7  |  Do  What  Matters  Daily

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


Being a courageous follower of christ is hard work. Taking up our cross involves sacri- fice and a willingness to view the world and our daily encounters through the eyes of Jesus. exerting leadership for the sake of christ is also hard work, and we can expect to run into obstacles as we live into God’s preferred future. in the coaching cHaNGe process, persistence is key. Leaders will find that even if earlier steps of aligning and goal setting have gone relatively well, they will eventually encounter some resistance. as leaders, we can expect to be sabotaged by others. So how do we provide effective leadership as we swim upstream and move people beyond their comfort zones as well as ours? This chapter explores what it means to guide people and the cHaNGe process through such challenges. When i go river rafting one of things i like to observe is how the guide interacts with the people in his raft, and how he exerts leadership along the way to the final destination. Specifically, the best guides exemplify five critical qualities:
  • maintaining a nonanxious presence in the midst of rough waters and changing conditions
  • addressing counterproductive behavior immediately
  • celebrating short-term wins
  • adjusting their plans based on the situation
  • recognizing and removing roadblocks

Maintaining a Non-anxious Presence
many years ago i lead a youth mission trip to New orleans, and i brought along an adult leader who was highly organized, had a deep faith, and was a great cook—all traits that were much appreciated for this trip. She also brought along another trait to the experi- ence that i wasn’t prepared for—anxiety. What started out as a minor irritation for me became a major issue by the middle of the trip. She had a strong need for control, and when she couldn’t control things to her satisfaction (pretty typical for a mission trip), her anxiety level skyrocketed. By day five of the mission trip, i was spending more time dealing with her anxiety than i was interacting with the young people. i noticed that other people were picking up her anxiety, including myself. it wasn’t until i realized how “viral” i had become that i was able to detach myself from the anxiety and exert more effective leadership. This experience taught me the importance of being a nonanxious presence in the midst of other people’s anxiety.

Addressing Counterproductive Behavior
A rafting guide learns to address unhelpful behavior immediately, because failing to do so may hinder outcomes and endanger participants. When congregational leaders fail to address counterproductive behavior, they jeopardize achieving the congregation’s mission and vision. At a congregation’s staff leadership team retreat i was part of, i noticed that a couple of people presented major challenges to the team in fulfilling their collective roles. one of the team members was extremely rigid about how things needed to be done and frequently shut down conversations that the group desperately needed to have. another team member’s identity was wrapped up in the role she played working at the congregation. She needed to prove herself to others and often chided others who weren’t as committed as she was. When i asked a couple of people how long these situa-
tions had been occurring, one remarked, “oh, longer than i’ve been here,” which was more than seven years. When asked, “Why hasn’t anyone addressed these situa-
tions?” several comments came forth:
“i didn’t see it as my role to confront them.”
“i know it’s a problem but i don’t have the time to deal with it.”
“i find it’s easier to work around it than deal with it.”
“i didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”
“i’m uncomfortable dealing with conflict.”

As an outsider, it was easy for me to see how the dysfunction was adversely affecting the team’s productivity and cohesiveness. This team had created and regularly recited a covenant that gave every team member permission to address the dysfunction that was present. The “I don’t have time” excuse is simply that—an excuse to remain immo-
bilized. my experience is that these conversations take very little time. Most people are simply afraid of entering into these conversations because we feel ill-equipped to do so.
Small problems often become big ones when we fail to address them as they arise. We hope that these problems will go away on their own and that we won’t have to deal with them. one consequence of waiting too long to tell a person something we should have told them immediately is that when we finally do say something six months later, the person begins to wonder what else we have not told her, destroying trust in that relationship.

We pay a significant cost when we walk away from these difficult conversations. if we don’t master the art of having crucial confrontations, nothing will get better.

Small problems often become big ones when we fail to address them as they arise.

