4  |  Review  Your  Results

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem[b] on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Deuteronomy 6:4-9


Building on relationships of care and trust, the next step in the cHaNGe process, highlighting, is about identifying the most pressing issues facing a congregation. one of the most important roles of a leader who is coaching change in a congregation is to help the congregation focus on what matters most.

One benefit of having coaches in our lives is that they bring out our very best. in fact, most of us already have at least two “coaches” in our lives whom we gladly pay to uncover our blind spots, give us a reality check, and direct our attention to the most pressing concerns. i see my dentist twice a year to make sure that i have healthy gums and no cavities. i see my financial planner who helps me save more, spend less, and invest wisely. a former colleague of mine and pastor checks in with me each month about my  devotional life, asking “How is it with your soul?” These coaches help define reality for me and are willing to walk alongside me. i often wonder how Tiger Woods’s life might have been different if he had had a marriage coach in addition to a golfing coach.

This chapter will provide tools and approaches that pastors and lay leaders can use for identifying a congregation’s most pressing issues related to purpose, alignment, and execution. Specifically, this highlighting process focuses on a congregation’s purpose by assessing its mission and vision:
  • Mission: What is the primary function of the congregation?
  • Vision: is there clarity about God’s preferred future for our congregation?
  • Values: The highlighting process focuses on a congregation’s alignment by assessing its strategies, values, and beliefs:
  • • Strategies: What are the primary pathways used to fulfill its mission and vision? • Values: What does the congregation deem most important?
  • • Beliefs: What beliefs and assumptions frame its ministry perspective?
  • The highlighting process focuses on a congregation’s execution by assessing its trends and trajectory, life cycle, capacities, and readiness for change:
  • • Trends and trajectory: What changes are occurring within the congregation and how are these changes influencing its capacity to execute its mission?
  • • Life cycle: Where in the life cycle is the organization and how does that frame its ministry perspective?
  • • capacities: does the congregation’s structure, staffing, resources, and language and programmatic pathways directly support the fulfillment of its mission and vision?
  • • readiness for change: does the congregation’s governance have
  • the will and leadership capacities to initiate change?
 A good vision statement provides a clear picture of God’s preferred future for your congregation.
The results of the assessment of these critical themes will help reveal the most pressing issues facing the congregation and will set the stage for realignment and goal setting. if your congregation currently uses a Policy-Based Governance model, you most likely will already have clearly identified ends (missions and vision) and means. To learn more about this method of gover- nance, download the Policy-Based overview form found in the downloads section of

Assessing Governance
One of the first things to look for when assessing a congregation as part of the cHaNGe process is how well the leaders frame the congregation’s ends and means through defining its mission, vision, values, and governing policies. The mission statement defines the purpose and nature of the organization and answers the question “Why do we exist?” a good mission statement serves as a bull’s eye— a reminder of what everyone is aiming for. it needs to be clear and compelling. ideally, it should be short enough to fit on a T-shirt and could be repeated by members at gunpoint. a good mission statement serves as the ultimate measuring stick for a congrega- tion. The importance and effectiveness of all programs and ministries should be evaluated through the lens of how success-
ful they are in fulfilling the congregation’s mission. When assessing a congregation’s mission statement, i seek to discover answers to the following questions:
  • are most members aware of the congregation’s mission statement? can they recite it to others?
  • do they understand how the mission statement informs what the congregation does and how it goes about making decisions?
  • is there buy-in from members? are they committed to fulfilling the mission?
  • do the words and actions of the congregation reflect its mission?

Every congregation needs its own “I Have a Dream” speech.
a good vision statement provides a clear picture of God’s preferred future for a congregation set in the context of its mission. it describes how a congregation will uniquely carry out its mission. many congregations create a phrase or tagline to describe God’s vision for their congregation while other congregations may write a short narra- tive of how their congregation would look if God’s preferred future were realized. There are five things i look for when assessing a congregation’s vision:
  • • Are leaders passionate about the vision? do they talk about it? are they energized by it? do they help others understand it and embrace it? Please note that there must be a balance between passion and vision—too much passion without enough vision is confusing and stressful; too much vision without passion can be bland and disempowering.
  • Does the vision reflect the totality of the congregation’s purpose, passion, people, and priorities?
  • • is the vision linked to the existing assets and activities of the congregation?
  • • is the vision sufficiently compelling so that people are willing to make sacrifices to
  • realize the vision?
  • • Was the process of creating the vision a spiritual one that focused on discerning God’s preferred future?

When assessing a congregation’s vision, we at Vibrant faith ministries find that very few congregations have a clear picture of God’s preferred future for them, primarily because the majority of congregational leaders’ conversations are focused on the present and the past rather than discerning God’s preferred future. This is a difficult pattern to break unless congregational leaders view themselves as spiritual elders who prayerfully attend to what God is up to in their lives and congregation. We have found that our coaches usually need to train leaders how to orient their conversations toward spiritual discernment and being forward thinking before they can begin to discern God’s future for their congregation.
during on-site visits, Vibrant faith ministries coaches will frequently ask paid staff members to recite their congregation’s mission statement and we find that very few can muster an adequate response. When coaching leadership teams, we often provide leaders a blank three- by five-inch index card and ask them to write down the congre- gation’s mission statement to the best of their ability. The assignment immediately raises the blood pressure for half of the group. about a third of the participants can mention a word or phrase related to the statement. about 10 percent can recite the actual statement and another 10 percent will ask, “do we have one?” When we ask congrega- tional leaders about God’s preferred future for their congregation the most frequent response we get is, “i’ve never thought about that.”
an activity i frequently do with leaders is to ask what they would tell a visitor their congregation is about and i have them write that down. Some of the responses i received the last time i did this exercise included “We have a tremendous music pro- gram here!”; “We have great social programs for seniors”; and my favorite, “We’re known for our annual Lutefisk dinner!” i had to remind myself that i was meeting with christian leaders from a congregation, not leaders from a local community center.
Listed below are the “Top Twelve” questions i ask leaders in order to learn more about a congregation’s purpose:

1 |  How would your people and your community be different if our congregation ceased to exist?
2 |  In what ways are you helping people to “go . . . and make disciples” (matt. 28:19)?
3 |  In what ways are you helping people love God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength (deut. 6:4-9)?
4 |  In what ways are you helping people love their neighbors as themselves (mark 12:28-31)?
5 |  What do you consider to be the primary purpose of your congregation?
6 |  What expectations does your congregation have of people choosing to be members?
7 |  In what ways has the congregation helped you grow spiritually in the past two years?
8 |  What do you hope people will experience when visiting your congregation?
9|  If you had to move to out of the area, what would you miss most about your congregation?
10 |  When’s the last time you invited a friend, neighbor, or work colleague to your congregation? What were you inviting them to?
11 | When’s the last time you had conversation with a friend, neighbor, or work colleague where God was the subject of your conversation?
12 | How do you envision this congregation fulfilling its mission five years from now?

What will you still be doing? What will you have quit doing? What new things might you be doing in the future?

Assessing Strategy
We find that most congregations we work with have mission and vision statements that address the following four questions:
1 |  Who is Jesus?
2 |  What does Jesus do for us?
3 |  What is Jesus calling us to do for the sake of the gospel?
4 |  How do we help each other live like Jesus every day, everywhere?

These questions get at the essence of what it means to experience Jesus and to be a lifelong follower of christ.

