Helping Small Group Leaders Connect

Part of Multisite Monday

Over the years, I’ve taken more than my fair share of budgetary questions, “How should we allocate our funds? Who oversees the budget? How strict should we be about overages?” The question I receive most? “I have a little money left over for the year, what should I do with it?”

My answer is always the same, “SPEND IT ON SMALL GROUPS!”

My mom and dad taught that where you spend your time and money is reflective of your priorities. If small groups are important, then we must devote time, money, and energy to see them succeed.

Parents bring their kids and students to church for different reasons: discipleship, babysitting, guilt, supplemental parenting, boredom, or even curiosity. Kids and students come to church for two reasons, to have fun and hang out with friends. Once we understand the needs and expectations of those we serve, we can begin to strategize. The role of a small group leader is complex. Simplifying the goals allows for clarity. Here are the three objectives of a small group leader:

  1. To CONNECT with mom or dad through meaningful conversations
  2. To ENGAGE with a kid or student in a fun and exciting way
  3. To FACILIATE relationships both as a mentor and with kids’ or students’ peers

Overtime in a multisite model, the quality of small group execution can start to vary from location to location. It’s easy to get frustrated and lay the responsibility square on the shoulders of the campus director. However, excellence starts with a healthy centralized strategy. There are certain elements that must be present or communicated to ensure small group leaders are set up for success. Let’s examine those essentials and consider how to create centralized strategies to ensure their implementation in a multisite model.

 

Coaching

Coaching is not training. Training happens once a quarter in a multi-purpose room with rows of chairs and snacks. Only about 40% of your volunteer-base show up, and most of the time, it’s the 40% that don’t need training. I’m not a huge advocate of training, because it’s rarely as effective as I hope it will be. Coaching, on the other hand, has proven to be a valuable tool. Coaching is hands-on, in the moment guidance. Pair your more experienced team members with those that need assistance and watch magic happen. Put a rotation schedule in place so every small group leader feels supported and encouraged by the coach.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: Coaching starts with a centralized strategy, but often begins with a single location test run. I would advise you to implement this idea at one of your healthiest locations. Select small group leaders who lead the way and communicate well with their teammates. Set clear expectations and transition them to a coaching role. Coaches should split their time between on-boarding new volunteers and evaluating and supporting current small group leaders.

 

Options

If you’ve ever led a small group for kids or students you know things rarely go as planned. Activities don’t always connect. A question that seems benign on the surface may bring unexpected tears. The new kid says something highly inappropriate and a gigglefest ensues. These unexpected twists and turns will lead to honest and impactful conversations. God rarely does what we expect. He works in mysterious ways. We can acknowledge that by offering options to group leaders. For example: “If this doesn’t work, go back to the game.” or “If a conversation is going well, don’t feel rushed to get on with the lesson plan.” Giving small group leaders margin with curriculum transitions allows the group to grow organically.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: Once you’ve established a coaching model this technique can be demonstrated through hands-on training. In the meantime, clarify your expectations through central curriculum emails.

 

Notes and Nuggets

Have you ever read a lesson plan and imagined its execution in your mind. You probably began to think about what you would do and not do, how you would divide kids or students into teams or how you would celebrate a correct answer. Experience leads to expertise. You know how to make it happen, but don’t assume every small group leader operates as you do. It’s important, as you put your lesson plan together, to provide helpful execution tips along the way. These little nuggets of informational gold set your leaders up for success and teach them how to begin to think as you do. I would also encourage you to leave space on your lesson plan, whether below each activity or in the margin, for notes. The goal is for small group leaders to fully engage with the kids and students he or she is leading. Giving leaders space to work out details encourages them to take ownership and spend additional time in preparation. It won’t be long before they too are executing run-throughs in their mind.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: At the beginning of every activity provide helpful advice for execution. Tips like, “This activity works well when kids or students are sitting on their knees” or “Have your group stand in a circle before placing the blindfold on” can help with flow, limit distraction, and save time. This will promote excellence and consistency across all locations.

