Consulting and Coaching for Small Group Ministries

Author: Mark Howell (page 1 of 2)

Looking for a New Church-Wide Campaign?

Looking for a new church-wide campaign?  Who isn’t?!!  One of the results of campaigns like the 40 Days of Purpose is that many churches have woken up to the potential of supplying their small groups with material that accompanies their message series.  Often referred to as an alignment, getting everyone in your congregation involved in the same thing provides a breakthrough opportunity for churches seeking to have impact.  Although an increasing number of churches are producing their own small group material, there are some real advantages to using off-the-shelf campaigns:

  • You’ll benefit from higher production values than you could develop in-house
  • Your energies can be directed to implementing the campaign
  • Available campaigns often feature plug-and-play marketing materials (mailers, banners, bulletin shells, invitations, etc.)
  • There is often a higher level of creativity in the design and presentation

Because of the tremendous potential of a campaign, there are more available now and more on the way!  Here are some of the most popular campaigns:

(Need help?  Click here to find out about my Church-Wide Campaign Coaching program)

The Four Keys of Building an Effective Coaching Structure

I’m frequently asked what can be done to improve the coaching in a small group ministry.  Going back at least as far as Carl George’s Prepare Your Church for the Future, it’s been proposed that Jethro had it right and for Moses to try and take care of all of the people himself was crazy (see Exodus 18:13-25).  From that key passage the important concept of “span of care” developed and with that understanding you can see why building a coaching structure is seen as crucial.  So how can we improve what we have?  Several ideas:

  • First, you need to have the right people in the role.  Can’t be someone who simply likes the title.  Has to be someone who is a leader.  If you want them to have any chance of influencing your small group leaders there’s no getting around this part of the job description.  And don’t be fooled here.  Having the wrong person is worse than not having anyone.  They’ve also got to want to invest their time in this role.  You’re looking for actual commitment.  Not words only.
  • Second, try people out in the role BEFORE you give them the title!  Do this wherever possible.  Take someone you think would make a good one and ask them to invest in a new small group leader or two.  Easy to pull them in on this idea.  Give it a time limit.  “Would you help me for the next 8 weeks?  Just need you to help these new small group leaders get off to a good start.”  Then you model for them what to do.  If they do it and if they’re both fruitful and fulfilled doing it…then sit down with them and formally recruit them to the role.
  • Third, when you recruit them, use an actual job description.  Don’t minimize what you need from them.  Don’t downplay how much time you think it will take.  Be honest and ask for their commitment.
  • Last, add this ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT: If you want your coaches to invest in the small group leaders they’re assigned to you must be giving to them what you want them to give their leaders…and nothing less.

What’s wrong with your coaching structure?  Simple, it won’t work unless you’re applying the four keys of building an effective coaching structure.

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

Span of Care

“Span of care” is a term used to describe the number of people being cared for by someone.  In Prepare Your Church for the Future Carl George proposed that while everyone needs to be cared for by someone, no one ought to be taking care of more than about ten.  Looking at Exodus 18:13-25, George concluded that this would provide the maximum number of people any one person could realistically care for.  He actually went on to say “research shows that ten people is usually too great a number for one person to nurture p. 125).”

What is the significance of span of care?  There are several important elements:

  • It is a reminder that one person can’t possibly care for more than 10 small group leaders.
  • It can help determine the number of coaches (or Community Leaders) you must have in order to adequately care for your small group leaders.
  • It can force ministry leaders to be on the lookout for the next wave of “leaders of leaders.”

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

Leadership Structure

“How can I take care of my small group leaders?”  Ever asked that one?  You’re not alone!

There are at least two main schools of thought on this subject as I write.   Neither solution is problem-free.  But since there is no problem-free, it’s simply a matter of choosing the set of problems/issues you’d rather have.  Take a look:

(1) Faithful practitioners of the metachurch model of small groups would install a layer of care and coaching that would consist of a coach for every 5 small group leaders.  The role of the coach would be designed to provide a frequent point of contact for each of their small group leaders.   In well implemented systems the coach would serve as a mentor/discipler for each of their small group leaders.  Rather than simply checking in on the leader, the coach would primarily be a kind of spiritual encourager…much as you’d hope your small group leaders would be to their members.  Larger ministries would install a layer of leadership often called a
Community Leader (or Division Leader) who would care for the coaches.  In some cases this would be a staff person.  Willow Creek’s early implementation used a full-time Division Leader for every 10 coaches.