Sometimes we think that we can solve performance problems by simply changing the performance review system or changing our personnel policies. These are technical solutions that won’t solve adaptive problems. Situations like the ones described above require a face-to-face conversation held in a safe place.
Before seeking to resolve an issue, we need to be clear about the exact nature of the problem we hope to resolve. i’ve noticed that most problems among leadership team members generally fall into one of three categories:
• A single, isolated situation: “i noticed that you arrived twenty minutes late to lead the choir rehearsal and some members were visibly upset while waiting for you. is there anything i should know about what prevented you from being on time?”
• A series or history of events that demonstrate a pattern: “i’ve noticed that you have a pattern of arriving five minutes late each week for teaching Sunday school.
This prevents us from greeting each student as they enter the classroom, and sometimes causes interruptions for other teachers. What are some ways you see that we could fix this problem?”
• A situation that adversely affects relationships: “Tom, the deadlines we assign to you are consistently not met, which disrupts our workflow in the office.
                                                       “Rotating bald tires is a time-consuming activity that changes nothing.”
i’m beginning to wonder if i can trust you with completing upcoming projects on time. Help me understand how i should interpret
your behavior.”
if the solution you’re applying doesn’t get you the results you want, you’re most likely dealing with the
wrong problem. if you’re dealing with the same issue more than once, you’re probably dealing with the
wrong type of problem. Sometimes we need to unbundle the problem and focus on the most significant problem first. Try distilling the problem
into a single sentence, such as “Tom, i’m struggling with your pattern of not replying to my urgent
e-mails in a timely manner.” avoid the tendency to sugarcoat the problem by sharing a compliment first and then following up with the “gap in behavior.” Listed
below are a few phrases i have found helpful while enter- ing into difficult conversations:
  •   “Help me understand how you came to that conclusion . . .” 
  • “is there a reason you . . . ?”
  • “i’m uncomfortable with . . . / the statement you just made . . . / this course of action.”
  • “i’ve noticed . . . and i’m not sure how to interpret your actions.”

My dad used to tell me, “rotating bald tires is a time-consuming activity that changes nothing.” i think it serves as a helpful metaphor for all the things a congregation does to dance around problems rather than deal directly with them. These kind of problems will not be resolved unless there is someone serving as a nonanxious pres- ence who willingly addresses the causes of the problem rather than just the symptoms.

Monitoring Progress and Celebrating Short-Term Wins
I've noticed that guides always take time throughout the journey to affirm rafters and celebrate their progress. There are “high fives” after running a set of rapids, with frequent words of encouragement to recognize the contributions of each team member. in the same manner, effective leaders identify appropriate short-term goals for a congre- gation and make note of the progress they’re making. This is where having a written list of thirty-day, sixty-day and ninety-day goals can be helpful in identifying potential short-term wins that are worthy of celebration. in addition to recognizing and celebrat- ing short-term wins, a leader or coach can use these milestone moments to learn from their success and failures, asking questions such as these:
  • What led to the successful completion of the goal? 
  • How do we do more of what made us successful?
  • What slowed down our progress?
  • What might we do differently in the future?

When working with congregations, i often encourage session moderators and council chairs to maintain a “celebrations” list, which is included at the bottom of every meeting agenda and is reviewed and updated at every meeting. By reviewing the cel- ebrations monthly, leaders are reminded that progress is being made, that God is at work through our efforts, and that attending to results and next steps are important. during this time of reviewing the celebration list, i’ll ask three questions:
  • What has been accomplished since we last met that needs to be added to this list?
  • How will we inform the congregation about the progress we’re making?
  • What do we hope to accomplish before we meet again?

Celebrating short-term wins serves as a launching pad for setting next steps and new goals. it reminds people of their capacity to make a difference and energizes others to “get on board.” How might you make celebrating short-term wins part of your meeting rituals?

Adjusting Plans Based on the Situation
Rafting guides learn to quickly assess the skills of their group and make adjustments as needed to accomplish their task. They learn when to move people beyond their com- fort zones, careful not to push them beyond what they are capable of. They move people to different locations and positions within the raft based on where they can make the biggest difference. They ask lots of questions and seek constant feedback to ensure a safe and memorable experience. effective leaders are like rafting guides who constantly assess the situation, quickly and accurately gather feedback, and discern how to best exert their leadership in ways that are most helpful for the congregation. They quickly match up the gifts and passions of their people with the congregation’s mission, and find ways to make the most of the congregation’s resources. in short, effective leaders learn to be nimble and adaptive, making changes as needed to fulfill the mission. in his book Managing Transitions (Philadelphia: Perseus Books, 2009), author and business consultant William Bridges reminds us of the importance of
                                                     How might you make celebrating short-term wins part of your meeting rituals?
understanding the stages for transitioning from where we are to where we want to be.
coaches are aware of the two fears congregations face—the fear of too much change and the fear of too little change. People that fear
too much change are concerned about losing control. People that fear too little change may be unwilling to invest significant time and energy if they think the end result will be minimal. Please note that all change will produce conflict, which is good and not to be
avoided. a good guide will pay attention to how people are responding to the change and will make adjustments as needed to
move things forward in a healthy manner.
Recognizing and Removing Roadblocks
Every goal has obstacles that hinder one’s progress or derail one’s plans. for river rafters, it’s rocks and rapids. Sometimes it’s one of the rafting participants. for congregations, it can be a multitude of things. Take time to review
“roadblocks to renewal” (Tool 26) and consider how you might
be more proactive in anticipating and dealing with the road- blocks you encounter. as you identify the roadblocks in your ministry, schedule time with staff or ministry team leaders to explore options for addressing them in a proactive manner. The roadblocks rarely disappear, so learn to
deal with them sooner rather than later.