 

Nourishment

Great small group leaders create a welcoming and exciting atmosphere for the kids or students in their groups. They facilitate friendship and fun. They can discipline with a smile, and make everyone feel as if they belong. If you read that statement and thought, “I just want mine to show up and know the lesson plan,” maybe the issue isn’t commitment, but rather health. Healthy small groups are lead by healthy small group leaders. When was the last time you checked on the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of your team? The roll of the small group leader is the most important, and you must treat it as such. Handle those volunteers with great care. Meet with them regularly to assess their well-being. Provide leadership development books, devotionals, and prayer journals, and make sure those individuals are sitting under the preached word every week. A spiritually starved leader feels inadequate and unable to do that which has been asked of them. Inadequacy leads to departure. Not only will those individuals produce less than stellar environments, but it’s likely they won’t be around for very much longer. No one enjoys feeling like a failure. You can avoid that by prioritizing the health of your small group leaders and providing a steady stream of nourishment to your teams.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: Make room in your central curriculum budget to purchase a leadership book or prayer journal for every small group leader 2-4 times a year.

 

Examples

Whatever curriculum you choose to use, it’s important to make it easy to read and understand. If instructions aren’t clear, execution will be less than mediocre. Consider providing step-by-step instructions for each activity or conversation, as well as diagrams or pictures of the resources he or she will use. You can even provide example statements for them to say at the beginning of each activity. When you take the guesswork out of lesson prep, you ensure consistency and build unity among your teams.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: When preparing small group supplies centrally or on the campus level, offer clear visuals to group leaders by including a completed sample of each craft or activity.

 

Conversation Starters

Kids and students don’t walk in the doors of your church ready to learn about Jesus. Wouldn’t that be amazing? They come hoping to have fun and see friends. If they walk straight into a Bible study upon arrival, you’ve already failed to meet their expectations. Whatever your curriculum selection, it’s important to provide small group leaders with conversation starters. The foundation of a healthy small group is trust. Trust takes time, but starts with authentic conversation. Set your small group leaders up for success by offering a “Would you rather…” or “The grossest thing I’ve ever seen is…” fill in the blank.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: If conversation starters are not included in the curriculum you select, make sure to provide 3-5 questions or discussion topics in your central curriculum email to help break the ice.

 

Timeliness

It takes time to prepare a lesson that will both engage and connect. Honor a small group leader’s commitment by providing the lesson plan to him or her in a timely manner. Passion is smothered by lack of preparation. If you don’t “get around” to emailing out the lesson plan until later in the week, you shouldn’t be surprised when leaders shows up and read from the script. You haven’t made it a priority, so why should they. A 5-7 day preparation window allows leaders to read over it, consider what they will say, memorize key parts, and apply Biblical truths in their own lives. A healthy small group environment starts with excellent preparation, and that starts days in advance.

Tip for Multisite Implementation: Have the team or individual that oversees curriculum centrally write the lesson plan email each week. This email should be sent to campus directors no later than Tuesday. Leave a few fill-in-the-blank options for campus directors to personalize. This will ensure curriculum emails are clear, consistent, and sent in a timely.

Coaching

Options

Notes and Nuggets

Nourishment

Examples

Conversation Starters

Timeliness

The point of a small group is to connect with kids, students, and parents and make an impact. Without a connection, influence is lost. Without influence, it’s only a matter of time before your ministry loses priority and is superseded by a million other alternatives.

In a multisite model, it may seem impossible to centralize personal connection. However, strong systems and clear expectations allow for success at the campus level. Ask yourself the following questions as you begin to evaluate your strategy.

How are we growing our kid and student small group leaders as a church? What’s our strategy?

Have we communicated that a connection is more important than a schedule? 

Do we provide margin for group leaders to personalize their lesson?

Are lesson plan instructions clear and easy to understand?

Do we offer execution tips for those harder-to-understand activities?

Are we setting small group leaders up for success with conversation starters and icebreakers?

Is the lesson plan provided to the small group leader with ample preparation time?

I hope you will join me again for Multisite Monday here at FamilyMinistry.Church.

Jess Bealer

#OC15 Session Notes: Not Normal – 7 Quirks of Incredible Volunteers

I really enjoyed this breakout which highlighted the content of the new book by Sue Miller and Adam Duckworth. Here are some notes and a fun video.

Quirk #1: Start Somewhere. 

  • 80% of people just don’t know where to start.
  • Most people are so overwhelmed with the need that they never start.
  • As leaders encourage them to start somewhere!
  • Encourage people to try something they LIKE and to start over if they’ve been BURNED!

Quirk #2: Small is Big

  • The smallest things we do have the biggest results.
  • Small things bring about not normal results.
  • Speaking encouraging words, sending birthday cards, etc.

