I know many churches only coach their newest leaders and feel that once leaders gain enough experience, they're self-sufficient. While this may be true in a practical sense, we feel that even our best leaders still need coaching to reach their full potential. Even Dave Ferguson, our lead pastor, still wants to be coached as he leads a small group because he recognizes the power of a skilled coach to enable him to grow in his small-group leadership.
Our coaches connect with up to five small-group leaders in their span of care. If a coach also leads a group, we only assign two or three leaders to his or her care. Coaches meet with their leaders at least once a month. In addition, they gather as a whole coaching group at our monthly Leadership Community gatherings.
New Leaders Through Apprenticing
Our most effective coaches become coaches by being small-group leaders and apprenticing a leader and continuing to meet with the leader as he or she starts a new group. Our small-group leaders are always actively looking to develop an apprentice.
To help small-group leaders find apprentices, we coach them to look for people who have three must-have qualities: spiritual velocity, teachability, and relational intelligence. Spiritual velocity refers to the direction in which a person is moving spiritually. We want to reproduce the velocity of a person moving toward Christ rather than that of a person who is in a slow fade away from Christ. Second, remaining in a posture of teachability is crucial for all of our leaders. We actively develop the teachability in our apprentices by asking for feedback and modeling how to receive feedback. Third, our leaders look for people who have the relational intelligence to lead. This shows up in a person who knows his or her strengths and weaknesses and owns his or her story. It also shows up in a person's ability to connect well with others and recognize others' potential.
When leaders see someone who has these three qualities, they pull the person aside to have what we call an "ICNU" (I see in you) conversation. The leader tells the person where he or she sees God at work in the person's life, and the potential leader is invited to a three-week experience called Explore Small Group Leadership. This is led by one of our directors, and we work through our book, Developing a Group Leader. Then the potential leader is invited to become an apprentice. Apprentices go through a process with their small-group leader that both develops them as disciples and trains them to lead a small group. We invite all of our leaders—including our apprentices—to our monthly Leadership Community gatherings where we provide a strong regimen of training.
In-House Group Studies
One of the ways we've made groups easy to reproduce is providing Big Idea Discussion Guides for small-group leaders. These are sermon-based studies that have an extra discussion guide that can be used for the development of an apprentice, or to go deeper with a group of two or three within a small group.
While we allow our leaders to choose their own study, the vast majority use the Big Idea Guides. We put a lot of time and effort into the guides, and we highly encourage new leaders to use them. We've found that the guides are helpful for several reasons.
First, we're able to drive application of the weekend message. It's one thing to hear great teaching and another to live it out. We believe Jesus is more concerned that we live out what we hear, so the Big Idea Discussion Guide is designed to give everyone an opportunity to wrestle with the teaching and apply it with accountability from group members. In addition, our Big Idea Discussion Guides are very reproducible and easy for new group leaders to take and run with, especially when a leader has an apprentice. Reproducing is a high value for us, so the Big Idea Guides help that happen more smoothly.