How Congregations Sabotage Their Change Efforts
most roadblocks that congregations encounter are self- inflicted. Listed below are the top six ways i see congregations sabotage their own efforts.
Most roadblocks that congregations encounter are self-inflicted.
  • They send out mixed messages. Leaders must speak with one voice and vision. change is disconcerting enough, but even more so when the leaders are not on the same page. a clear and powerful vision, undergirded with a strong, credible strategy is almost unstoppable. This vision must be focused, flexible, and easy to communicate. it must be communicated in a way that inspires action and guides people’s actions and decision making.
  • They fail to obtain adequate buy-in. Not only must your congregation have a clear picture of what the future will look like, that vision must be embraced by key stakehold- ers of the congregation. Before a congregation announces a capital campaign, they typically have in place a guiding coalition, dozens of committed donors, and plenty of advocates ready to support the campaign process. When considering who might be part of your guiding coalition, ask yourself: Who are influential people that shape the opinions of our people? Who has expertise in areas that would help move this initiative forward? Who has earned the respect of others in our congregation?
• Who has proven leadership skills that can help drive the change process?

Focus on getting 20 percent of your congregation to buy-in on the initiative before publicizing the project to everyone.
Successful initiatives always have a sense of urgency.
  • They fail to create an “actionable” ministry plan. most plans i see only scratch the surface of what’s possible and are not designed to go deep within the congregation. Superficial efforts will not be sustained, and eventually you’ll hear people say, “We tried that before and it didn’t work.” We’ve all heard the phrase, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” if your plan does not identify action steps that will involve the majority of your people, it will most likely fail. all good plans help people understand the big picture, the next steps that need to be taken, and what role each person will play. if your plan leaves out any of these three items, expect to experience a few roadblocks. You may wish to review the section in the previous chapter on navigating change about setting 30-day, 60-day and 90-day goals.
  • They work on too many projects at once. remember the phrase “do less and go deeper.” focus on just one or two initiatives rather than a laundry list of projects. many congregations create a theme for the year and address just one project at a time. Successful initiatives always have a sense of urgency built into them that provides a compelling reason for why others should get involved now. it’s very hard to communicate this urgency when you’re working on multiple projects at once.
  • They undercommunicate. When it comes to change, there are three questions everyone wants answers for: What is the change? Why is it happening? How is it happening? The why answers are what motivate people to take action. The how answers help people understand how the change will unfold and how they can contribute to the effort. When leaders spend months working on a plan, it’s easy for them to lose sight of the fact that others aren’t as fully invested at this point. This is like being on a roller coaster where the people in front (leaders) are well aware of what’s about to happen and the people at the end (members) are clueless about what’s about to transpire. When in doubt, always overcommunicate. use at least seven different communication mediums, such as the following:
• one-to-one meetings and phone conversations
• Website, blogs, facebook, Twitter, other social media venues • e-mails
• Texting
• Posters and entryway signs and banners
• Video clips and storytelling
• cottage meetings, dinner discussions
• Newsletters, flyers, and handouts