Issues: Finding the kind of person who will commit to investing their time as a coach is one part of the challenge.  Even tougher?  The arbitrary assignment of a small group leader to a coach is problematic.  This is especially true when the assignment is attempted after the small group has been in existence for longer than about 3 months.  If they’ve made it this long without your help…they will almost always resist the idea that they need what you’re offering.  Works much better when the assignment is made at the very beginning or where there is an existing relationship that has a mentoring quality.

(2) An alternative being attempted in some larger ministries is to eliminate the coaching layer and depend on Community Leaders to provide mentoring and care for small group leaders.  North Point is an example of this strategy, using a full-time Community Leader for every 60 to 75 small groups.  An alternative is being implemented at Saddleback where a part-time Community Leader is expected to provide a similar level of care to a smaller number of leaders.

Issues: To say nothing of the degree of difficulty of budgeting for this salary, it assumes that an ordinary person (not a vocational minister) can’t have the skill sets or gift mixes necessary to serve in this capacity.  The one thing they don’t have is the time to care for 60 to 75.  Can they take care of a smaller number?  Absolutely!

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

Secrets of a Successful Small Group Launch

Want the scoop on how to launch small groups? Who doesn’t! After all, groups do more than provide the “optimal environment for life-change.” They also provide a very effective delivery system for ministry and mission.

So then the question might be, “How can you get groups going in a way that has the best chance of succeeding?”

And let’s come right out and say that there are lots of ways to get small groups going. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about getting them going in a way that has the best chance of succeeding…in a big way.

So how will we do it?  First, a disclaimer: In order for this strategy to work, your pastor’s commitment is absolutely essential. No getting around it. Without your senior pastor’s buy-in this plan is not effective. With that understanding, here are the five steps to a successful small group launch.

Step One: Schedule a weekend message series that passes the following tests:

  • At a strategic time (late January/early February, post-Easter, late September/early October).
  • On the right subject (a topic that is genuinely easy to invite friends to attend).
  • For the right length (Six weeks is just right).

Step Two:  Align a small group curriculum with your upcoming weekend message series that passes the following tests:

  • Curriculum is a “good-enough” match to the weekend series.  If 40 Days of Purpose was a “one-for-one” match, this has to be at least thematically aligned.
  • Easy to use.  Preferably a DVD-driven study that only requires an open home and someone to push play.

Step Three: Ask your members (and regular attendees) to consider opening their home to host a group.  If you’ve met the conditions of Step 1 and 2 they should be open to the idea.  When you ask them follow these guidelines.

  • Ask them in the context of a sermon, NOT an announcement.
  • Put together two or three sermons that talk about God’s heart for unconnected people (Matthew 9:36, 2 Kings 7:3-9, etc.). Use these messages as an opportunity to invite your congregation to open up their homes and host a group.
  • Give your congregation a way to respond to the invitation in the service (an insert to be filled out is the best way).

Step Four: Provide an adequate level of coaching for your newest leaders and begin as soon as they respond.

  • Invite them to attend an orientation where they can learn about what they volunteered to do.
  • Connect them with a coach at the orientation.
  • Use the coaches to establish and maintain weekly contact with every host.

Step 5:  Give your new groups something to do next that is similar in kind.

  • You’ve invited your congregation to “just open their home” and provided a curriculum that is easy to use.  What you give them to do next must have a very similar degree of difficulty.
  • Let your new leaders know what is next by week three of their first study.
  • Give any preexisting small group leaders the option to go back to their previously scheduled programming.

Ready to launch small groups in a way that has the best chance of succeeding…in a big way?  Just follow the five steps.  Need more help?  Why not schedule a coaching call? Sometimes an hour with a seasoned veteran makes a big difference!

