When I accepted the invitation to serve as the Community Life Pastor at a new church, I discovered a recurring piece of feedback after interviewing a couple hundred group leaders: "Please—no more training events!"
Part of the problem with ongoing training events is making it an "event." No matter which way you slice it, it is still a meeting that people have to add to their schedules and attend. That being the case, the excitement of training wears off pretty quickly.
In fact, I have found that church leaders are usually successful at getting group leaders to one or two initial training events, but then they need to add in more attractional elements to ensure satisfactory attendance. If it was snacks at first, it becomes a dinner. If it was a staff pastor speaking at the previous one, it is a special guest speaker at the next. If it was a mention in the bulletin the first time, it is a letter signed by the senior pastor, bulletin insert, mass email, and PowerPoint slide the next.
And still, not everyone comes. You know it, and so do the people who managed to make it to the training event—which subtly bums everyone out.
There are a couple reasons why many of the group leaders told me, "No more training events!" But mainly it was because the events added "another thing" to their schedule or because they lacked relevance. Fortunately, there are a few things I have learned to do with coaches that seem to be helping.
Make Groups of Leaders
First, I organize teams of coaches and group leaders on the basis of affinity, which makes any kind of skill-development exercise more relevant for the participants. This also encourages more peer coaching, which is healthier for the team overall. You want leaders to participate in their own (and each other's) skill development rather than being more of a passive recipient.
Second, I decentralize what we refer to as "training" and trust my coaches to deliver our church's DNA and make disciple-making disciples. If you are feeling like the training of your leaders has become drudgery, it probably means you are taking on too much and need to work through your coaches more.
DNA is transmitted through healthy leader-to-leader relationships. When the DNA is established with your coaches (those who train group leaders), then the stage is set for real leadership development to take place.
Decentralized gatherings are also advantageous because they are more …
- Engaging. Instead of center-out communication that could never hit the target for everyone at a larger gathering, you are inviting leaders to create the agenda and be involved in the development of others on their team.
- Interactive. Greater interactivity increases relevance for the participants.
- Accommodating. The scheduling is more personalized, which can help increase participation and the commitment for leaders to not only show-up, but really be there.
Have Some Fun
I encourage my coaches to prioritize food, fellowship, and fun over "training." Here's why:
- Most content and communications that you would deliver at an "event" can be sent as a resource via e-mail. Pull your leaders to your website for "training" content vs. pushing it through events. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." If you succeed at pulling people to your website for their personal skill development, you just accomplished another valuable goal: you have created a secondary platform for team-building.
- More is caught than taught. When coaches get their leaders together, it is an opportunity for them to really connect with them and love on them like Jesus would. Love promotes greater participation and buy-in.
- Most "training" happens through experience. Just-In-Time (or On-the-Job) training recognizes this. Besides, when leaders have needs, they like to talk about them rather than reading about them.
- Food fosters fellowship and team cohesion. Hasn't that been your experience?
Fourth, I suggest being creative and mixing it up. I have seen coaches gather their leaders on a pontoon and fellowship out on a lake, for a BBQ in a park, at a restaurant, and in a home with a potluck meal. Actions like these show you want to speak with your leaders rather than speaking to them.
So here is my bottom-line advice: Move to affinity-based coaching teams that conduct decentralized training in a relational way, drive leaders to your website (or utilize a social networking tool) to convey content and communications, and inspire your coaching team to build-up your leadership community together.
Sure, there is value to getting everybody together once or twice a year to celebrate what God has done, to show appreciation for your leadership, to share stories of life change, and to continue casting an Acts 2 type vision for reaching the world for Christ.
—Reid Smith is the Community Life pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of the 2orMore small-group leadership training and resource ministry.