Note: This article is excerpted from our training tool Develop Your Ministry Team.
As we lead our teams of small-group coaches and leaders, it’s always important to keep the idea of “team” at the center. We can choose to let them be just a group of individuals―each carrying out their own tasks and checking in with us as needed―or, we can choose to develop them as a team. Creating a true team-based culture will make everyone more effective, help build strong friendships between team members, help you as the coach or director invest in them better, and make doing ministry together much more fun!
We see the idea of team development play out repeatedly in Jesus’ ministry. He was never out just “doing the work of ministry” with his disciples. Instead, he was always investing in them and focusing on the relationships they had with him and with each other. We read stories throughout the Gospels of Jesus attending weddings with the disciples, grilling fish on the beach with them, going on sailing trips together, hanging out in people’s homes together, attending parties together, spending time with large crowds, small groups, and even children, and lots more. Jesus is a brilliant model for us!
So how do we intentionally create strong teams with the groups of people we are leading? Since we are all wired uniquely as leaders―and so are they― there is no single, magical formula to accomplish this. There are many practical applications, however, that you can try in order to determine what works best with your team.
One great way to develop your team beyond the requisite tasks is to go on a learning journey together. There are endless options of excellent books you could choose to read together as a team, and then discuss in team meetings. You can choose books specifically about small-group ministry (e.g., The Seven Deadly Sins of Small Group Ministry), or about leadership in general (e.g., Next Generation Leader), or ones that spur spiritual growth (e.g., The Life You’ve Always Wanted), or even just ones that offer a unique spiritual perspective (e.g., Blue Like Jazz).
I recently chose to lead my team through an Enneagram self-assessment study together with an accompanying book, The Road Back to You, which walks the reader through understanding each of nine interconnected personality types. We covered this book over a few months in our meetings, and it dramatically helped each team member understand how God wired them and the other team members. This knowledge has added invaluably to our team chemistry while creating healthy dynamics as we solve problems and lead together.
If you don’t want to take on an entire book, you can also look for helpful online articles, blog posts, and even TED Talks. Send these to your team to review prior to your next meeting, so you can discuss, debate, and digest them together. Consistently giving your team resources like these is already an incredible investment in their personal development. Adding the dynamic of discussing and applying these concepts and ideals as a team makes it even more impactful.
When you make your team fun, you also make it irresistible. Others will want to join your team, and those on it will not want to leave. Having fun together keeps everyone energized for the hard work of ministry―and it further demonstrates you care more about them as people than simply getting tasks done.
So what’s the best way to play together as a team? That will be up to you to discover. You understand the unique dynamics, interests, and passions of your team. You know what opportunities are available where you live. With teams I have led, we have enjoyed going to the movie theater, miniature golf, and go-karts. We’ve also had parties at my house, gone to arcades, organized picnics, and more. Have fun with it!
In instances where you’re able, it can be incredibly honoring to your team if you pay for the outing, too―or for most of it― rather than adding a financial burden to them. Remember, it does not have to be an elaborate, expensive day out. One week I realized the team was feeling pretty worn out, so I waited until they showed up for the team meeting, and then told them we were canceling it, and going to get ice cream together. It was the best 30 dollars I have spent! They had a blast, and greatly appreciated the break. I have also invited the team over to watch the Super Bowl at my house, and ended team meetings a little early just so we could play around outside together―more low-cost options! There are countless ways to create fun together, so just try something!
Creating a team culture requires meeting together, and there are endless possibilities regarding what can be done within those meetings―beyond just covering important topics and tasks―to improve your team culture. One great practice is to begin every meeting with the simple question, “Where are we winning?” I start every meeting this way. I want the team to have the opportunity to share the exciting work they are witnessing God do in their own groups and teams―and I want the rest of the team to be able to cheer them on for it, celebrate them, and affirm them. Sometimes I will mix it up, asking the variation, “Where are you winning in your personal life?” This gives them the chance to celebrate something personal and non-work-related―which also ends up bonding the team together as they learn more about each other’s personal lives.
It is equally as powerful to go to the other end of the spectrum with this by asking, “What can we be in prayer for you about?” This gives team members the opportunity to share any struggles they are having in ministry or in their personal lives―knowing the whole team is listening, cares, and will pray for them. This can create some very powerful moments in team meetings. I typically like to ask this at the end of the meeting, so we ensure we have the tasks covered, then focus on personal concerns, and leave on the note of sharing and praying. Admittedly, I have to create time and space in the meetings for this, or it won’t happen.
You can also add some simple fun and honoring of your team members in meetings by bringing snacks to a meeting―homemade or store-bought, both are appreciated! You can text them and ask for their coffee orders beforehand and bring their order to the meeting. I used to throw mini candy bars to each person as they shared their win―it made sharing fun, gave them some extra sugar during the meeting, and offered another reason to speak up and share their win. Good humor always works, so consider opening your meeting with a funny video you found online that week, or whatever creative ideas you may have to set the tone from the start.
Creating this kind of healthy team culture can dramatically change your team’s effectiveness, chemistry, and enjoyment, but it does take thoughtful intentionality―all well worth it. Here are a few important points to be intentional about creating within your team:
Your team―like a small group―needs to know that whether one-on-one with you, or in team meetings, it is always a safe environment to share what is going on. Do not take entrusted information they share to use in sermons, or tell it to other staff members. Regularly remind your team about the dangers of gossip and the importance of privacy.
Even though I’ve shared several activities to do together as a team to create positive group dynamics, it ultimately will not work unless there is a personal investment in each team member. Figure out what rhythm you can have using one-one-one meetings with each person consistently―and remember to keep those meetings confidential. This will help you better create and cultivate the dynamics that fit your team―and it will help them feel much more invested.
As those who have served in the military know, if you are going to be in the trenches together, you have to know everyone on the team has each other’s back. I try to remind my teams consistently of that idea. Whether it is a tough situation you are dealing with, or you need help recruiting, or someone needs help in the moment at a weekend service―any of us are willing to jump in immediately to help. We do not use the phrase, “that’s not my area.” As a team, every area is our area. So create a culture where everyone knows that everyone else has his or her back—that becomes a powerful team dynamic!
Creating a positive, affirming team experience is something people will remember for the rest of their lives, and it can leave a lasting legacy with them. Seek God first as you seek to create this, and he will work powerfully in and through your team!
—Carter Moss is a Campus Pastor and Life Groups Director for Newbreak Church, a large multi-site church in San Diego, and an advisor for SmallGroups.com.