In his classic work, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, John Maxwell teaches that "Knowing how to lead is only half the battle. Understanding leadership and actually leading are two different activities." Your small-group ministry rises and falls on your leadership. But just understanding leadership isn't enough. Leading is about relationships, and relationships rise and fall on communication. So if you want to move your leadership from something you know to something you actually do, you have to communicate well.
Effective communication is two-way. We could talk about the different messages a small-group pastor needs to communicate and the various ways he or she could communicate them, including social media. However, I want to tackle something much more difficult. I want to look at the issue of getting feedback from leaders on a weekly basis. Listening to your leaders and knowing their hearts will make you a better leader. It will also help you craft the e-mails, training, and curriculum they really need. I am convinced that weekly feedback is essential for excellence in small-group communication and leadership.
Trial by Error
I have been working on communication within small-group ministries for over two decades. When I started, I loved the idea of weekly communication with my group leaders, and I had weekly meetings with them for several years. Those were great days for relationship building and laying the foundation of the ministry. However, over time my leaders gained competency and familiarity with our vision and values. I felt the value of those weekly times began to wane. It became a major task to get people to come. For a while I added various guilt techniques to get them there. I realize now, that wasn't the right thing to do. Something had to change.
I moved our meetings to monthly gatherings and added coaching huddles in between meetings. This took the leaders down to two meetings per month and empowered a new level of coaching leadership and relationships. I really like the model of mixing coaching huddles (or clusters) and larger group meetings for building relationships with leaders. However, due to busy schedules and lifestyles, I eventually revised this and held large-group leader meetings four times a year, letting the monthly coaching huddles tackle the everyday needs of leaders. We made a big deal out of these four larger events and had a blast with them.
But because my weekly communication had changed, so had my relationship with the leaders. I wasn't getting feedback from them like I used to, and frankly, I'm not sure I was leading them as well. The larger a ministry grows, the more important it is to multiply relationships and bring other volunteers alongside to coach or shepherd leaders, but does this mean that weekly feedback from leaders should go the way of the cassette player? The "genius of the and" that Jim Collins introduces in Built to Last, challenges us to creatively engage seemingly polar opposite sides of an issue to figure out how they can actually work together. So I began to wonder, What if we could multiply ministry and listen to leaders better at the same time?
I took into account that leaders are busy, and that each of us has the capacity to genuinely care for and disciple at most 10 or 12 people. As I came to terms with that reality, I saw the beauty of the principle of multiplication and began looking for ways to invest in leaders so they could invest in others. This was when 2 Timothy 2:2 came alive for me! I started eating lunch with my coaches on a regular basis, intentionally investing in them at those meetings. They, in turn, met with a small group of leaders regularly. Regular communication felt natural again.