Developing Strategic Pathways
one of the most significant challenges Vibrant faith ministries coaches see in congrega- tions, however, is the disconnect between their mission and vision statements and the programs, ministries, and activities they offer. These offerings should provide pathways for helping people fulfill their mission and address the four questions above, but we find that most programs and ministries are launched with little regard to how they align with helping fulfill the congregation’s mission and vision. for example, congregations could offer specific programs, ministries, and mentoring opportunities to introducing people to who Jesus is and what Jesus did and does for us. congregations could help people discern what Jesus is calling them to do for the sake of the gospel by offering spiritual gifts courses, connecting people with spiritual directors, and providing books and online resources related to vocation. congregations could help people live like Jesus by teach- ing them how to practice faith every day, everywhere.
congregations that work with Vibrant faith ministries learn the four Keys for practicing faith. They learn how to have caring conversations where life and faith stories are shared at home, at work, in our cars, and in our congregations. They are shown how to practice devotions, learning how to worship, pray, read, and reflect on the Scriptures and to share their faith story. They are equipped to deploy their gifts in service to their family, their congregation, and their communities. and finally, they learn how to celebrate the rituals and traditions in life through the lens of faith.

We also coach leaders to assess how these pathways honor the various settings in which a person might engage these core questions. for example, how does the congre- gation help people form faith and follow Jesus
  • on their own?
  • at home?
  • in small groups?
  • in large groups?
  • in the congregation?
  • in the community and the world?
it’s rare that we find a congregation that has determined strategic pathways for meeting people where they’re at in their faith journey and walking alongside them to become lifelong aaa christians who have a mature and abiding faith. one of the questions Vibrant faith ministries coaches usually ask pastors and lay leaders is, “What does a mature christian look like? That is, what do they believe, value, and practice? Below is a list of indicators from Search institute that suggest what spiritual maturity looks like for an individual.

The spiritually mature person
• seeks spiritual growth. alone and with others, he pursues questions, guidance, and commitment through conversation, study of faith, reading the Bible, prayer, small groups, and retreats.
• possesses a vital faith. She is keenly aware of God being present and active in her own life and the lives of others.
• practices faith. He actively practices faith in Jesus christ, privately and publicly, through regular attendance at worship, participation in ministry, and leadership in the congregation.
• makes the Christian faith a way of life. She recognizes God’s call and integrates her beliefs into the conversation, decisions, and actions of daily life.
• lives a life of service. He is involved in activities that care for others and address injustice and immorality.
• reaches out to others. She reaches out to others who are different or in need through prayer, hospitality, conversation, and support.
• exercises moral responsibility. He lives with integrity, utilizing faith in making considered moral decisions.
• speaks publicly about faith. She speaks openly about Jesus christ and God’s participation in her own life and the life of the world.
• possesses a positive spirit. He reflects loving and hopeful attitudes toward others and life.

What’s your scorecard for measuring a maturing faith in Jesus Christ?
What criteria do you use to determine how well people in your congregation are forming faith and following Jesus? To measure spiritual vitality in a congregation, a faith formation or ministry scorecard is needed. consider using Tool 8, “indicators of a mature faith,” to help people assess their spiritual vitality and explore next steps in their faith journey. “check Your ministry Pulse,” Tool 9, is another simple, user-friendly assessment tool that can give a glimpse of how well a congregation is aligning its activities with forming faith in people’s lives.

        Strategic Alignment of Core Values
Programs and ministries should not only support the fulfillment of the congregation’s mission and vision, they should also reflect the congregation’s core values. Leaders coaching the cHaNGe process assess the significance of a congregation’s core values based on
• how prominent they are on the website and in publications,
• what percentage of leaders can recite them to others,
• how frequently they are referred to in sermons and conversations, and • how frequently they inform decision making and setting priorities.
When i hear people in a congregation talking passionately about serving their commu- nity, it’s apparent that outreach is a core value. if i hear people of all ages share stories
                                                         When we emphasize everything, we emphasize nothing.
about practicing or expressing their faith, i know that lifelong faith formation is important.
Some congregations list their values on their website as a way to describe their congregation to website visitors. i’m a fan of
having values posted on a website as long as two conditions are met: (1) No more than six values are listed, and (2) the values
posted are actually lived out. one website i visited recently listed twenty-two core values. Believing that when we empha-
size everything we emphasize nothing, i found their list to be less than helpful. many congregations list on their website what i call aspirational values—values they hope their congre-
gation will live into but that don’t reflect their current situa- tion. for example, many congregations list “welcoming” or
“hospitality” as one of their values, but if you talked to some of their disillusioned visitors you’d hear otherwise. as one congrega-
tional visitor remarked, “Their words and actions didn’t match their website.” The next chapter will provide more insights on ways to
identify core values and align them with the resources and activities of the congregation. Listed below are additional elements Vibrant faith ministries has found to play a crucial role in helping people form faith and follow Jesus: alignment of
beliefs, the importance of theology, and the emphasis on discipleship.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
Strategic Alignment of Beliefs
How does your congregation articulate its core theological positions—what you believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and the purpose of the church? from an assessment standpoint, leaders coaching the cHaNGe process seek to understand a congregation’s theological convictions and how they inform the congregation’s faith formation priorities. Listed below is a statement of beliefs from Prince of Peace Lutheran church, Burnsville, minnesota. it serves as an example of how a congregation might choose to articulate its theological convictions that guide its ministry initiatives.
 Sample Statement of Beliefs
We believe that God is love and has created all things in love and for love. God exists in loving com- munity as creator, redeemer, and Sustainer and draws us into relationship with God, one another, and the world. God is working to restore, reconcile, and redeem all things. We believe that God is vibrantly active in the world revealing goodness, beauty and joy. God calls us and all people to partner with God in this life-giving mission.
• Genesis 1–2; Genesis 12:1-3; John 1:1-5; 2 corinthians 5:16-20; 1 John 4:7-21
We believe that sin is essentially our inability to love God, neighbor, and all of creation with per- fect selflessness. We believe that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. rather than authentically living in love, trust, and dependence upon God, we act out of self-interest and self- preservation. our sin breaks God’s heart because it falls short of God’s perfect love.
• Genesis 3:7-10; Psalm 1; 1 John 1:8-10; romans 3:9-11
Jesus and Salvation
We believe that Jesus is God’s Son and the one through whom salvation has come for all people and all creation. God is fully revealed in Jesus. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has

