Have you ever thrown a rock into the water and watched the concentric circles form across the surface of the water? This formation of rings along the water’s surface is known as the ripple effect. That small rock, dropped in the water, indirectly affects the surface of the water several feet outside its initial point of entry.
Sometimes in ministry we forget about the power and importance of the ripple effect. As leaders, we worry that we’re not involved with every child and every volunteer. We feel pulled in many different directions to lead, shepherd, and care for all the kids and volunteers in our ministry. But leadership has limits. In order for you to maximize your influence, you have to think about prioritizing the people in that “first circle” of your ripple effect.
Remember, your relational capacity as a leader is around eight to ten people. That’s why one of the best things you can do as a leader is to play favorites.
So who’s on your “favorites” list? Who should you focus on? The short answer: your small group leaders. All volunteers are important, but small group leaders’ responsibility is greatest because you’ve given them the most influence in kids’ lives. And because you’re expecting the most from them, you’ve got to give them more than you give any other volunteer.
If you want your small group leaders to give kids a place to belong, then maybe you should go first by giving SGLs a place to belong. Regardless of the size of your ministry, small group leaders need someone who prioritizes them.
They need someone who gives them time, training, and care. They need someone who knows what’s going on in their groups, and in their lives too. They need a coach.
What is a coach?
A coach is someone who’s responsible for managing and shepherding small group leaders. A coach should be both a manager and a shepherd.
A coach MANAGES the details that go into creating a great small group experience.
SGLs need someone who . . .
- knows when they show up.
- monitors the size of their group.
- thinks about the dynamics of their group.
- provides the supplies they need to make their group happen.
A coach SHEPHERDS and cares for his or her small group leaders.
SGLs need someone who . . .
- listens to their stories.
- knows the name of their dog.
- cares about their job changes, new babies, and big moves.
- takes care of them before they show up to take care of kids.
In our experience, the best coaches are 50-50:
- 50% relational
- 50% managerial
They manage details and they care for people.
How many coaches do you need?
Deciding how many coaches you need is really a numbers game. Keeping in mind your relational capacity, a good rule of thumb is eight small group leaders to one coach.
If you have six SGLs, for instance, maybe you incorporate coaching responsibilities as part of your own staff role. If you have fifteen SGLs, however, you need to develop a coaching system. That might look like three coaches with someone in charge of those coaches.
Once you’ve determined how many coaches you need, it’s time to start focusing on your coaching strategy. And that means making a few lists.
Your short list
When you play favorites, your small group leaders make it onto your short list. Someone on your ministry team should have the responsibility of knowing your small group leaders personally.
They don’t have to be a marriage counselor, chemistry tutor, personal shopper, or party planner for your SGLs. But they should know the leader in a way that’s more than purely functional.
Your weekly to-do list
When you play favorites, your small group leaders need to make it onto your weekly to-do list.
This looks like . . .
- giving SGLs their small group materials in advance.
- casting and recasting vision to SGLs.
- cueing SGLs to connect with their few.
- training SGLs so they can be better at what they do.
SGLs don’t just need to be known, they need to know what they need to know.
A simple training formula that seems to be effective:
1/3 connection + 1/3 information + 1/3 inspiration . . . and (always) have food
Your party list
Your small group leaders need to make it onto your party list. How often do you celebrate your small group leaders? Remember, these are your favorites. A great coach prioritizes the celebration of SGLs because SGLs are worth throwing parties for.
- Celebrate them publicly. Look for every opportunity you can to celebrate your SGLs publicly. Let the vision spread by example.
- Celebrate them privately. Write a note, send a quick email, or offer a specific compliment in the hallway.
- Celebrate them randomly. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, end-of-the-year appreciations, or just because—create opportunities to celebrate small group leaders unexpectedly and randomly.
Remember: When you get in the habit of coaching SGLs by playing favorites, you’re doing for them what you’re asking them to do for their few.
Questions for reflection
- Who are the people on your favorites list, or in that first circle of influence? Is it your small group leaders? If not, why?
- Do you have a coaching strategy in place? Why or why not?
- Do you see the need for coaches in your ministry who can shepherd and manage SGLs? Of these two primary responsibilities, what are you currently doing well (managing or shepherding)? What could you improve?
- When thinking about this coaching strategy, who makes it on your short list? What’s on your to-do list? How are you celebrating the people on your party list?
For more ideas on playing favorites by creating an effective coaching strategy, check out When Relationships Matter: Make Your Church a Place Where Kids and Teenagers Belong by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Tom Shefchunas. This book explores three values and nine practices that will help you rethink and improve your small group strategy.
Visit WhenRelationshipsMatterBook.com to find out more and to download two free resources:
- The Top 5 Mistakes Leaders Make in Creating a Lead Small Strategy
- Six Ways Small Group Leaders Can Network with Parents