i can’t think of a case when a program failed because there was too much commu- nication. make sure your communication efforts focus on your primary goals and key messages—avoid allowing less important projects and programs to overshadow your main talking points. Keep in mind that your communication plan must also address ways your congregation intends to address short-term wins and key accomplishments. People are energized by and will continue to support efforts if they see that they’re making progress and making a difference. Without the continued support of the people in the congregation, the change efforts will die a slow death.
6. They underestimate the power of entropy. i’m often amazed at how quickly congre- gations will revert to their old, counterproductive behaviors. resistance is always waiting in the wings to reassert itself. The consequences of letting up, becoming complacent about your communication and behaviors, can be very dangerous. Whenever you let up before the job is done, critical momentum can be lost and regression may soon follow. The new behaviors and practices must be driven into the congregational culture to ensure long-term success. once regression begins, rebuilding momentum is a daunting task.
i worked with a congregation that spent considerable effort reframing their leader- ship meeting agendas and integrating their key messages into everything they did. about six months into the coaching process, i noticed that their newsletter no longer included faith formation stories about their people (one of their goals), the meeting agendas no longer included time for caring conversations and for evaluating their meetings. Nor were they regularly reviewing their goals, tracking their accomplishments, and planning new thirty-day goals . The pastor continued to preach great sermons (i’d listen to his podcasts) but was no longer weaving the congregation’s mission and vision into them. in essence, what i was observing was entropy in action where the positive changes they had made earlier were no longer being practiced and reinforced. i didn’t wait to discuss this with him at our next coaching session. i called him immediately, because i knew that the longer we waited to correct the action, the harder it would be to reverse course. Leaders must avoid declaring victory too soon and moving on. They must focus ondriving the desired change deeper into the congregation. They must take the time to ensure that the new practices are firmly grounded in the organization’s culture. i encourage leaders to keep and regularly review a list of “new behaviors and practices” they have implemented. i inform leaders that when the behaviors or practices are no longer being consistently observed, it needs to become an agenda item at their next leadership team meeting and stated in a way that gets at “How do we get back on track?” if leaders fail to address problems when they’re small, they almost always become larger and more significant problems later. it reminds me of how most congre- gations deal with inactive members. When people haven’t been active for one or two years, they end up on a list and the church sends a letter to the household asking if they intend to continue their membership. in my experience, less than 5 percent of inactive people ever become reactivated through this process. most congregations call this process “cleaning up our membership list.” Let’s face it, if we were really concerned about their spiritual well-being, we’d be contacting them after a month of inactivity, not waiting a year or more to find out their status. i call this practice the “too little too late” syndrome that plagues most congregations and hinders our capacity to do our best work on behalf of the kingdom.

How Leaders Sabotage Their Congregation’s Change Efforts
As individuals and leaders of the congregation, we need to acknowledge that we play an important role in whether or not our congregation fulfills its mission. We may lament that our congregation is drifting, lacks clarity of purpose, and can’t seem to sustain positive change. in many ways, it’s not much different than what most of us experience in our own lives. How many of us have created a personal mission statement or clearly understand what God is calling us to be and do? How many of us consistently eat well, exercise, floss our teeth, read the Bible, pray regularly, and more? unfortunately, it is much easier to set goals than it is to achieve them. individuals encounter many of the same roadblocks as congregations, such as lack of a clear vision and trying to do too many things too quickly. The roadblocks i find most common in congregational leaders include the following:
They lack a clear understanding of their own vocation. Leaders are often unclear about their vocation, or what Jesus is calling them to be and do for the sake of the kingdom.
 Understanding our vocation is a spiritual discernment process that involves looking at our areas of giftedness, passions, life experiences, and more. it’s hard to be a self-differ- entiated leader and a non-anxious presence if we are unclear about who we are and whose we are, and what role we play when we interact with other congregational leaders.
They lack the necessary knowledge and skills to provide effective leadership. it’s hard for leaders to be effective if they lack critical knowledge about the congregation, family systems dynamics, how the congregation makes decisions, and so forth. is it fair to expect leaders to lead effective meetings if they’ve never been trained how to moder- ate one? is it fair to expect leaders to know how to deal with a member’s inappropriate venting if they haven’t role-played similar situations? does your congregation provide tools and training to help leaders facilitate focus groups, lead task forces, or serve as a project manager? if high performing teams are made up of high performing individuals, then how does a congregation and its leaders make sure that it’s helping pastors, program staff, and congregational leaders perform at their very best? Have you consid- ered helping leaders create a personal development plan to make the most of their giftedness? do you provide mentors for new leaders? are your leaders required to read certain books or articles? do you include continuing education presentations and resources at your monthly meetings? if we invite people into ministry, then we have to have a plan for equipping and supporting them.

