Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders

Part 2

Bill Donahue delivers another great resource for everyone who loves small groups.



Last year after the July 4 fireworks all fell to the ground, we noticed a few holes in our trampoline that had not been there before. Apparently, some residue from the fireworks had landed on the trampoline while still smoldering, burning some holes.

Not to worry. My wife came up with a brilliant plan. "Next year, let's put the trampoline up on its side before the 4th. This way, any fireworks that land on it will fall off so quickly they won't have a chance to burn it." Brilliant.

Brilliant, but it didn't work. Not because it wasn't a brilliant idea, but for a different reason. It didn't work because we forgot. I thought about it a few times during the year, and even a few times just before the 4th. But, in the end, I didn't do it.

Now, if I had had a coach--someone to remind me that the 4th was coming up and I needed to set the trampoline on it side, the the plan surely would have worked. I wanted to set the trampoline on its side; I just needed a coach to see that i did what I wanted to do.

This illustrates the need for coaching in churches. We don't grow for lack of ideas; we grow from lack of implementation of ideas. Coaches can help us execute. Coaches can help us to do what we want to do. What do coaches do? Let's continue the review of Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman's new book, Coaching for life change. I couch this review in the form of an interview with quotes or near quotes from the book.

Josh: What does a coach actually do?

Bill and Greg: Three things:

  1. Nurture the soul of group leaders

  2. Develop the skills of group leaders

  3. Build a leadership team

Josh: And how exactly do they do that? What tools do they use?

Bill and Greg: Three things:

  1. One-on-one conversations

  2. Leadership huddles

  3. Visiting groups

Josh: Let's talk about each one of these, starting with the first, one-one-one conversations. What is the main goal of these conversations?

Bill and Greg: An easy assumption for any coach would be that the purpose of one-on-one meetings is to manage the small group ministry--to use the face-to-face time to make sure the group leaders are doing all the right things. What curriculum are they using? Is life change happening in their small group? Are they adding new people? Are they developing their apprentice?

These are important questions and often surface in the meetings. But the primary purpose of one-on-one meetings is for the coach to establish a personal, pastoral relationship with the leader. This personal touch assures the leaders that they are valued. It affirms both the leader and their ministry. When done well, leaders feel empowered and supported by their coach and the church.

Josh: They feel loved?

Bill and Greg: Absolutely. The primary purpose of the one-on-one meetings is to nurture the soul of your leader, not to increase their effectiveness in leadership or to develop their leadership abilities.

Josh: Let's drill down a little deeper. How exactly does the coach do that?

Bill and Greg: It may take time, but the key thing is to ask lots of questions and do lots of listening. "Everyone should be quick to listen." James 1.19 Focus on spiritual concerns more than organizational issues. Focus on encouragement more than management. Focus on connection.

Josh: How often do you have these meetings?

Bill and Greg: It depends on their need and your availability. New leaders may need more time. We recommend you create a care covenant to help determine the frequency of your meetings. Use other means to connect as well--phone calls, emails, and hall-way conversations.

Josh: What are some examples of questions you might discuss in these meetings?

Bill and Greg: We have a list on pages 61 - 62 of the book. In the following pages, we go over eight conversations you might have with your group leaders. We spend two pages describing what each conversation might look like. Here is a sample:

  • How did you come to faith in Christ?

  • What spiritual disciplines do your practice regularly?

  • What have been some major turning points in your life?

Josh: Let's move on to the second tool. The first one was one-on-one conversations. The second is a leadership huddle. What is that about?

Bill and Greg: The goal of huddles is to establish a learning community. Both learning and community are important to huddles.

Huddles offer opportunities for leaders to learn new skills. As a coach, you should work to create a safe environment in your huddles where leaders feel the freedom to try, practice and fail.

Huddles offer unique opportunity to build community with leaders. Leaders have a passion for community and often connect at a deep level at community times. Encourage these connections by planning time for leaders to share experiences and to encourage each other. The purpose of huddles is both relationship building and skill building.

Josh: What would be some examples of skills that coaches want to build into group leaders?

Bill and Greg: Here are a few:

  • Effectively using ice-breaker questions

  • Using the Bible effectively in groups

  • Listening skills

  • Writing and asking good questions

  • Leading group prayer

  • Dealing with talkative or shy members

Josh: What are some specific examples of topics you might tackle in huddles, and how you would tackle them?

Bill and Greg: In the book we give a one or two page description of huddles based on the following eight skill development issues:

  • Modeling personal growth

  • Shepherding your leaders

  • Building authentic relationships

  • Resolving conflict in a healthy manner

  • Extending care and compassion

  • Becoming an inclusive community

  • Reaching out to seekers

  • Developing future leaders

Josh: If I can, let's review. We want to do three things in coaching group leaders: 1) One-on-one conversations, 2) group huddles, and. . . what is the third one?

Bill and Greg: Visiting groups.

Josh: Won't this make group leaders nervous?

Bill and Greg: Leaders may have some anxiety about your visit. This is almost always true of the first visit, but hopefully subsides after that. For this reason, it is important that you establish a relationship with the leader.

Leaders need to know you are there to help them. Assure them that your purpose for visiting the groups is to encourage and support them.

Josh: What kinds of questions are you asking yourself during the meeting?

Bill and Greg: Here are a few (more in the book):

  • Did the meeting start and end on time?

  • Did the leader stay one the subject?

  • Was the leader in control but not overbearing?

  • Were the questions effective?

  • How well did the group members relate to each other?

Josh: Do you take notes during the meeting?

Bill and Greg: Be careful about that. It may appear you are being critical. Better to block off some time just after the meeting to write down some notes.

Josh: What else do people need to know about visits?

Bill and Greg: After the meeting give some immediate feedback to the leader. Share a couple of specific, encouraging thoughts. As soon as possible, schedule a one-on-one-time to go over the visit in more detail. Be positive. Catch them doing something right. Where improvement is needed, offer concrete, specific ideas for improvement.

Josh: Let's talk about the overall coaching ministry and what that looks like. How many groups can one coach care for?

Bill and Greg: We recommend a span of care of no more than five group leaders per coach.

Josh: Then, I assume the small group pastor takes care of the coaches?

Bill and Greg: Yes, the small group pastor coaches the coaches, treating them as he/she wants them to treat the small group leaders.

Josh: Final thoughts?

Bill and Greg: Coaching is about loving and skill building. The greatest of these is love.

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