Quirk #3: Own Don’t Rent

  • “If you want to be a not normal volunteer you need to be an owner not a renter.”
  • Owners invest more for a bigger return.

Quirk #4: You, Me & We

  • This is not about ME. This is not about YOU. It’s about how WE do this together!
  • It is about looking side to side to see what is going on around you – rather than focusing on yourself.

Quirk #5: Honor The Leader 

  • Embrace Your Leaders Vision – It will drain volunteers to be part of a vision that they do not support.
  • Sometimes the best thing a volunteer can do is to amicably move on if they are in conflict with their leaders over vision.
  • “Your leader needs a cheerleader, not a drama queen.”

Quirk #6: Replace Yourself

  • Let go of what you want. Let go of your current role. And, let go of controlling your future.

Quirk #7: You Can’t Always See It

  • Volunteers can’t always see the impact they are making.
  • Remind your volunteers often that even if they can’t always see it – they are making a difference.

A Crash Course In Conflict

As published in Kidzmatter Magazine…

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A Crash Course In Conflict

Let’s start with a question. If I were to introduce you to someone you really admire today and a little later you saw them walk by with something in their teeth, would you…

a) Tell them immediately

b) Make some kind of gesture and hope they get the point

c) Not say anything, and hope that someone else will tell them

It is my belief that how you answer this question is a good indicator of how you approach conflict and it’s counterpart, resolution. We all must deal with conflict. HOW we deal with it will greatly determine our impact as a leader. Maybe we should learn to see conflict as an opportunity. For many of us that means we have a multitude of opportunities!

For leaders, the challenge is to not only manage conflict but to create conflict. You read that right: Great leaders create conflict.

What do I mean by creating conflict? There are times when you and I need to address something that is wrong or broken but the person frolicking in the tide of brokenness has no clue there is a problem. They seem oblivious to any tension at all. This type of conflict can be the most difficult to resolve. Not only do you have to shine light on the problem, but you must also address it at the same time. At best, this can be as awkward as telling some unsuspecting person that they have something in their teeth, at worst it can be confrontational and hostile. Let’s look at a scenario somewhere in the middle.

Take Delia for instance. Delia is a volunteer that has been around for quite a while in your ministry but is habitually late. She’s a great volunteer that has a true gift with children and families. No one has addressed her tardiness, despite the fact that she has been late every weekend for a year (except that one time during Daylight Savings Time when she forgot to roll her clock back). What Delia doesn’t realize is that her late arrival forces the rest of the team to arrive earlier than necessary to cover for her lack of prep time. As a leader, you can’t ignore it any longer. You can’t even just hint at it (you tried that ten times already). You have to meet with Delia and explain the situation. More than likely, she will not respond in anger, but in embarrassment or shock. She has been completely oblivious to the scowls of her teammates. She just thought they were all a little grumpy.

When scenarios such as this arise, you, as a leader, have a choice.

a) Address the matter head on and face whatever Delia’s response may be. (“Umm, I hate to say it, but you have something in your teeth!”)

b) Leave the church altogether and hope everyone figures out it is because your volunteer Delia keeps showing up late. (A big gesture, yes. Let me know if your next church is free from problems.)

c) Allow a group of volunteers to be frustrated for a prolonged period of time and hope one of them will eventually confront Delia for you.

You may be thinking, “I’ve already got enough conflict, who needs more?” You’re asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is, “Do I have healthy conflict that will help move my ministry forward or is turmoil brewing?” While a leader must learn to be comfortable with conflict, they should constantly protect against turmoil.

Turmoil and conflict are very different. Based on the diagnostic below, are you experiencing conflict or turmoil?

Turmoil is a state of great disturbances, confusion, or uncertainty.

Conflict is a state of identifiable disagreement, opposition or disharmony.

Turmoil is draining and never productive.

Conflict can be constructive and facilitate growth.

Turmoil is most often filled with conflict.

Conflict does not necessarily derive from turmoil.

There’s a big difference between living in a state of turmoil and managing the tensions of healthy conflict.

As a leader, what we do with conflict is one of our greatest responsibilities. Yet, we spend very little time learning how to improve it. Welcome to a crash course in conflict.

You should know that I am completely comfortable with confrontation. Some people have complicated lives, I guess you could say my life has been very conflicated (I think I just made up a new word).