                                  Surface to Soul
                proclaimed love and forgiveness for all of creation, inaugurating the kingdom of God on earth. By grace through faith the cross and empty tomb sets us free from sin and death and empowers us for kingdom living. it is our encounter with the story of God’s work in Jesus that draws us into this freedom and empowers us for kingdom living. The resurrection is God’s yes and final word, pro- claiming that life and love win over sin and death for all creation.
• Philippians 2:1-3; isaiah 43, isaiah 53; romans 10:5-17; acts 4:8-12; John 1:1-5; romans 8
                                                         The congregation becomes a spiritual gym.
The Holy Spirit
We believe that the Holy Spirit is the active presence of God in all of creation. The Spirit calls us to life through the gospel, comforts us in hardship, shapes and empowers us for service, points us to Truth, and sends us into God’s
world to be about God’s mission and ministry.
• Galatians 5:16-26; John 20:21-23
• ezekiel 37:1-14; acts 2; mark 13:9-11; John 16:12-15; John 1:1-5
The Bible
We believe that the Bible is the inspired witness of God’s people throughout history. We believe that the Bible is true primarily in the sense that it truly points to Jesus, the Truth, who is the Word of God incarnate. While God speaks to us through the written word, Jesus is the Living Word. We read the Bible
through the lens of gospel, God’s good news for all people.
• Joshua 1:8-9; Psalm 119; isaiah 55:8-12; John 1:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Church and Mission
We believe that the church is the universal gathering of forgiven sinners, set apart and sent into the world, partnering with God in God’s mission. empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit, we are called to love, worship, and glorify God and to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness in word and deed. in each and every role of life—friend, employee, family member, citizen, neighbor—we are called to be about God’s mission, revealing the kingdom of God, proclaiming the gospel, and partnering with God in the work of reconciliation.
• Judges 18:5-6; micah 6:6-8; romans 12:1-13; 1 corinthians 5:11-21; ephesians 4:1-16
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
Theology Matters
Vibrant faith ministries often recites the phrase theology matters and refers to the Shema (deut. 6:4-9) as one of our foundational texts. it’s perhaps the most important confession in the old Testament and in Judaism, and is frequently confessed by orthodox Jews: “Hear, o israel: The Lord
our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus confirms the significance of the Shema in mark 12:28-31 when he states, “Hear, o israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” With those words, Jesus explicitly describes what it means to be a true disciple:
• To love God
• To love others, and
• To live this out authentically in God’s world.
Are you a fan of Jesus or a follower?
as we love God in and through the whole of life, we discover the true nature of worship. as we love our neighbors as ourselves, we rediscover our relationship to the world and our obligation to “the other.” This monotheistic worldview provides a unique lens through which we can rightly interpret the world and its surroundings. it also reminds us that with no mission, there is no discipleship. To be a disciple and to be the church, we must view ourselves as modern-day missionaries who relate to issues beyond our own personal morality and which get worked out in the larger community. Jesus is the central reference point for all christians and sets the standard by which we assess our discipleship and spirituality. When Jesus invites us to come and follow him, he’s inviting us to become living versions of him! as part of the assessment process, leaders coaching the cHaNGe process pay particular attention to the role Scripture plays in practicing faith and guiding ministries.
Being Missional Is a Strategic Element of Discipleship
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in christ. To this end i strenuously contend with all the energy christ so powerfully works in me.” (col. 1:28-29, NiV)

                                   Surface to Soul
                      “May you live your life as a mission trip where you are
a blessing to every person you encounter.”
congregations, with their goals of participa- tion, tend to focus more on helping people
develop the disciplines of worship attendance and giving and serving the church and less on
private spiritual practices such as prayer, fasting, and Scripture reading. if our intent as congrega-
tional leaders is to develop people who are increasingly identifiable as followers of Jesus, we
must tend to both individual and corporate practices that lead to generosity, service, authenticity, compas-
sion, and grace.
i would argue that congregations need to place less
                                                              emphasis on being gathered and more emphasis on being scattered. The scattered emphasis suggests that the congregation is
on a mission that is largely being played out away from church gatherings and where everyone is on assignment to be a blessing to the world. This emphasis
implies that the congregation becomes a spiritual gym where members are equipped to live their faith 24/7. one of the primary roles of a pastor is to become a personal trainer, meeting people where they’re at, helping them take the next step in their faith journey; helping disciples tone their spiritual muscles, and then holding them account- able for living and growing in their faith.
over the years, i’ve led numerous youth and young adult mission trips. during the last few trips i led, we began giving participants handmade crosses on necklaces during our final worship service together at the end of the experience. When we’d present the necklaces, we’d say to them, “marked with the cross of christ, may you live your life as a mission trip where you are a blessing to every person you encounter.” The closing message was that our mission trip experience doesn’t end — but rather gets lived out every day, everywhere as we seek to be modern-day missionaries.
Being a blessing everywhere requires conscious, intentional effort. research shows that, in the united States, the longer a person is a christian, the less time he or she spends interacting with non-christians. How can we be “salt” in the world if we’re not engaging with it? unfortunately, congregations have become extremely good at socializing its people away from the very mission field where God placed them. We can’t change the world if we retreat from it! The assessment process seeks to discover if the congregation is focused more on mission than on maintenance.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
To highlight and identify the most pressing issues, pastors and lay leaders must pay attention to how plans get carried out in the context of congregational trends, where the congregation is on the life cycle, and the culture, language, and capacities of the organization to implement change.
Paying Attention to Trends and Trajectories
Leaders coaching the cHaNGe process pay particular attention to the trajectory of a congregation’s life and ministry. i asked a senior pastor serving a congregation whose worship attendance has been dropping 5 percent a year, “if you keep doing what you’ve been doing for the past ten years, what do you anticipate your average worship atten- dance will be ten years from now?” another pastor confided in me, “i turned forty last month and i’m 40 pounds overweight. i realized that i’ve been gaining two pounds a year for the past twenty years.” i responded with a trajectory question: “if you continue to do what you’ve been doing for the past twenty years, how much do you think you’ll weigh by the time you retire?” The alarm bells went off as he visualized the answer to that question. He took to heart Will rogers’s advice, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!” Living out of his commitments rather than his excuses, he changed his eating and exercising habits and has been losing a pound a month ever since. congrega- tions, like people, need to be aware of how their faith community and
the community around them is changing. Some of the changes coaches typically track include
• changes in worship attendance for the past ten years,
• changes in membership for the past ten years,
• changes in the average age of the
congregation for the past ten years,
• changes in budgets for the past ten
• changes in giving units and average
giving per unit for the past ten years,
• changes in staffing and staffing
We can’t change the world if we retreat from it! The assessment process seeks to discover if the congregation is focused more on mission than on maintenance.

                                Surface to Soul
              • changes in what the congregation talks about (such as maintenance versus mission) • changes in programs and ministries, and
• changes in the use of technology.
Paying Attention to the Life Cycle of the Congregation
most congregations follow a typical pattern of church growth and decline that pro- gresses one stage at a time. The diagram of a congregation’s life cycle, listed below, illustrates the pattern. in the past, the cycle of growth lasted for twenty-five to thirty years before a congregation would begin to decline, providing congregations with advanced warning and time to make needed changes. Given the accelerating pace of societal change, however, congregational consultant Gil rendle suggests that the win- dow of opportunity for making needed changes has greatly decreased.
experts have put forth numerous and varied explanations as to why congregations in the united States are struggling. The sigmoid, or S curve, which is the “Birth to maturity” portion of the life cycle diagram, serves as a reminder of how virtually every- thing in life begins, grows, plateaus, and then ultimately dies. Like people and other organizations, churches have a life cycle that begins with birth, experiences significant growth, eventually reaches a plateau, and if nothing is done to move it off that plateau, it begins to decline. if nothing interrupts the decline, it will die. each stage represents a growth challenge for a congregation, and if these challenges are not met, the congrega- tion typically becomes increasingly rigid and unresponsive. ceasing to fulfill its primary mission, it eventually dies. The further a congregation moves down the decline phase of the life cycle, the harder it will be for the faith community to be revitalized.
                                                    Prime adolescence
infancy Birth
maturity aristocracy
Bureaucracy death
   The Life Cycle of a Congregation. reprinted from The Lifecycle of a Congregation by martin f. Saarinen, with permission from The alban institute. copyright © 1986, 2001 from The alban institute, inc. Herndon, Va. all rights reserved.
                                 Declining Phase
Growth Phase
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
To avoid decline, a congregation must first be aware of where it is in its life cycle and then explore options for starting new projects and efforts that spur a new S curve of growth that reinvigorates its mission. for some congregations, this involves starting new ministries and outreach opportunities. for others, it may require a complete rethinking of their mission and vision. Leaders coaching the cHaNGe process assess this aspect of ministry by asking the following questions:
• What new programs, ministries, or strategies were launched last year?
• What programs, ministries, or strategies were terminated last year?
• How permission giving is the congregation, allowing members to launch ministries
as they see ministry needs and opportunities?
• are the majority of your members aware of the congregation’s vision?
• What’s your congregation’s strategy for building the future before the present
Paying Attention to Congregational Culture
one cannot define a congregation’s identity without making note of its culture. cul- tures can be difficult to describe and some liken it to a congregation’s personality. filmmaker ellen Wallach states that “organizational culture is like pornography; it is hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” it usually goes unnoticed, unspoken, and unexamined, but leaders would be wise to spend at least as much time analyzing and investing in their culture as they do crafting their new vision, strategy, and market- ing plans. for the purpose of this workbook, i define a congregation’s culture as the sum total of its past and current assumptions, experiences, philosophy, and values that hold it together, and that are expressed through shared beliefs, attitudes, rules, and behaviors.
To get a handle on a congregation’s culture before an on-site visit, here are some of the questions i ask members during a phone interview or through an e-mail survey:
• Who are the heroes of your congregation? What makes them heroes? Who determines who the heroes are?
• How much input do members have into the direction and strategy of the congregation?
• Who has the ear of the top leaders? How did these people win a hearing with the leaders?
• Who is rewarded, and for what accomplishments?

