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Taking the lead with community-building is hard work. It’s messy, and ironically, it can feel very lonely. Over the years, Small Group Point People (SGPP) have shared their struggles with me along with the people who partner with them in looking after a church’s group leadership. The most common terms for these strategic helpers are “coaches” or “community leaders.”
I would define a “coach” as someone who serves as an encouraging friend to group leaders, helping them create environments where biblical community can flourish. They do this by providing ongoing prayer, care, connection and direction so that group leaders can grow in health and strength. It usually doesn’t take long for the demands of small group ministry to exceed a SGPP’s ability to meet them and they look for others to team up with them. Enter: Coaches!
So why have a lot of churches have had a hard time making coaching work and are tempted to give up on it? I would offer three reasons and each of them are preventable with enough foresight and preparation.
Reason #1: We start late. Oftentimes, church leadership waits to add coaches until the small group ministry needs them. This might sound logical, but it’s a bad idea because by the time a SGPP needs coaches, it’s too late for them to start and be able to function at a high level. This is because the relationship between coaches and group leaders are best forged when groups are starting. The alternative is trying to “reverse engineer” a leadership support structure by assigning coaches to leaders whose groups already have found their own way and rhythm of doing life together. Not surprisingly, group leaders with “flight time” are not motivated by the prospect of someone assigned to them.
Furthermore, a SGPP misses out on the different perspectives and practical support of a team of coaches surrounding him or her during the critical foundational phase of a small group ministry. Greater buy-in and relational equity is built if you build “center-out” with your coaches, adding group leaders to them, versus the other way around. Coaches can also help to drive the process of inviting and vetting your base of leaders, which will improve the experience for everyone as a church’s community life grows.
Reason #2: We don’t prepare them. In their zeal to find extra help, SGPP recruit coaches and explain important things like the vision, leadership development, and what coaches should do. But then reality hits! Coaches reach out with the best of intentions and they don’t get responses back. Before long, their dream of adding value to grateful group leaders never materializes.
Consequently, coaches feel like they are failing and this is only aggravated when they can only provide a partial understanding at best as to how things are going with the group leaders within their span of care. What needs to happen up-front are honest conversations about the challenges of coaching, how different groups require different amounts and types of care, group leader communication preferences, and setting realistic expectations so that newly-appointed coaches do not become demoralized.
Reason #3: We turn them into middle management. We spend more time asking coaches to execute our directives than we do equipping them to care for group leaders in friendship-building ways. We repeatedly lean on them to extract two things that group leaders are typically reluctant to give because of their busy schedules: Time and Data.
With time, we want coaches to attend meetings that are oftentimes in addition to groups they are already leading and to support various church activities. With data, we want coaches to submit reports, attendance and projections of participation in activities we want for their group members. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but there usually isn’t enough margin to apply at least an equal amount of energy helping coaches proactively add value to group leaders based on their individual needs.
These three reasons are common pitfalls church leadership and SGPP stumble into time and again. Consequently, we set coaches up to fail. There is a better way.
It starts with being aware of these obstacles to effective coaching, planning ahead and building a core team of coaches/community leaders early on to support the launch or revitalization of your small group ministry. It involves ongoing investment rhythms that help to carry out the church’s mission while also empowering coaches to be relational leaders who understand the uniqueness of the group leaders they look after and how to build them up. Accelerate! Small Group Workshops serve as “brainstorming retreats” that explore how to develop a team that will lead with you and address questions like “How will you develop leaders for your ministry?” Find one that works for your schedule HERE.