Before we get too far into our discussion on conflict, I want to make sure that we are all on the same page.  Everything discussed here MUST be wrapped in the love and grace of Jesus. As we read in 1 Corinthians 13, we can do many things but without love it is nothing.

Here are 4 truths that my ‘conflicated’ life has taught me

1) Conflict is rarely addressed too soon and is most often addressed too late.

Most of us can immediately bring to mind a conflict that wasn’t addressed in a timely manner and the nightmare that ensued. Church splits, division among leaders, and staffing disagreements often point back to untimely conclusions. It’s better to go ahead and get a conversation started right now. If not, you will just find yourself in a world of turmoil.

2) You can’t do what God wants you to do and completely avoid conflict.

Jesus dealt with a lot of conflict involving both religious leaders and His own disciples. The way He was able to identify the root issue was astounding. Can you imagine Jesus trying to fulfill His mission on this earth without conflict? Of course not! Why should you and I expect it to be different for us as we pursue God’s calling on our lives?

3) Conflict rarely resolves itself. Instead, it creates incredible opportunities to reflect the love and mercy of Christ to others.

I will never forget sitting down with a young lady named Samantha to discuss some conflict that was arising between her and several members of her team. As I began to speak to her, she began to cry. As Samantha wiped away her tears, she explained that she never intended to be rude or hurtful to those around her. However, she was facing a difficult situation at home, and her hopelessness in that situation was bleeding over to her volunteer role. In that conversation, I discovered that she was in an abusive relationship. Once Samantha opened up, she was able to find the assistance and support she needed to remove herself from that situation. Can you imagine if I had chosen to avoid the awkwardness of that very difficult conversation? I would have missed the opportunity to help a woman in need, and Samantha may have never received the help she so desperately needed.

4) One of the most frustrating places to find yourself is under the leadership of someone who avoids conflict.

There is a certain measure of uncertainty that comes from serving under a “conflict-free” leader. More often than not, this kind of leader comes across as dispassioned, careless, or oblivious. While you don’t want to be perceived as a headhunter looking for trouble, ignoring problems often creates a burdened team filled with strife and resentment. I truly believe that a good leader is a lover and fighter: Loving toward the people in our lives but willing to fight for what God has entrusted to our care.

I don’t want to leave you with a bunch of difficult truths without a few tips to help you manage the treacherous waters of conflict.

Here are a few strategies that have helped me along the way.

Four Strategies For Resolving Conflict

1) Be prepared. Play out the best and worse case scenarios before you meet.

Prepare for how you expect the person you are confronting to respond (based on previous behaviors) and how you hope he or she will respond (based on the Holy Spirit working in them). Depending on his or her response, ask yourself, what is your relationship with this person going to look like moving forward?

2) Assess your heart before assessing his or hers.

Ask yourself, why are you having this conversation to begin with? Is this a pride issue on your part? Are you meeting with this person because it’s what is best for the ministry?

3) Seek God’s Word before you act. The scripture is filled with examples of how to (and how not to) address conflict.

1 Thessalonians 2:8 (how to)

2 Samuel 14:1-15:37 (how not to)

John 21:15-19 (how to)

Matthew 18:15-17 (how to)

4) Conflict rarely gets resolved without a few tears.

Conflict can be emotional. It’s important to take the time to meet face to face. Never address an issue through text or email. People need to hear your tone and see your expressions. Those that you meet with need to know that you care about them. Can you imagine Jesus addressing Peter’s denial of Him via courier? It sounds ridiculous because it is. Along the way, you will discover your leadership style, as it relates to conflict. You’ll also discover if you’ve invested enough into those you lead. When you have relational equity, it’s much easier to address the proverbial “elephant in the room” in a way that shows love and resolves the problem efficiently.

Conflict will occur. A healthy team has healthy conflict. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes that means you, as a leader, need to go on the offensive to push your ministry forward. In order to do so, lead with the reason behind the conflict. Give some vision around what God is calling the team to do and point out any issues that may be hindering that. This isn’t about personal preferences. We have a mission to reach a world in need of the Gospel.

Speaking of the Gospel, in John 13:35, Jesus said that “our love for one another will show the world that we are His disciples.” Show love in the midst of conflict and watch as others are drawn in. People appreciate passion even if it shows itself through healthy conflict.

As I mentioned earlier, these truths about conflict should be filtered through a lens of grace. I’m not suggesting that you should look for conflict at every turn. For most leaders, this isn’t your approach anyway. Most of us tend to lean the opposite direction. We hope that over time the conflict will resolve itself. We all have those anecdotal stories of situations miraculously working out. In reality, this rarely happens in ministry.