Give Your Group a Great Start in 2008!

Ready to think about helping your small group have a better experience in 2008?  It’s that time again!  Time for all good groups to get going! And get going on the right foot.

There are several important keys to getting off to a great start in the new year.  First, if you didn’t already set a date to get back together, do that today!  Doesn’t mean you have to meet this week, or even next. Just means that you need to set a date and get the word out.  The sooner the better!

Second, make sure your first meeting has a little bit of a party feel. Food is very important.  This is an opportunity to get everyone involved in bringing something.  In fact, making sure that every member is responsible for something helps ensure that they’ll all be there. Much less likely to miss the meeting if they’re bringing the guacamole!  Do it however you’d like.  Make it a theme night (Mexican, Italian, hamburgers or dessert) or keep it simple and make it “bring your favorite dish to share,” just make sure that you get all of your members on board to bring something.

Third, take advantage of the time around the dinner table to help your group talk about where they’ve been and what they’ve done over holidays.  A few really helpful starter questions are:

  • What was the most memorable thing that happened?
  • What was the biggest disappointment?
  • What are you looking forward to in 2008?

Don’t miss the fact that some of your members have had a tougher holiday experience than others. Be on the lookout for opportunities to stop and pray for anyone that shares something that calls for prayer. Also, if you’re ready to kick-start the conversation it will make it easier for everyone to jump in!

Fourth, as you begin 2008 it is a great time to renew your group agreement. You’ll find small group agreements (or covenants) in the appendix of many studies today. Taking some time to walk through one with your group will give everyone a chance to refresh their commitment to the group values and the simple basics that make groups healthy.  Be sure and check out The Power of a Small Group Agreement for more on this idea.

Last, especially if you’re preparing to launch a new study, this can be a great chance to invite a few unconnected friends to join the group! Many people have already resolved that this is going to be the year that they work on building a few new relationships. Why not help them take the first step!

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

The Power of a Small Group Agreement

Ever play on a winning team?  Participate in a group that really came together and was somehow better together than any sum of the individuals ought to have been?  There’s something about that, isn’t there?  The whole concept of stacking hands and agreeing that in order to be the best we’re going to have to do it a certain way.

Here’s the thing…in the same way that team had had a way of doing things, your group can too. In fact, you do have a way…even if you don’t know it; even if you didn’t plan it!

Why not take advantage of the beginning of a new year to get your group talking about what’s next? And there’s no better way to do that than to pull out a small group agreement or covenant and talk through your hopes for the new year.

What should you talk about? Two basic ideas:

  • What are your values?
  • What are your expectations?

What Are Our Values?

When you’re working through the values of your group, we suggest that you talk about the following values:

  • Group Attendance: Even if my boss offers tickets to the big game, I know the group meeting has priority.
  • Safe Environment: Our members will feel loved and heard because there won’t be quick answers, snap judgments, or simple fixes.
  • Confidentiality: Obvious…but necessary. What happens in the group stays in the group.
  • Spiritual Health: The goal is not just attendance! It’s that over time we’d become more like Christ.
  • Inviting People: It’s not just us! We’ll be on the lookout for ways to include new people when appropriate.
  • Shared Ownership: Good groups involve the whole group in the action. Rotating facilitators, moving the meeting different group member’s homes, allowing everyone to play a role…these things predict a better group.
  • Spiritual Partners: No getting a round it, if there are more than three of us the path to growth comes through pairing up for accountability and encouragement. It may be a new practice…but it is a healthy one.

You may arrive at additional values.  There’s no magic list.  The key is to spend some time working on this if you want your group to be healthy.

What Are Our Expectations?

This is simpler…but just as important. These are the basic ingredients of our small group life.

  • When will we meet?  Not just the day but the time that we start and stop.  Agreeing on this is a big detail.  It allows our group to honor the value of group attendance.
  • What will we do about the kids?  Figuring out a childcare solution is an important key.
  • What will we eat?  It may not be all about the food, but agreeing on what we’ll eat can keep us on the right track.
  • Will we attend the same service?  Hanging out together, outside the meeting, goes a long way.