                                Surface to Soul
              • What is the level of loyalty up and down the organizational chart? What factors build loyalty?
• What is the level of creativity and enthusiasm throughout the organization?
• How are decisions made, deferred, or delayed?
• What happens when deadlines are missed? Projects are dropped?
• What happens when expectations among staff and leaders are not met?
• How is conflict managed? is conflict dealt with in a timely fashion?
• is there any confusion related to people’s roles and responsibilities?
• Who are the nonpositional power brokers? Who gives them power?
• Where are control problems and power struggles most evident?
• How is “turf” defined and protected?
The following are a few of the questions i’m seeking answers to when i do an on-site visit with a congregation:
• What is the mood and energy level of staff members? congregational members?
• is there a culture of ongoing regard among staff and congregational leaders?
• is authority decentralized, or is it concentrated among just a few people?
• is there a sense that people gather for a cause bigger than themselves?
• do staff and leaders set goals and hold each other accountable for results?
• is creativity rewarded? are failures viewed as learning opportunities and stepping
stones for growth?
• How much time do leaders spend with each other? How is that time spent?
• are there any taboo topics? is there any unresolved tension among people?
• do leaders seem to enjoy spending time with each other? do they encourage one
another? do they pray for one another?
• How much time is spent evaluating? Planning? Brainstorming and visioning?
• are there staff members who tend to be complainers? Play the victim role?
• are conversations focused on fulfilling the congregation’s mission?
Two features of all healthy organizational cultures are trust and respect. They turbocharge an organization’s capacity to change. assessing congregational culture should be an ongoing process. do not underestimate the importance of culture. it trumps strategy and will profoundly influence your ministry effectiveness.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
Paying Attention to Language
congregations tend to underestimate the power of language to shape mission and minis- try. Pay close attention to the language and stories that are shared at congregational meetings and gatherings. for me, red flags go up when i hear people talk more about
• fixing programs rather than creating new avenues for serving others • their needs rather than the needs of the community
• growing membership rather than growing disciples
• mission programs rather than the congregation’s mission
• attending worship rather than worshiping God
• managing the ministries rather than making disciples
• recruiting volunteers rather than inviting people into ministry
• deciding by consensus or majority vote rather than discerning God’s desire • inviting people to their congregation rather than sharing their faith
The language i’m listening for is missional in nature rather than focused on a mainte- nance mindset. i’m also seeking to understand what language is being used to describe the importance of faith formation and the process used for growing as a disciple, as reflected in these statements:
• Home is church, too!
• faith is caught more than it’s taught. • faith formation is a lifelong process. • every member is a missionary.
i pay close attention to the language that pastors, program staff, and congregational leaders use, because they are the ones who will influence what others talk about within the congregation. if there’s little conversation about their mission, vision, and core values and who Jesus is, and how one practices faith, i know that the change process will be more challenging.
Assessing Leadership Capacities
a pastor i coached a few years ago mentioned that they were using Vibrant faith ministries’ coaching services to become unstuck. He stated, “We had a clear vision and a well-thought-out plan for moving forward. What we didn’t have were the skills and practices that allowed us to implement our plan.” The pastor went on to say that they

                                Surface to Soul
            spent little time developing trust, they didn’t know how to deal with conflict in a healthy manner, and they had a history of not following through on previous commitments.
Warren Bennis, an american scholar, organizational consultant, and best-selling business author, observes that “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Pastors often remark that their seminary training has not adequately prepared them to provide the leadership needed for effectively navigating the changes they currently face. The roles and skills that served them well thirty years ago are not necessarily the ones needed today— and may in fact be counterproductive to their congregation at this time. as one pastor put it, “i need to unlearn some old habits, assumptions, and beliefs if i’m going to provide leadership in the post-christendom, postmodern world.”
effective leadership enables ministry to move forward. effective leaders create opportunities for people to make a difference by successfully integrating their gifts and talents into projects that help fulfill the congregation’s mission.
one of the most important roles of a leader is making decisions that influence the long-term health and sustainability of the organization. When a leader makes a deci- sion, he or she intentionally kills off options that distract the organization from its primary mission. an effective leader is like a tree pruner who clips off the dead wood and errant branches so that there are sufficient resources to develop the branches that remain.
Leadership is not coming into a situation with all the answers or the vision. rather, leadership is about mobilizing people to engage and make progress on their deepest challenges. in his book Leadership without Easy Answers, ron Heifetz, leadership scholar and cofounder of the center for Public Leadership, states that one of the most impor- tant tasks a leader does is to determine if a pressing issue requires a “technical change,” or an “adaptive change.” a technical change is the application of current knowledge, skills, and tools to resolve a situation. an adaptive change is called for when the problem cannot be solved with one’s existing knowledge and skills but rather requires people to make a shift in their values, expectations, attitudes, or habits of behavior.
most congregational leaders address their organization’s challenges using technical approaches rather than adaptive ones because they are most familiar to us and more easy to implement. rarely, however, do they deal with the causal factors that created the distress in the first place and rarely does that make things better in the long term. congregations caught in this trap will simply try harder to fix the problem or attempt a slightly modified version of previous tried-and-true responses from the past. as mentioned earlier, effective leaders focus their time, energy, and resources on the most pressing issues, and these are almost always adaptive challenges that require an adap- tive response.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
effective leaders realize that their power lies in their presence rather than their knowledge or techniques. in congregations, these leaders are forward thinking, spend- ing time discerning God’s preferred future for themselves and their congregation and community. They lead people out their comfort zones and direct their energies toward fulfilling the organization’s purpose. They focus on strength not pathology; on challenge not comfort; on self-differentiation not herding together. They also expect to be sabo- taged by others simply as a result of providing effective leadership.
effective leaders avoid getting enmeshed in triangles that are the plaque in the arteries of communication, and they avoid becoming viral in a toxic system. They avoid spending energy on people who are unmotivated to change, and they avoid trying to be reasonable with those who choose not to be.
When working with pastors focused on developing their leadership capacities, i typically ask them to read The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, which outlines the five most important practices a leadership must master:
1. model the way.
2. inspire a shared vision.
3. challenge the process.
4. enable others to act.
5. encourage the heart.
on occasion, i’ll have pastors take Kouzes and Posner’s Leadership Practices inventory ( to gain insights about the practices they might need to attend to more intentionally. another commonly used leadership assessment tool i use with pastors and faith formation leaders is the diSc assessment (center for internal change,, which i find lends itself to great insights and conver- sations, particularly when pastors aNd lay leaders take the assessment. as a coach, these assessments provide me with quantifiable data to make sure i’m addressing the most important leadership issues.
Leaders coaching the cHaNGe process also assess how much time and energy is devoted to discovering, developing, and deploying new leaders. most pastors spend less than 20 percent of their time on this process. congregations that have a deep bench of leadership typically spend significantly more time and resources in this area.
during my initial coaching conversation with pastors, i state that effective pastors and christian leaders focus on multiplying their efforts by grooming aaa christian leaders who in turn develop more aaa christian leaders. i challenge them to track how many leaders they are developing rather than just how many followers they’re encouraging. i mention that Jesus spent most of his time grooming twelve leaders with the expectation that they would be the ones carrying on the ministry, and then i ask the

