it eliminates the commute and focuses on the important element: connecting as a group with their coach.

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  1. Tom Houser on April 8, 2010 at 6:25 am

    I agree that a monthly, all-hand-on-deck approach just doesn’t work. I was encouraged at a recent Willow Creek conference to leverage technology to inform, train and encourage leaders. So, in addition to three annual gatherings (2 two hour meetings and 1 overnighter), I set-up a free blog so that I can upload information, communicate effectively, etc.

    It has worked well.

  2. Mark Howell on April 8, 2010 at 6:56 am

    Thanks Tom! Sounds like a very workable plan. Love the blog idea!


  3. Tim Weems on April 8, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Great article. I’ve been working on customizing a GroupLife Calendar that works in the church context I’m serving in. One idea we are trying out is 2nd Sunday, 2nd Service Group Huddle. It’s a gathering of hosts to care/communicate and develop/dream together on-campus. Curious to see if it’s effective.

  4. Mark Howell on April 9, 2010 at 4:34 am

    Hey Tim…interesting idea! I like that you’re connecting the huddle to a time your leaders are already there. Keep us posted!