It’s important to note that simply reading this article isn’t enough. We must not only be aware of conflict (that’s not the hard part), we must do something about it!

I know we have just scratched the surface on the matter of conflict. Each scenario is unique and difficult in it’s own way. One area that cannot go unmentioned is forgiveness. This topic is too big to address in this article, but my pastor, Steven Furtick, did a fantastic job unpacking this topic in a series called F-Bomb. You can watch or listen to the entire series for free by visiting the sermon archives at elevationchurch.org

Let’s keep the conversation going.

Wow Moments

As published in Kidzmatter Magazine…

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The opportunity is there every weekend. The opportunity to truly ‘wow’ our guests. I’m not talking about expensive programming or big productions. I’m referring to the opportunities to go above and beyond in the way that we serve our guests.

Recently I was inspired as I saw a “fight” happening outside of one of the toddler rooms at church as a mother (first time guest) was starting to waiver on her decision to leave her twin toddlers with our children’s ministry volunteers as she and her husband went to the adult worship experience. Why did she waiver? It was not because the room was out of control, poor ratios, or atmosphere…they were all great. She was wavering because her twins were having a melt down. What happened next inspired me, I watched as a volunteer and the campus children’s director each took a child and begged the mom to let them stay. To reassure the mom that everything was going to be okay, the director offered to text the mom a couple of updates during the worship experience (I know what some of you are thinking. Texting during church! You tell me which is better: a panicked mother who can’t concentrate on anything the pastor is saying or a mom who is reassured and engaged) the mom got a status update before the 3rd worship song with a picture of two smiling kids learning about Jesus. That is a wow moment.

The next weekend, at another campus, a family was checking in their child and mentioned to our Host Services Team that they had just locked their keys in their car. As you can imagine, the mom was very stressed by this fact. As the mother shared her frustration, the host services member asked where she had parked. She assured her that things would work out and encouraged the family to continue on into the worship experience. As soon as the worship experience began, this incredible volunteer contacted a towing service and enlisted their assistance.  When the parents came to pick up their child following the worship experience, the host services team member handed them the keys to their vehicle. Another wow moment.

There was a time when secure check in, nice facilities, and smiling faces were enough but most people expect all of these now. Meeting expectations rarely makes a Wow moment.  Think about it. Can you imagine throwing a party because your team met expectations? So what do we do? You could have a live circus featuring elephants and trapeze artists every weekend. You could have a personal concierge for every single guest that has been formally trained by the Ritz Carlton. You could do a lot of things. I want to suggest that bigger isn’t what we need. We need wow moments.

Wow moments come in all shapes and sizes. More often than not wow moments come as the result of that one person being awesome that one time (many of us use that anecdotal story every time that we talk about ministry). What if you had new wow stories every weekend? More importantly, what if a few families felt more connected each weekend?

We are going to discuss some very practical questions and ideas in a moment, but before we get too deep into the practical side of wow moments, lets talk about the why of wow moments. It’s simple really. When expectations are exceeded, people tend to lower their defenses and are more open to hear what you have to say about Jesus. We have the good news and we must do everything that we can to help them hear it.

It’s important that you understand that if you rely on anything other than connecting with people to create wow moments, the wow will fade. Your facilities and programming may be jaw dropping to the first time guest but is it still amazing after 30 consecutive visits. Impressive? Maybe. Wow! No. Your facilities and programming are limited by resources but your relationship building should not be.

Every interaction with a family is another opportunity to wow them.

Here are three questions to ask your self to get started…

  1.  What does a wow moment look like in our context? Start with stories of wow moments that have happened in your ministry. What can you do to recreate similar stories as well as create new ones?
  2. Is there anything that we are currently doing systematically that can be changed to become a wow moment? (Maybe you have people available to answer questions at an information counter but what are they doing when they are not asking questions?)
  3. Why wouldn’t I start this week? You can spend an hour with your team after reading this article and come up with a dozen ideas of how you can start to wow now!

The key when you are reviewing theses questions is to over deliver. That’s the wow. Time and time again we see Jesus delivering more than what was expected. People came to be healed and they left healed & forgiven. People wanted a new interpretation of scripture and they walked away with a word from God & life altering truth.

Always deliver more. Deliver the wow.