                                    Surface to Soul
            question, “if you continue to do what you’ve been doing for the past five years to develop leaders who in turn develop more leaders, how many leaders do you expect to have five years from now?” The most common answer i get is, “i’ve never thought about my ministry in that way before.” i think it’s a question every christian leader needs to consider and be able to answer. multiplying our ministry efforts is essential for growing God’s kingdom.
Some questions i ask to learn more about the leadership capacities of the congrega- tion include the following:
• does the congregation have a process for identifying and developing future leaders?
• What ongoing training is provided for people serving in leadership positions?
• does the congregation have a mentoring program for leaders?
• do current leaders know their next step in growing as a christian and becoming a
more effective leader?
• are paid and volunteer leaders provided performance reviews on a quarterly basis?
Leadership assessment tools Vibrant faith ministries frequently uses with individuals and teams include:
• “Leadership Self-assessment checklist” (Tool 10) • “reflecting on ministry form” (Tool 11)
• “confidential feedback form” (Tool 12)
• “Healthy Team checklist” (Tool 13)
                                                        If our efforts do not result in
changed lives, it gives congregations permission to end ineffectual programs, ministries, and traditions.
Successful change efforts always depend on effec- tive leadership. Leaders coaching the cHaNGe
process take time to assess whether or not the the potential of every leader is maximized and in
the right seat. The Board or council needs leaders who are dreamers who focus on
vision, strategy, and policies that unleash their congregation’s potential to live into its
mission and vision. committees and task forces need leaders who are doers who get things done and keep things moving in the right direction.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Highlight: Step 2 in Coaching Change
Paying Attention to Structure, Transformation, Storytelling, and Simplicity
almost every congregation that Vibrant faith ministries coaches struggles with the implementation portion of their vision. Some of the common roadblocks include fuzzy goals, inadequate leadership capacities, a convo- luted organizational structure, and lack of accountability. When assessing a congregation’s structure, which is also part of the governance assess- ment process, i’m typically trying to answer these questions:
• How are decisions made?
• Who is responsible for what, and do the people responsible have the
necessary authority?
• do people understand the structure and the decision-making process? • What delays or bottlenecks occur as a result of the current structure?
Before recommending changes to the structure, i try to determine what operating principles guide congregational decision making and ministry efforts. Knowing where and how congregations typically get stuck, i usually assess how the following principles show up in their ministry settings:
The principle of changed lives reminds the church that we are here to serve our neighbor, and that shows up through changed lives and changed communities. if our efforts do not result in changed lives, it gives congregations permission to end ineffec- tual programs, ministries, and traditions that no longer serve the community and replace them with experiences that transform lives and communities. if the desire is to change lives, then a congregation’s structure needs to be nimble and adaptive in order to respond to opportunities to serve others at a moment’s notice. it has to be permission giving to allow people to step forward and use their gifts without becoming enmeshed in the organization’s bureaucracy. is your congregation structured to change lives?
Storytelling allows us to hear one another’s life and faith stories and to share about our faithfulness to Jesus along our individual and shared journeys. When we share the joys and challenges of following Jesus every day , we have the opportunity to give and receive encouragement. Through storytelling, we hear how lives are being changed as a result of the congregation’s mission. The stories we share about personal and spiritual transformation is what energizes others to get involved in mission and to grow in faith. momentum is essential for living into God’s preferred future and storytelling is the fuel for getting people on board and keeping them engaged. does your structure increase the opportunities for people’s stories to be told?

  • What congregational events or experiences have had the greatest impact on building community among the people of your congregation?
  • What are you currently doing as a congregation to equip households to practice caring conversations at home? in their car?
  • Do your meetings and events include time for intentional relationship building?
  • What are three ways you as an individual could be more intentional about having caring conversations beyond the congregation?
  • What are three ways you could be more intentional about having caring conversations within your congregation?


How large are small groups?
Generally, small groups are 4-12 people in size. If the group becomes larger than 10-12, small group leaders usually create smaller sub-groupings for deeper conversation. Small groups often include time and space for building deeper friendships, praying for each other, learning or serving together, and celebrating turning points and transitions in life.

What kinds of small groups are there?
There are a wide variety of small group approaches, and the form they take is determined by the function they are performing. Examples include:

1 | Accountability Groups: Churches often call these discipleship groups or Wesleyan groups. They focus less on a training component in the form of a teaching time and more on equipping and encouraging accomplished through a mutually agreed upon covenant which may include spiritual practices, worship, service, giving and discerning calls. They are usually longer-term relationships that allow adequate time to build trusting relationships.

2 | Affinity Groups: These are groups that meet based upon some area of common interest.
 Common affinity group include:
  •  Adventure Groups (bouldering, hiking, birding).
  • Bible Study Groups (book of the Bible, spiritual practices, watch and discuss a Bible-oriented video).
  • Dinner Groups ("Dinner for Eight" groups, dinners focused on a particular theme).
  • Discussion Groups (book clubs, enneagram assessments, environmental issues, social issues).
  • Fitness Groups: (walking,  jazzercise, swimming, yoga, aerobics).
  • Group Spiritual Discernment (led by a spiritual director).
  • Hobby Groups (cooking, gardening, wine tasting, knitting).
  • Out and About Groups (ethnic restaurants, plays, movies, museums, concerts).
  • Parenting/Grand parenting/God parenting Groups.
  • Service Group (soup kitchen, food pantry, Habitat for Humanity, river clean up days).
  • Sports Groups (cycling, bowling, golfing, pickle ball, kayaking skiing, hiking, frisbee golf).
  • Theology on Tap Groups (Beer and Bible Study).
  • Travel Groups (daylong excursions, road trips, bus tours, extended travel).

What's unique about small groups?
All of the groups listed above are by definition 'small groups' since they are typically comprised of a smaller number of participants.
In addition to staying within a certain size range, small-groups often include:
  • Discussions about the purpose and outcomes for the group.
  • A group covenanting process that ensures safe space, confidentially, and appropriate behaviors.
  • The setting of a specific start and end dates along with specific dates and times about when they'll meet.
  • A designated  convener/facilitator and/or a designated contact person (who also keeps everyones contact info).
  • A check-in and prayer time (i.e. activities that deepen relationships and draw people closer to God).
  • A discussion about whether or not to be an open or closed group.
  • Opportunities to encourage people to hold them accountable to live into their intentions

Why are small groups important?
There is a lot of conversation with churches and especially within discipleship systems advocates about the value of having small groups or even "being a church of small groups." Note the emphasis of the latter. Most denominational structures are advocates for small group ministries and even focus support on the development of resources for small groups.

One of the key factors in keeping people in a local congregation "engaged" (to use the term the Gallup Organization employs) is the development of strong personal relationships with others from the congregation. The implementation of a small group ministry is not the only way to get people connected relationally, but it is one of the easiest and most effective approaches. For many congregations, the small group is THE place where the most significant development as disciples of Jesus takes place. It is not the only place this happens, but it is usually within the context of the small group that people are trained in the areas of discipleship (spiritual practices, worship, hospitality, partnering, service, and generosity). It is also the small group that provides the most common forms of intentionality and accountability.

