Consulting and Coaching for Small Group Ministries

Category: Small Group Strategy

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.

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!

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.