In case you’re checking in to the blog today for the first time this week you’re joining us after two days of my interview with Jim Egli, co-author of Small Groups Big Impact
Today he tells us what research, not his opinion or someone’s intuition has brought them to believe to be factual, has unearthed about the utilizing a coaching system. In my opinion, if you ignore this information you may miss one of the most important aspects of creating a healthy group ministry.
Rick: Over the past few years, when I’ve mentioned coaching to some small group pastors an unsettling silence fell over the room. When asked, some said that coaching was an old, unnecessary, and ineffective way to create effective leaders. What did your research reveal about coaching and coaching systems?
Jim: What I shared earlier in this interview all related to what makes small groups grow. But the second issue that Dwight and I probed was what differentiates thriving small group ministries from struggling and failing ones. The research revealed three pivotal factors in the churches that have long-term success with small groups. Those three factors are an atmosphere of prayer, an effective discipleship and leadership training system, and an active coaching system. The statistical analysis clearly showed that the most pivotal of these things is coaching.
Rick: Obviously, coaching wasn’t working for these small group pastors. From your interactions with small group pastors, what are some of the reasons you believe small group pastors are moving away from a coaching system?
Jim: I have served as a small group pastor for thirteen years, so I think I fully understand where other pastors are coming from. I know from experience that getting a great coaching system working is challenging and takes persistence and time. But the research showed that leaders who are actively coached have stronger prayer lives and significantly healthier groups. These groups in turn are more effective in bringing people to Christ, in enfolding new members, and in reproducing new leaders and groups.
Interestingly, our research confirmed the secular research on small groups. Very little scientific research has been done on Christian small groups but many studies have been done on small groups in settings like work, sports, and schools. In those settings, the research reveals the same thing—that the coaching and support of the group leaders is the most pivotal key to groups’ effectiveness.
Rick: Maybe the reason coaching isn’t working is because the small group pastor isn’t choosing the right people to be coaches. What do you believe is the criterion or requirements for a good coach?
Jim: This is one of the problems. Too often we make our best small group leaders coaches, but coaching requires different skills than leading a group and some of your best leader won’t make good coaches. It’s like sports, some of the best coaches were not outstanding players, and some outstanding players fail when they move from being a player to a coach.
I don’t think this is the primary problem, however. The main problem that I have seen is that churches appoint coaches but then they fail to train them and to support them. So you have great people in place, but they don’t know what they are supposed to do and they are left on their own to figure it out. Because they were never properly coached themselves, they have no model to fall back on.
Rick: What other words of wisdom would you give them about setting up and overseeing a healthy and effective coaching system?
Jim: The research showed that effective coaches do four things: they pray for their leaders, they meet with them personally to encourage them, they get their leaders together as a group to encourage and pray for one another, and they occasionally visit their groups.
Visiting the groups is not that pivotal. Because many churches have been overly focused on leaders conducting a great meeting, they think a coach’s main job is visiting groups and correcting how the meetings are led. If this is your concept of coaching, the leaders will resent the coaches and the coaches will hate their job!
The focus should be on prayer, encouragement, support and mutual problem-solving.