How do small groups support the ministries of the church?
There is a rule of thumb that comes out of faith-based research: When a church has 50% or more of
the congregation involved in some type of small group, it is almost a guarantee that the church will experience growth in worship and membership. In addition, small groups:
  • Help grow a culture of discipleship, where people are equipped to live like Jesus, often happens in the ministry of small groups.
  • Maturing disciples attract those who not yet disciples because of the lives that they live. Small groups are a form of invitation to those outside the church to experience the love of Jesus demonstrated by the followers of Jesus.
  • Pastoral care needs are best met by the people closest to the person in need. These people are often members of the same small group.
  • The visibility of the church serving the needs of the community is greatly enhanced by an effective small group ministry, since small groups ideally serve together to meet needs in the community.
  • The level of prayer experienced in the local congregation is greatly enhanced as small group gatherings pray for one another and the needs of the congregation and community.
  • Member follow-up is best accomplished when members of a small group miss one of their own in worship and call to check on them.
  • Worship participation levels are usually stronger as small groups encourage one another and check up on one another.

  •  What is the experience of your congregation in offering small group ministry opportunities?
  • What is your personal experience as a participant in small groups? How did these experiences impact your life as a disciple? How did these experiences impact the relational connections you made in the congregation?
  • Which of the small group formats does your congregation currently offer?
  • What caught your attention as you considered the impact of small groups on the life and ministry of a congregation?


Leadership matters.  This is especially true in selecting leaders for small groups. Effective small group leaders usually exhibit the following characteristics:
  • They are relational.  What is the relational capacity of the person? Do they engage others warmly? Do they connect easily with new persons? Is there evidence of deep relational connections with friends?
  • They are spiritually mature:  What evidence is presented that this person is a growing, maturing disciple? Are they regular in worship? Do they have a strong personal devotional life? Are they generous in supporting the ministries of the congregation? Do they engage in serving those beyond the congregation? Are they inviting friends/acquaintances to church or church events?
  • They are self-aware:  A good small group leader/facilitator has a high level of self-awareness. They know their strengths, baggage, and behavioral preferences.
  • They are group-aware. They can read the room. They observe people's body language and tone of voice. They note who's talking and who is not. They note who is engaged and who is not. They adapt their style and approach based on what's in the best interest of the group.
  • They advocates for others. Does this person find joy in helping others be successful?
  • They are good listeners. They have the patience to allow other people to talk and to listen to what those people are actually saying.
  • They are good communicators. They have the ability to keep the group focused by homing in on the essential points of the conversation and keep the discussing from veering off into the weeds.
  • They ask good questions. They are genuinely interested in others. The ask open-ended questions that provoke new perspectives and possibilities as they draw upon each person's wisdom.
  • They are humble. They are focused on the welfare and growth of the group's participants. They are supportive of the greater vision of the congregation of which they are a part.
  • They are organized. They can keep the group on task because they can keep themselves on task. They are disciplined in communicating to group members and running the meeting in an appropriate fashion.
  • They are grace-filled yet direct. They are willing and able to confront inappropriate behavior and deal with the dynamics and tensions within their groups.
  • They exude playfulness and positivity.  Their positive demeanor engages and energizes the group.

Use these characteristics as a screen for discerning who are the best candidates for leading your small groups. Create a job description (see sample in the appendix) for your small group leaders and customize it to reflect the uniqueness of each group. Give or send a job description to potential small group leaders. List or verbalize the primary purpose of the group, why it matters (how it leads to people's transformation, and why you felt that they were best candidate for the role you're asking them to play.


  •  What would be disqualifies for someone serving as a small group leader?
  •  What expectations do you have for when, how, and how often small groups leaders connect with members beyond the meeting time?
  • Have you considered having 2 small group leaders for each group?  If you have, how would they differentiate their roles?


Small group leaders play the role of a facilitator more than a teacher. Effective facilitation literally makes it easier to build trusting relationships within a group, draw our people's wisdom, tap into one's hopes, dreams or challenges, and navigate difficult conversations. In essence, they do whatever it takes to make conversations and the personal connections easier.

1 | Establish personal connections among members.
One of the most critical factors influencing whether people will be engaged in the conversation is whether they trust the other people in the group. Even discussion around a familiar biblical topic may be intimidating if you are not sure people will respond well to your observations. To help build trust, keep meeting over a long period of time, so that trust develops as people grow in relationship with each other. Have the group engage, at least for a few weeks, in relationship building activities. Here are just a few examples of what small group leaders do:
  • Have a display of common items (pen, comb, newspaper, light bulb, etc.), and ask each participant to select one of the items. Then have each participant share their own personal story using the item selected as a prop.
  • Invite participants to share with a couple of others in the group "two truths and a lie" about themselves (two truths that people wouldn't know). Invite the groups to try and detect the lie statement.
  • Pilot using "30 Second Mysteries" cards to spur people's imagination and deepen engagement.
  • Show your scars! Have each participant tell a story about a scar they have and how they got it.
  • Give the group a couple of questions and invite them to find a partner and share responses to a few questions.
  • Establish a "Parking Lot" where ideas are parked until more appropriate for discussion.
  • Engage people in physical activity when possible. Pair up people for a "walk and talk" activity.
  • Give people newsprint sheets and have them draw a picture or identify bullet points for a given activity.
  • Let people share with someone in the group the results of some form of personal assessment (e.g. 16 Personalities,  Enneagram, etc.).

2 | Form a cohesive, trusting group
It's not uncommon for newly-formed groups to create a behavioral covenant with one another. This covenant describes ways that the group will interact with one another:
Groups may decide that only positive responses to others are acceptable behaviors - no judgment or put downs, etc. Group usually agree that what is shared in the group setting is confidential and not to be shared beyond the group setting.

Stages of group formation
  • Stage 1 - Forming. People are polite and are unsure what to expect. They wonder what they will get out of the experience and if it will be worth their time. During this stage, facilitators provide structure and direction. They set a positive, safe tone. They discuss the importance confidentiality and create relationship-building opportunities.
  • Stage 2 - Storming. This stage is usually the messiest. Individuals are seeking to finding their role and identity in the group. They may still be deciding if they remain in the group or leave.  Without clear norms and structure, participants may engage in side conversations or talk over each other. They may exhibit anger, frustration and  passive, aggressive behaviors. In this environment, some people may withdraw if they become uncomfortable. Facilitators keep the conversation flowing, use active listening skills, and may need to address "problem" individuals outside of group setting.
  • Stage 3 - Norming. This stage is when the group seems to gel and when you'll see the greatest amount of group cohesion. People are comfortable sharing more often and at deeper levels. Facilitators provide activities to build group, and ask questions related to "What? So What? and Now What?":
  • Stage 4 - Performing. This stage exhibits the greatest amount of interdependence among members. People are more open to being accountable and holding others accountable. Facilitators provide activities to interact, reflect, and debrief shared experiences and help members apply learnings to their daily life

3 | Design settings that promote caring, consequential conversations.
What kind of setting is most likely to create an atmosphere conducive for the type of group you are facilitating?
Is the group primarily a classroom experience? Is the purpose to have people listen to you and engage you, or is it more of a discussion focus where you want people to be engaging with one another? If it is the latter, you probably don't want to have the room arranged with chairs in rows where people will have their backs to one another.
Is the space one that conjures up images of sitting in class, even if the chairs are arranged in a circle? That might be counter-productive if you are trying to create an atmosphere of intimacy and trust. Might a space designated for more casual fellowship and interaction be a better location than the traditional classroom? Or might the group find that the more informal feel of a participant's home to be advantageous as a meeting place? Will the group be meeting for an extended period of time (e.g. longer than 45 minutes to an hour)? If so, find something more comfortable than traditional folding metal chairs. Is there an adjustable thermostat where the room can be kept at a comfortable temperature?

