The Best Small Group Coaching Resources

Every small group needs a coach to be healthy, grow, bear fruit, and eventually reproduce themselves.

I have tried every coaching model and system I could find, and I made up some of my own along the way. Several times I totally eliminated my whole coaching structure and started over with something new. All I wanted was something that actually worked with voluntary leaders and didn’t take up most of my time.

Along the way I’ve found 5 great resources I’ve used together to develop and lead a working coaching strategy. Here they are and how I used them. (I’ve linked each of these resources—the first four to Amazon—so you can check them out or purchase them yourself.)

Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders: A Comprehensive Guide for Developing Leaders of Groups and Teams

By Bill Donahue and Greg Bowman

I used this book as a resource for training the coaches under my care and I also gave it to directors who also oversaw coaches. It’s the most comprehensive of the coaching resources and will provide you plenty of material for developing your coaches, continually training them, and resourcing them.

A Pocket Guide to Coaching Small Groups: Befriending Leaders and Helping Groups Produce Fruit

By Randall G. Neighbour

I bought these little books by the dozens and gave one to each coach. This book is (intentionally) concise, an easy read, simple to implement, and Christ-centered. Because of the book’s size, readability, and practicality, I knew I could get my coaches to read it, and when they did, they took more ownership in the process.

 

How to Be a Great Cell Group Coach: Practical Insight for Supporting and Mentoring Cell Group Leaders

By Joel Comiskey

I’ve used this book as an additional resource for equipping and continuing to develop my coaches. I used many of the very practical strategies, ideas, and tips throughout the book, conveniently placed in call-out boxes on almost every page. I’ve also quoted Comiskey quite a bit from this book. Often, when I’d meet with my coaches—either together in coach clinics or one on one—I’d use material from Comiskey’s book.

 

Ordering Your Private World

By Gordon MacDonold

Why is this book on a list with coaching resources? Because I gave one to each of my coaches. I considered this a big investment in these vital people in our small group ministry. This book was life-changing for me and I knew it could be the same for them. Truth is, if the private worlds of my coaches were disordered, I couldn’t expect much from them in coaching our leaders and groups. My prayer and plan was that upon reading this book, my coaches would begin to naturally overflow God’s wisdom and power out of a well-ordered heart. I also used parts of this book in my one-on-one meetings with coaches.

 

Steve Gladen on Saddleback’s Coaching Strategy: PART 1 / PART 2

As I was experimenting with different strategies, I realized—and even wrote about the fact—that different leaders needed different types and levels of coaching. (Some leaders thought they didn’t need any coaching at all, but I still wanted to care for and support them.) About that same time I came across two short articles on ChurchLeaders.com in which Mark Howell interviewed Steve Gladen about his coaching strategy at Saddleback. From these articles, I then developed a system that really worked for us. It looked like this:

PROACTIVE CARE

New Leaders/Groups or Unhealthy Leaders/Groups: Priority Care
(Ratio – ~1-3 leaders : 1 Coach)
New Leaders are full of questions and unsure of themselves; Unhealthy groups are off track in one or more of our 7 Vital Signs of a Healthy Group and need help getting back to health – Stay in close contact and give all the support they need: meet with leader, visit group, phone calls, emails, etc.

Seasoned Leaders/Groups: Personal Care
(~3-5 : 1)
Excited, ready for direction and encouragement, good enough to be dangerous! – Coach them how to be a healthy, Christ-centered, disciple-making group.

 

REACTIVE CARE

Veteran Leaders/Groups: Phone Care
(~10-15 : 1)
Know what they are doing but not immune to conflicts and issues – Touch base regularly though email, phone calls, texts, or Facebook; let the leader tell you which.

Stubborn Leaders/Groups: Supportive Care
(~25-30 : 1. We asked some older folks who had been in groups to keep in touch with them.)
Been at this for a while; they may say they don’t need to be coached, but still want to know where to go when issues arise – Leave them alone for the most part; leave a voice mail about once a month and offer prayer for them.

Small Group Coaching & the 10-20-70 Model

As I coach and consult with small group point leaders and churches, I’m finding that coaching leaders is (still) a struggle for many. At the same time, I partner with several organizations that deal with coaching business leaders, and I’m applying what I’m learning in that environment to small group and church ministry.

Over the next several posts, I’ll share a few of the things I’m learning. Today, I want to discuss the 10-20-70 model of leadership development and how it relates to coaching.

I work in collaboration with with a worldwide organization called Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. It’s founder, Marshall Goldsmith, recently shared a brief (less than a minute and a half) video about this 10-20-70 model and how it relates to business coaching, which you can watch here.

In the 10-20-70 model (often referred to as the 70-20-10 model for learning and development),

  • 10% of real leadership equipping happens in formal, content-centered settings (usually upfront)
  • 20% occurs as a person interacts with others (coaching)
  • 70% comes from job-related experience

My experience leading volunteers in churches, especially in small group ministries, bears this out. And yet, in the past, anyway, many leaders have put more emphasis on up-front content-centered training than the other two areas. Experience, however, points to on-the-job experience being the best trainer. That’s why Jesus carried out his ministry as he did, I suspect, sending out the newly chosen apostles soon after choosing them as such.

Let’s look at the numbers (and bear in mind that these numbers are not precise; I’m sure the percentages vary from one situation to another). What’s the best way for small group point leaders to utilize each of these areas? Here are my suggestions from my experience and research:

10% “Formal” Equipping — I think this must include some amount of vision casting and focus on the mission of the groups. Leaders need to be able to answer the why and what questions. That’s why Jesus told the disciples up-front why he was calling them and what they would become. It’s why Jesus reiterated the vision and mission before his ascension.

I would seek to answer these basic questions in this part of the training:

  • What is a small group at our church?
  • Why do we need them?
  • What is the goal?
  • What is a leader (or host or facilitator, etc.)?
  • Why is this role important?
  • How do we do groups? (These are your small group values.)

The other part of this equipping must be some kind of basic primer on how to lead a group. This can be done via online videos, for instance, but new leaders need to know at least the fundamentals of how a healthy group operates.

20% Coaching — As Goldsmith points out, this is the vital bridge between the other two types of leadership development. The coach:

  1. reminds and helps the new leader apply the upfront equipping
  2. ensures that the leader really is continuing to learn from the on-the-job experience

The coach uses good questions to accomplish #2, asking both general and some specific questions about the people, the meetings, the outcomes, etc. (I’ll talk in future posts about who these coaches are and what their roles are.)

70% OTJ Experience — Of course, this experience can be provided through intentional apprenticeship, sharing leadership as part of a Core Team, or in a Turbo Group (a group in which everyone is considered a leader-in-training and an intentional plan is in place for them to get experience and then step out to launch their own groups). I’ve used all of these.

I’ve spoken with point leaders who are using a different strategy, and I’m waiting to see how it works. Groups are started with a Host, with a very intentional track to become a Facilitator and then a Shepherd-Leader (think of this as a leadership ladder). The on-the-job experience (just-in-time training) is placed up-front and the experience is made safer by providing every resource these hosts need to succeed. They are also provided some sort of coaching (huddles, for instance) and, along the way, some content-centered training.

The important thing to note, I believe, is how vital the coaching element is to make this succeed. In forthcoming posts I’ll discuss some creative coaching ideas and seek to make coaching more simple and yet more effective than you ever thought it could be.

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