3 Ways to Equip and Disciple Your Church’s “Coaches”

No pastor or leader can grow a church alone, so delegating is necessary, especially when building a small group ministry. Here’s how to do it effectively. | by Allen White

Clearly, you have more to do than you could or should be doing on your own. Whether you lead a team or work solo, as your small groups ministry grows, there is more to do than is humanly possible.

You have to multiply yourself for sure, and that means delegating. You have to pass things on to other capable folks, or else you will continue to feel like you are failing your leaders. In the worst case, you will burn yourself out.

Sharing the load is key, but is delegation actually demoralizing your leaders? Let’s find out.

  1. What are you delegating?

You can delegate ministry tasks, like calling to check in on group leaders, collecting reports, or visiting groups. This is how my church used to coach leaders.

Typically, the coaches attended the huddles that I led. The coaches visited groups, then turned in a report to me.

One coach gave me some feedback: “I feel like I’m your spy.” I had sent her on a mission to observe groups, then tell me what happened. She was my spy.

Later, she told me she was bored with coaching, and I thought, “Why is she bored?” Then it dawned on me.

I had delegated tasks, but not responsibility or authority. I told them what to do for me, then to report back. (Are you catching on to the problem here?)

The coaches couldn’t make decisions for the ministry. The coaches couldn’t call an audible to help a leader. They could gather data, but they couldn’t do anything with it.

This brand of coaching was disempowering and demoralizing. It looked like coaching. It was called coaching, but it did not train the people to lead.

  1. How can you empower others?

As you select capable people to coach others, give them broad flexibility so they can go about their coaching duties. This requires two things.

  • First, you have to recruit qualified people of good character whom you trust. That is quite a loaded sentence. This won’t happen overnight.
  • Second, build your coaching structure slowly. Observe your leaders to see which groups are producing what you want them to produce. Then, give them a trial run at coaching others. For instance, walk alongside a couple of new leaders for a six-week alignment series. If they do well, give them more. If they don’t, then thank them for “fulfilling” their commitment.
  • Third, give the coaches the responsibility for some leaders and groups, but don’t get too deep in the specifics of how to do it. A good general goal would be something like this: “Help the leaders and groups fulfill their purpose.”
  • Articulate the purpose for your groups. Then, meet with the coaches occasionally to hear what’s going on with the groups. In the beginning, you might meet with them frequently. After a while, you could pull back on the frequency of your meetings with them. But, of course, you’ll always be available “on call” in case something urgent occurs.
  1. Don’t recruit hirelings!

Jesus talked about hirelings in John 10:12-13: “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (NIV).

You want coaches to fulfill the role of a shepherd rather than a hireling. They should care about the people they are leading. They should know how to persevere, even when the work is hard.

In my experience, my dear friend, the “spy,” was treated as a hireling. She was working for me. She was reporting to me. She was taking direction from me. But I was holding her back. She wanted to be a shepherd to her group leaders, but I treated her like a hired hand.

  1. How can you effectively model leadership?

The best thing I ever did to support and coach small group leaders was to invite a group of capable leaders to lead the small group ministry WITH me.

Our small group ministry was growing rapidly. In fact, in a six-month period, we went from 30% participation in groups to 60% (on one day) to 125% of our average adult attendance in groups. It was a whirlwind. I needed help. I had already failed with my “spy,” so I needed a different approach.

The invitation went like this: “I don’t have all of this figured out, but if you would be willing to learn with me, I would love to have you on my team.”

Not only did they say, “Yes!” but this was by far the best group that I’ve ever been a part of. We met every Wednesday night for dinner because the small group ministry was growing so rapidly. We even traded off who brought the meal.

But here’s the biggest part, I promised that decisions for the small group ministry would only be made WITH THEM and during our Wednesday meeting. I did not make any decisions apart from them. We were a team because I shared the responsibility and authority of the small group ministry.

Now here’s the best part. When I left that church to coach pastors and churches, that team led the small group ministry for the next 12 months — without a small group pastor. Not only did they know what to do, they owned the responsibility of the small group ministry.

As John Maxwell says, “There is no success without a successor.”

  1. What are you waiting for?

I hope this doesn’t come across as a boastful article. It’s not meant to be. The humbling part for me is that it took me 12 years to figure this out! 12 years!! Please don’t take 12 years to do this in your church.

Are you partnering with others to lead your small group ministry? Or, has your church struggled with coaching in the past? Do you simply give your coaches tasks? Or do you give them responsibility and authority? Do your coaches feel like hirelings or shepherds?

Invest in your people and train them to lead. Your church’s health and growth may depend on it!

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