Have you designed the meeting time to allow for participants to build relationships? Do your meetings that have a balance between structured time when the work or desired outcomes get addressed and looser time in which people become acquainted?  Will food or beverages be provided? Will there be breaks for eating or stretching? Consider adding group builders. Consider enlisting volunteers to host refreshments. It gives the facilitator a break and allows participants the opportunity to serve one another.  Is there a general "catch up on life" time where people have an opportunity to share and engage others? How will you provide a time for the sharing of prayer concerns and the opportunity to pray for one another as needed?

4 | Create a small group facilitators toolkit that's easy to transport (if your group moves around).
What tools might you need as a facilitator? Which high tech and low tech tools will enable your facilitators. Common equipment, tools, and supplies include:
- Tech gear: laptop, projector, screen, monitor, speakers and access on internet
- Office supplies: pens, markets, post-it notes, newsprint pads, index cards, etc.
- Team building tools: Visual Faith cards, legos, tiny props, deck of cards, talking stick, TalkSheets, etc.

5 | Plan in advance how to deal with challenging members.
Since small groups in real churches are composed of real people, it is inevitable that you will face challenges in managing the group dynamics. For those of us who facilitate small groups, it is a question of when - not if- you will deal with the problem of someone who complicates the group interactions and creates situations that make other group members feel uncomfortable. Listed below are unhelpful behaviors that of show up in small group settings
  • Monopolizers. Over talks. Wants to be in create 'time limit.'  has all the answers. Facilitators need to interrupt and point out what is going on.
  • Personalities that create team conflict. This includes subversives, manipulators, passive aggressives, explosives. hyper-avoiders.
  • Derailers. Attempts to derail team efforts behind the scene or underground. They may use negative emotions such as fear and anger to get their own way. They seem agreeable but are not- will answer 'yes' when meaning 'no' - then not follow through. They will not confront any issue - smiles that everything is okay.
  • "Me" focused rather than "we" focused. Steers conversations toward their personal agenda; not interested in team as a whole.  Wants to control outcomes using manipulative tactics.  May control members using anger, fear or playing the role of a victim. 
  • Non-contributors. They don't want to get Involved, take a risk, act with courage to get things done. Does not want to be part of the team or be in sync with the team objectives. Call it as soon as discovered; confront the individual. Point out what is happening-call it tor what it is: manipulative behavior. Confront the lack of follow-through and the inconsistencies between word and deed.  

6 | Design and be willing to adapt your meeting format.
While every small group has its own personality, and you can make adjustments which account for the context of the group you are facilitating, there are some basic principles which will greatly enhance the effectiveness of any group if they are practiced consistently.
  • Make sure the group members have the needed resources for the meeting: Books/workbooks Additional resources (articles, video clips, etc.).
  • Encourage group members to be prepared for the conversation: Outside assignments, Reading/reflection on materials, Devotional readings.
  • Provide regular communication to group members: Meeting reminders with emphasis on preparations, Summary of prayer requests from the group, Any logistical considerations (planning activities).
  • Have a plan for following up when a group member is missing in action
  • Have a defined time frame for how long the group will meet. The optimum for effective small group discussion is 60-90 minutes. Respect the obligations of the group members by starting and ending gatherings on schedule.

A typical small group meeting experience usually includes:
  • Gathering time.  A few minutes of informal conversation between group members, usually with some light refreshments provided.
  • Connect time.  A few minutes at the beginning of the meeting devoted to "catching up" on life, following up on commitments made in previous sessions, and building of relationships.
  • Discussion/Reflection. This constitutes the majority of the meeting time and may involve watching a video, having a discussion around prepared questions, conversations beyond prepared questions, etc. 
  • Next Steps. Invite participants to consider what they will do with what they are discovering in the teaching/discussion. What actions will they take and be accountable for?
  • Prayer. Take time for pray for one another's prayer concerns. Make a list of prayers and email to participates so they can pray for each other between small group meetings.

7 | Continuously find ways to enhance the group experience.
If a group is to grow to its fullest relational potential, it is important that group members have opportunities to bond in common cause and fellowship beyond the boundaries of their regular meetings together. There is something about moving beyond the strictures of your regularly scheduled get-together that frees people to get to know and appreciate one another in new ways. In an informal social setting, some people who are shy during small group discussions really shine; or if you are on a service outing, someone who is handy or a natural extrovert can really open up and be themselves.
  • Sharing meals together: Groups often find that sharing a meal together (regularly or periodically) is a great way to build relationships and trust within the group. Camaraderie and trust are, of course, the foundational elements in creating space for deep, transparent, and vulnerable conversations that transform lives. The group may go to a local restaurant or may choose to do a 'pot luck.'
  • Serving Together: Every group is encouraged to find a way to serve together periodically (every month to six weeks is recommended). This provides a safe place for participants to explore how they are gifted to serve, as well as providing another great opportunity to build relationships within the group. It also expands dramatically the witness of the church in the local community.

  •  What do you see as the essential elements of a small group meeting? What would you add or modify from the suggested meeting flow found in this chapter?
  • What would be some questions you'd ask a small group leader to help them reflect on and improved their facilitation skills?


Most of the time when we talk about equipping small group leaders, what we mean is that we are going to focus on preparing them to teach the materials. Research shows that the retention/application rate for an instructional model of leading a group is somewhere between 20-40%. Contrast that with a facilitation/coaching approach where, in partnership with the participants, we help individuals discover connections with what they already know, benefit from new knowledge and perspectives they acquire as part of our work together, and challenge them to match their lifestyle to what they've learned. Using this model, the retention/application range is 60-80%.

This kind of partnership reflects a coaching approach to transformation. While this small group training guide is obviously not an in-depth resource to equip you for a professional coaching certification, there are some basic coaching skills that can be adapted to your small group leadership. If you can adjust your basic approach to a coaching mindset, the results can be dramatic.  Consider the following definition, using the word COACH as an acronym: 
  • C - Comes alongside.
  • O - Observes carefully.
  • A - Asks questions wisely.
  • C - Communicates options and resources.
  • H - Holds accountable (and cares for the heart).

A good coach will fulfill all the conditions spelled out in that acronym, but this ability to COACH doesn't happen by accident. While some people are naturally gifted with the qualities that enable this skill set, everyone can learn more about the tools and habits that underlie fundamental coaching techniques. And everyone who is going to facilitate a small group should do so.  Here is a breakdown of the basic coaching skill set and a further dissection of each of those skills as they might be applied within the small group leader context.

Active listening is the ability to focus completely on what is being said, as well as the sensitivity to understand what is not being said. It is the ability to understand the meaning of what is being said as a reflection of the speaker's needs and desires, while reinforcing the speaker's confidence and self-expression.  The characteristics and attitude that define an active listener are beneficial both in the context of one-to-one mentoring, as well as in a group discussion (or for that, matter in any conversation in any relationship or context).

What is active listening?
Being curious. Being fully present. Creating a safe space. Conveying value. Exploring possibilities. "Getting" someone. Active Listening is the function of specific intentional practices on the part of the listener (in this case the small group leader who is facilitating/guiding the conversation):
Reflecting: Making observations which build on the speaker's comments by highlighting specific points and expanding on them.
Paraphrasing: Repeating back what the speaker has said in slightly different words to clarify meaning.
Truth telling: Pointing out obvious gaps in the speaker's reasoning, as well as statements that are clearly incorrect or in some way non-productive.
A small group facilitator can also have a dramatic impact on the group discussion by displaying clear non-listening behaviors (the polar opposite of active listening):
Pretending to listen: This is more obvious than you might expect. You might think you're getting away with faking interest, but people can tell when you are not engaged.
Sending messages (whether wrong or right). You can listen a little too attentively by communicating with expressions or gestures that disagree vehemently with what the speaker is saying. Try to retain a neutral listening posture. If something needs to be challenged (via truth telling), do it with your words, not your body language.
Hijacking the speaker's message. This is a gone-rogue version of reflecting in which we intentionally flip the speaker's words to make a point they didn't intend, tweak them to make a point that's near and dear to our own perspective, or use them as a jumping off point to launch another topic or stir up the other group members. We should respect a speaker's words and sentiment for what they are, not what we wish them to be.
Looking at your phone. That's an obvious one, but we all are subject to the fantasy that we are the sole person on the planet who can successfully multi-task in a way that's not obnoxious or obtrusive.