When Should You Have This Discussion?

When is the best time to have this discussion?  If you’re a new group there’s no time like the beginning.  It’ll get you off to a great start.  If you’ve been around for a while without an agreement you may want to ease into it.  Using a study that incorporates an agreement can provide the easiest first step.

Whether you’re brand new and want to get off to a great start or you’ve been around and need a little boost, a small group agreement can be a powerful tool for spiritual growth.  Why not take advantage of the season and put one to work?

Looking for a good resource that includes a small group agreement? Creating Community could be just the ticket.

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

Choosing Small Group Bible Study Material

You’re ready to get your group going…or you’re finishing the study you’re in right now…and you’re trying to figure out what to do next. We’re all here eventually.  Now what?  Let me give you a few suggestions.

First, don’t take a vote!  Especially when your group is new (within the first 6 months) taking a vote can lead to some unnecessary debate (and even disappointment when a nominated suggestion is not chosen).  Instead, think about the members of your group and based on recent discussions choose a study that will help your group mature.

Second, taking the Purpose Driven Health Assessment can help your group determine which of the 5 Biblical purposes might need strengthening.  A great way to use this resource is to have each member of your group take the assessment and then simply add up their scores in each area.  You’ll quickly see where you need help!

Third, make sure you’re choosing material that is easy to use and leads to application.  Learning about the Bible is fine.  Learning how to apply what you’re learning is really the point.  One thing I always look for is material that an average person can lead.  That means that it has a leader’s guide (preferably built-in) and is mostly about facilitating and not
teaching.  If you want an average person to be able to lead it, you’ll need to focus on facilitating discussion and not teaching.  At the same time, a discussion is much more engaging than a lecture to your members.

Last, many groups find that a DVD-driven study capitalizes on a gifted teacher and allows the group leader to focus on keeping the group engaged and cared for.   Be careful that the material you choose doesn’t require so much preparation that connecting with group members becomes an afterthought.

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

Essential Ingredients

In today’s post, Craig Groeschel points us to the fact that people stay at small churches for two reasons: they feel needed and known.  Also, people leave large churches (in spite of all the reasons that attract them) for two reasons: they don’t feel needed or known.


Here’s a drawing I often use to describe the situation.  The circle represents your total congregation.  The square, those who are connected in the sense that Groeschel talks about.  What needs to happen?  Figure out a way to help more people get into the square!

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008.  The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week).  Click here to check it out.

Exponential Outreach

Does who you invite to host a small group make a difference?  Clearly.  I’ve included a diagram that I hope will help you think through the question.  Take a look:

Here’s how to read it.  First, the circle represents your Easter or Christmas Eve attendance.  Most places that is the best attended service all year.  Even if you’re not a big outreach church, you’ll still have 130% of your average weekend.  If outreach is big for you, you’ll have much higher.  The other thing the circle represents is all (or at least more) of the adults that might be in your auditorium over the course of an average month.  If you’re like most of us, your people aren’t there every Sunday.  They come 2 or 3 times a month.

Second, the square represents all the people who are connected at your church.  That is, the ones who are already in a small group, a Sunday school class, serving in a ministry, etc.

In the example, there are 2000 adults in the Easter services and there are 500 adults who are connected.  We don’t know how many adults are there on average, but say lets say there are 1400.

Now, think about what happens when you invite someone from inside the square (connected) to host a small group.  If you ask them to invite their friends…who would they invite?  People from inside the square, right?  Isn’t that who their friends probably are?  Other people from inside the square?

What if you invite the people who are barely connected to host a small group?  Who are they likely to invite?  Other people in the circle?  I think it actually would be people outside the circle!  Think about that!  What if everyone you asked to host a group invited 8 of their friends to join the study?  And what if those 8 came from outside the circle?  Oh, you’d have all kinds of problems.  But they’d be really good problems!

Note: All 11 of the blog posts here are from 2008. The other 450+ are over at (where I add 3 to 5 new posts a week). Click here to check it out.

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