Staying Focused and Flexible with Small Group Coaching Templates

Some simple and memorable outlines that help guide a coaching conversation.

Have you ever completed a coaching session with a leader and felt like you could have made better use of the time you had together? Perhaps the meeting was "all business" and you never really connected with the leader personally. You may have had a great conversation about what has been happening in the group, but did not really plan any specific action steps for the future.

When it comes to coaching, I am a big fan of "coaching templates" — simple and memorable outlines that help guide a coaching conversation. Templates provide focus to the one-on-one meetings that you have with your leaders, but still allow flexibility and spontaneity in your times together.

The 6 R's of Coaching

One of my favorite coaching templates comes from Bob Logan & Sherilyn Carlton, authors of Coaching 101, published by ChurchSmart Resources. Logan and Carlton use the letter "R" as a memory peg for their coaching template.

The first R is Relate. This reminds us that our job as coaches is about more than the small group. It is also about the small group leader as a person and as a child of God. A good coaching session starts with questions that help build a relationship between you and the leader. This is a great time to ask about things like family, work, and recreation. It is also a great time to follow up on prayer requests from the last coaching session and to find out how the leader is doing personally in their walk with God.

The second R is Reflect. The less frequently you meet, the more important this step is. Reflecting reminds both the coach and the leader of what has transpired since their last conversation. This is a helpful reminder of how God has been at work in the life of the leader and in the group, particularly for those visionary leaders who are always looking forward. Take some time here to celebrate the successes as well as to remember the challenges!

Next is Refocus. Coaching involves more than sharing personal and ministry stories (and the time can really fly as we engage in story sharing!). In our congregation, we constantly talk about taking our "next step" toward God. As a coach, you are there as a trail guide to help your leaders take that step. At some point in the conversation, it will be necessary to refocus the conversation from the past towards the present and the future. (For ideas on refocusing, see the GROW template below.)

The next R stands for Resource. Today we are blessed with a huge wealth of resources that can help small group leaders with the challenges they face. (One of the best resources, of course, is!). When recommending a resource to a leader, pay attention to their preferred learning style. I personally love to read, but many of the leaders in my church are not wired that way. They would do just about anything to avoid reading a book but love to listen to CDs or MP3s. Still other leaders prefer hands-on mentoring — they would rather have someone show them how to do something, either one-on-one or at a class or seminar. As a coach, you will want to begin putting together a toolbox full of resources to help your leaders and groups grow. And remember, you should be providing resources to help your leaders grow as a people (spiritual formation) and not just as leaders (ministry skills).

Finally, close the meeting with a Review. Go back over the things that you have discussed. Write down prayer requests, action plans, and resource suggestions. Finally, set a date and time for the next meeting. The goal of this segment is to make sure that the two of you are on the same page when you finish your time together.

One last thought: while I often use this template with my leaders, I do not often share the template with them. Some people are averse to that kind of structure. I find that keeping the template invisible leads to better conversations with my leaders. (If you are training a future coach, you will definitely want them to see this template.)

Helping Your Leaders GROW

The six-R model provides a great outline for a coaching conversation, but it does not provide specific directions for helping a leader take his or her next step toward God. To do that, you will need an action-oriented approach.

One approach that I really like uses an acronym based on the word GROW. This template is very helpful when you want to help a leader make a specific action plan for his or her group or team. It works very well in the refocus time described above.

  • G stands for Goal: What is the specific goal or objective that you and the leader have agreed upon?

  • R stands for Reality: What is the current reality?

  • O is for Options: What options do you have in moving towards your goal?

  • W stands for Will: Which of the various options will you select in order to move from current reality to your goal?

What does the GROW template look like in action? Let us say that you and your leader have decided that developing an apprentice leader is the next step for the group—that would be your goal. The more specific the goal, the easier it will be to measure progress. A better goal might be to identify one or more potential apprentice leaders in your group and begin your apprenticing process with those people between now and your next coaching appointment. That is a goal that is specific, measurable, and time-bound.

As a coach, you would then help your leader take a look at the current reality: Who are the rising leaders in the group? Who handles current assignments faithfully and responsibly? Who has the availability and passion to serve in such a way? What kind of training and/or modeling have they had so far? All of those questions help define the current reality.

Next you would look at options: Is there more than one leader with the potential to be an apprentice? What kinds of things could you do to help this leader begin to develop into an apprentice (e.g., lead the next discussion time or prayer time; meet with them and ask them to serve in this role; send them to a small group leader orientation, etc.)

Finally, you would decide together which of these options the leader will pursue. This would be something like, "I will have this person lead the discussion time in our group at least twice between now and our next coaching appointment, and I will meet with him or her after each of these times to give feedback and encouragement."

The next time you get together with this leader, you can use the Review time to discuss their progress on their goals. I do share the GROW template with my leaders. It helps them to have a framework to do this kind of action planning on their own.

These are just a few of the coaching templates that I have found helpful in my own role as a coach. I would encourage you to build a personal library of coaching templates to help you grow in your skills as a coach.

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