Encouragement is one of the most powerful coaching skills in the toolkit. Most people do not get enough encouragement in any aspect of their lives.
People blossom and thrive when they are encouraged. Nancy Kline, in her book, Time to Think, asserts that encouragement (also termed appreciation or acknowledgment) is important not because it feels good or is nice, but because it helps people to think for themselves on the cutting edge of an issue. It is suggested that coaches/facilitators aim for a 5:1 ratio of encouragement to criticism.
Encouragement is offered in these ways:
Speaking hope.
Approving the excellent.
Seeing potential.
Using "and" more than "but."
Genuine encouragement should reflect these qualities:
It should be authentic.
It should be unequivocal—no "maybes."
It should be enthusiastic.
It should be specific.
It should be substantive—reflecting not just "what" but "who" the recipient is.

Powerful questioning is the ability to pose insightful queries that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to move a conversation forward or help an individual probe an issue.  Dorothy Leeds, in The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work, suggests that such queries will always do one or more of these things:7
  • Powerful questions demand answers.
  • Powerful questions stimulate thinking.
  • Powerful questions give powerful information.
  • Powerful questions lead to powerful listening.
  • Powerful questions get people to open up.
  • Powerful questions get people to persuade themselves.

Avoid questions that cause people to get caught up in the weeds, focusing on small details at the expense of the greater discussion. Avoid rehashing the past or blaming others. Avoid conversations that lead to an "us vs. them" mindset. Engage people in purposeful questions that help people stay connected to what's most important. Engage people in conversations that look towards the future and imagine the possibilities that change and new ideas can bring.  Keep your focus on the people in the room. Seek to draw out their experiences and challenges.

QUESTION STRATEGIES that move the conversation forward:
  • Ask open-ended questions:  Avoid "yes or no" questions. Use as a guideline the old journalistic formulation of "who, what, when, where and how," if it's helpful, but try to ask questions that require detailed, thoughtful responses.
  • Avoid solution-oriented questions. These are questions that are formulated in such a way that you are really just forcing the speaker to provide answers you were already looking for. Your questions should instead be genuinely curious and allow for honest expression.
  • Try zooming in /zooming out.  Harvard's Rosabeth Moss Kanter's metaphor about the need to take a wider perspective, while sometimes zooming in on the details. It's an important skill to know when each view - wide angle or microscopic - is valuable (particularly at knowing which details are the critical factors in a discussion or a decision).

Direct communication (responding) is the ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the conversation and its participants. Responding includes:
  • Truth-telling. Sharing what you are seeing from the facilitator's perspective.
  • Feedback. Giving honest assessments and opinions (this is non-directive, e.g. consulting).
  • Insights. Sharing intuitive thoughts.
  • Interrupting. Masterful interrupting is truly an art and holds great benefit to the coachee, bringing them back on track or helping them get to the point.
  • Advising, While the focus of a coaching conversation is to tap into the expertise of the coachee, there are also times when the coach has expertise and experience that can have a positive impact on the progress of the coachee. The key is that the advice must be appropriate and asked for.
  • Directing. This is a technique for steering the conversation back toward the stated goals for the session or relationship.
  • Messaging. This is the speaking of a 'truth' that will help the coachee to act more quickly.

Negotiation describes the process by which the coach helps the coachee move from thinking about an issue to taking active steps to do something about that issue. Sometimes, this will occur in the context of the accountability portion of your small group sessions. Sometimes it will happen one-to-one. Occasionally, you will find this skill helpful for leading the small group itself toward corporate decisions. Here are some negotiation techniques:
  • Determine action steps. What's next?  What specific thing are you/we trying to accomplish? What resources do you/we need?  What will you/we have to have in place in order to make this happen?
  • Remove obstacles. What could stop you/we from doing this?  What are the obstacles that could stop you/us from moving ahead? What could go wrong? If you/we move ahead, what is the worst case scenario for how things could derail?
  • Gain commitment. What could you/we do? What are the possibilities? What will you/we do? Let's pick a specific course of action and commit to it. When will this be done? Let's don't leave it hanging out there amorphously. Let's pick a date and commit to it.
Practical tools for negotiating:
  • Small steps.  Having identified a goal, what are the small steps that will be necessary to get
us going on the journey?
  • Backward planning. Let's "begin with the end in mind," and chart out the steps that will be required to get us to the destination.
  • Creating structure. Let's come up with a framework for how the steps will be managed and accomplished.
  • Anchoring. How do we reinforce our core values as we move forward? How do we stay anchored to the core idea that empowers our goal?
  • Daily actions. What daily to-do items will move us forward toward the goal. As we're breaking things down into "small steps," what recurring actions will keep us accountable to making those steps happen.

The GROW model provides a useful structure for coaches to help their coachees move forward in tangible ways (in whatever area of their life - work, relationships, personal growth - in which they wish to move forward. In the small group context (and if you find yourself at some point in a Mentor or Spiritual Guide context), the GROW model can be very effective with guiding accountability discussions. The elements of the GROW model can help focus the group discussion for defining accountability among group members, and it can be an incisive tool for helping individual group members who are interested in growth identify goals and ways to meet those goals.  The GROW model was developed by John Whitmore in Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership and identifies four areas of focus for moving forward in a positive direction.  Here is a textual breakdown of these principles, as used in a standard coaching conversation (the kind you might have with someone for whom you are acting as a spiritual mentor):

GOAL: Where are we headed?
  • How can I be most helpful to you today? What do you need to get the most out of this conversation? What role do you need a listener or advisor to play?
  • What topic should we concentrate on during this session? What is the one topic on which we could focus today that will have the most impact on moving you forward in a meaningful direction?
  • What are the issues that you face today? What are the most important items that are holding you back, giving you grief, or sapping your energy?

REALITY: Where are we starting from?
  • Tell me about your current situation. Describe it as honestly as you can, yet as objectively as possible.
  • What are the difficulties that you face? Name the obstacles and how each is impacting your attitude.
  • How are you resourcing yourself around this issue? In what ways have you sought to gain advice or consult expertise to work through this issue?
  • What is your biggest area of discomfort about this issue? What is the one thing that is causing you the most stress and anxiety?

OPTIONS: How can we get there?
  • Tell me what you think are some options for a solution. List them, without preemptively dismissing possibilities.
  • What else? Probe more deeply around all angles of the issue. What are you missing? 
  • What other options might present themselves as you take on other perspectives?
  • If there were no obstacles (like money or people) what else would you consider?
  • If all options were possible, what would be the best path forward?

WHAT WILL YOU DO? What will it take to get there?
  • What do you need to do this? Having decided to move forward with a defined strategy, what are the specific things you will need to make it happen?
  • How will you prioritize your options? How will you decide what needs to be done first and what can wait till further in the process?
  • What one thing can you accomplish this week that will move you in the right direction? Commit to taking that action fearlessly.   How can I pray for you this week?

  •  How will thinking like a coach (rather than just a teacher) change your small group dynamic?
  • Which of the coaching skills (listening, encouraging, asking powerful questions, responding, negotiating) do you find most natural and which do you find most difficult?
  • What do you find most challenging about being a good listener when you are facilitating a group discussion? What frustrates you the most?
  • How can inspire/lead other participants in your group to also emulate these coaching skills?
  • What insights did you gain from learning about the GROW model that you can use in facilitating group growth?