They forget which hat they’re wearing. i remember working with a congregation who had a delightful, bubbly office manager named ruth who made everyone feel welcome and special. She radiated hospitality and knew just about everyone in the congregation. unfortunately, she was also organizationally challenged, computer illiterate, frequently forgot to pass on critical messages (“a member just died”) to pastors, and she viewed deadlines as mere suggestions. By not addressing the inadequacies of this person’s administrative skills, the very tasks she was hired to do, the organization was paying a huge cost. as i sat in on a meeting where leaders were discussing how to deal with ruth, it was obvious that people’s friendships with ruth were causing them to discount the adverse impact she was having on the work flow and overall ministry of the congre- gation. When there was a break in the conversation, i interjected a series of questions:
• does anyone have concerns about ruth’s character? (all shared a resounding “No”)
• does anyone have concerns about ruth’s competence related to her position? (all said “Yes”)
• is it fair to say that a person in this position should have good character and be competent? (all said “Yes”)
              • is it fair to say that ruth’s lack of competence is negatively affecting ministry efforts of paid and volunteer workers? (all said “Yes”)
• is it fair to say that ruth’s lack of competence is hurting this congregation’s ability to fulfill its mission? (most said “Yes”)
• is it fair to say that your role as a congregational elder is to make decisions that are in the best interests of the congregation rather than based on your personal friendship with ruth? (eventually all said “Yes”)

The conversation continued but was framed in a much different manner once leaders were aware that they needed to wear their “council hat” at the moment rather than their “friend hat.”
Arrogance, defensiveness, and rigidity. Leaders that exhibit an arrogant, “i know best” mindset shut down constructive conversations. Leaders who are defensive also shut down conversations when they erupt in anger or are obviously irritated by the discus- sion. defensive leaders avoid being held accountable or project blame elsewhere. Leaders known for being rigid impose confining structures on their organizations, often because they lack basic confidence in their own abilities and the abilities of others. Their energy is focused on controlling everything and they are frequently perceived as micro- managers. if not addressed, all three of these behaviors tend to immobilize leadership teams, and important issues no longer get discussed and new ideas never get shared.
are your leaders willing to name the “elephants in the room”? do you have a strategy for dealing with these situations before they actually occur? do you have a covenant that gives you permission to confront inappropriate behavior?

Final Thoughts
Every congregation i’ve worked with related to strategic planning has had to address the following roadblocks or obstacles at some point in the implementation process. i name them to provide you with a heads-up rather than offering a bevy of solutions. (See Tool 26, “roadblocks to renewal,” for additional insights.)
Procrastination: The hardest part for many people is just getting started. When you think about your goal in its totality, it may seem daunting. The key is to break it down into doable steps. once you do that, it’s easy to get started. i encourage pastors and program staff to inform their colleagues in ministry of their next steps in ministry and to ask people to hold them accountable.

Murphy’s Law: “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Just when you were making real progress toward your goal, something unexpected happens and causes a setback.
How you approach a setback is critical. Some people will become discouraged, while others give up. others will take this in stride and find a way to get to their goal. do your best to plan ahead and anticipate problems, refusing to let these challenges derail you from moving forward.
  • Plateaus: it’s normal after working on your goal for a period of time to hit a plateau. You know when you’ve hit a plateau because the same things that were working before suddenly aren’t working—and that’s exactly the problem. You need to do something different. Hitting a plateau means you need to shake things up, do things in a different order, or try something new until you start seeing progress again. What worked when you first started on your goal may not work several weeks or months later. The key is flexibility and a willingness to try new approaches.
  • Discouragement: along the way to your goal you may hit a rough patch and become discouraged. The important thing to know about discouragement is that it’s temporary. This is when it’s helpful to have a prayer partner or a network of support to sustain you in times of disappointment.

There’s never a “right time” to facilitate change. We must accept that we are going to experience obstacles along the way. We don’t know exactly which ones, but we know it’s inevitable. So, when something does happen, we’re not shocked and we’re not discouraged; it’s simply part of the process. dealing with these obstacles will require moving beyond our comfort zones and moving into uncharted territory. in most cases, when the comfort zone is at odds with our goal, the comfort zone usually wins unless we remind ourselves why we’re seeking the desired change. if the why is big enough, the how won’t hinder us from living into God’s preferred future. There’s never a “right time” to facilitate change.

             Surface to Soul


  • In what ways are the actions of the pastors and lay leaders not aligned with the congregation’s mission, vision, values, and goals?
  • What steps might your congregation take to be more fully aligned, strategically (for example, in mission, vision, values, goals, structure, personnel)?
  •  What are some of the words and phrases that should be part of your common language?
  •  What procedures, practices, and processes do you need to tighten up or address?
  •  What qualities do you look for in congregational leaders?
  • How does the congregation nurture these qualities in our current leaders?
  •  What’s the next step for integrating your core values into your congregation?
  • What kind of alignment would you like to see in your life?  Your household?


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?