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Discipleship Through Coaching

I often recommend Jim Egli and Dwight Marble’s book, Small Groups, Big Impact (now on kindle, itunes, android). The authors conducted their research among three thousand small group leaders in twenty countries and wanted to know why some groups grow and why some cell churches do a better job than others. They discovered that growing small group-based churches prioritize prayer, practice pro-active coaching, and establish a culture of multiplication.

Yet, when all three of these activities were analyzed together, coaching was the key factor. Jim Egli writes, “Of all the questions on the survey, one emerged as most important. That question asks small group leaders: ‘My coach or pastor meets with me to personally encourage me as a leader.’ Leaders that respond with ‘often’ or ‘very often,’ have groups that are stronger in every health and growth measure!” (p. 57).

Most churches fail because they don’t see coaching as critical. They don’t prioritize coaching or take time to learn how to coach. They might even downplay the significance of coaching in their rush to start new groups. The research of Egli and Marble remind us that a healthy system of coaching keeps the cell church healthy and moving forward. Healthy cell churches disciple the disciple-makers.

It’s easy to start new groups. Some churches start dozens of them by promoting groups that last seven weeks, passing around a video in leaderless groups, or rapidly multiplying weak groups. Yet, very quickly those groups die or fade away. Why? Oftentimes the answer is that those groups lacked a coach or someone who served those leaders, listened to their needs, offered counsel, and cared for them over the long-haul.

So who should serve in the role of coach?

In a church plant or smaller church, the lead pastor does the lion’s share of the coaching. In fact, coaching the cell facilitators should be the main role of the lead pastor. He needs to do what it takes to ensure the cell group leaders are healthy spiritually, prioritizing their families, and leading the cell group teams effectively. In larger cell churches with more groups, the lead pastor will focus on those who are coaching other cell team leaders (Jethro principle).

The number of cell group leaders a coach should oversee varies from church to church, depending upon the vision of the church and the capacity of the coach. If the coach also leads a small group, I would say that the coach should not take on more than three leaders. If the coach doesn’t lead a small group, five is acceptable. When coaches care for more than five people, the quality suffers.

I encourage mother cell leaders to coach the daughter cell leaders from their own group, if the mother cell leader is willing. The reason is because a relationship already exists between mother and daughter leader. Like a mother caring for her children, the mother cell leader has a special affinity for the new team leader and will most likely take greater care in visiting and ensuring his or her success. However, sometimes the mother leader is not able to coach the daughter cell leader because of time constraints, desire, or coaching ability. In these cases, it’s best to assign a coach to the new team leader. The key is that each new leader has a coach who is praying, visiting, and serving the leader.

The best coaches have led and ideally multiplied cell groups. They are in the battle and have come from the cell system. Yet, not all leaders are great coaches. It’s like basketball, football, or any sport. The best players are not necessarily the best coaches and the best coaches possibly were mediocre players, because playing and coaching requires different skill sets.

I recommend at least once per month coaching meetings in a group context (the coach with all of those leaders he or she is coaching) and once per month one-on-one between leader and coach. The group context brings out common problems and encourages the leaders to interact with one another. Individual coaching helps the coach meet the deep personal needs with each leader (e.g., family, personal needs, job, and spiritual life).

During the month of May, we’ll be exploring different aspects of discipleship through coaching. We’ll answer questions like: “How do cell churches practically coach their leaders?” and “What are some key principles of coaching?” We will write twenty blogs on this topic in the month of May. We’ll cover:

Week 1 (May 04-10): introduction of discipleship through coaching. Coaching leaders is one of the major foundational building blocks in all cell churches. Coaching helps leaders become disciples. We blogged on this theme in August 2010, so please go back and look at what we wrote (sidebar on blog lists all past blogs).

Week 2 (May 11-17): coaching content is more important than the structure. This is why we use the term “discipleship through coaching.”Cell churches have become overly concerned about coaching structures  (5×5 or G12). Yet, the content or activity within the coaching is more important than how the coaching structure is set up. We will talk about some of the dangers of overly focus on one coaching model.

Week 3 (May 18-24): coaching principles. We need to remember that the goal of coaching is discipleship. Some of the principles that I highlight in my books are: receiving from God, listening, encouraging, caring, developing, strategizing, and challenging.

Week 4 (May 25-31): coaching over time. Coaching is not a temporary discipline. It’s an intricate part of the cell system. So how do churches strengthen coaching over time? Does the lead pastor need to be coached? Some ideas are books, seminars, visiting cell churches, and so forth.

What kind of discipleship coaching is taking place in your church? What have you learned that you’d like to share with others?