One of the things that sponsor churches can do to help insure the success of their church planting efforts is to encourage or require that their church planters be coached by someone who understands church planters. Good church planters usually have great church planting coaches. According to research conducted by Exponential and Ed Stetzer, one factor that effective church planters have in common is coaching. Stetzer strongly recommends that church planters meet at least monthly and preferably weekly with a trained coach. He stresses the importance coaching as a measurable factor in the success of church planting:
Church planters who met consistently with a coach led churches that averaged twice the size of those with no coach.
What is Coaching?
Coaching is the process of helping another person succeed at what God has called them to do. Bob Logan defines success as finding out what God wants you to do and doing it. The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
Coaching is not the same as teaching, where a more knowledgeable person passes on information to a less knowledgeable person. Coaching involves asking powerful questions that draw upon existing knowledge and the discovery of resources. Coaching is not consulting. Consulting involves giving expert advice, whereas coaching leads the other person to draw upon his or her own experience. Coaching is not the same as mentoring. Mentoring is one person pouring into another person’s life while coaching is focused on drawing out one’s potential.
A coach helps you to discover where you are, where you want to go, and what you need to get there. Imagine yourself looking at a map and finding your intended destination. However, the map is useless unless you also know your starting point. You also need to determine your route, mode of transpiration and resources needed to get to your destination. Coaches help people to get where they are going. A coach will sometimes ask:
· What progress have you made toward your goal?
· What do you need in order to get closer to your goal?
· What are your plans for getting what you need?”
· What are your next steps?”
Why Church Planters Need Coaches
Church planting can be a lonely journey and church planters need people who understand them to walk alongside them. Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea of a new church getting started in their community. Some people, including leaders of other churches, may perceive a new church starting up down the street as a threat to the status quo. Church planters themselves are often misunderstood by the population at large and others in ministry and, therefore, may have a hard time connecting and building deep relationships with peers.
Church Planters Need Help Building Relationships
Church planters are usually good at starting new relationships, often with perfect strangers. However, the personality and character qualities that make a person a good church planter can also make it difficult for him to develop open, meaningful relationships that lead into close friendships.
When we assess potential church planters, we are looking for entrepreneurial, catalytic leaders who tend to be mavericks- bucking the trends and challenging the status quo. Effective church planters are often macro-thinkers who are great at casting vision and communicating the need for new churches. However, they may be weak on details and implementation. Others may perceive them as disorganized and unable to stay focused on repetitive or mundane tasks. Even though they are often borderline workaholics, their work ethic is often unseen by others who label them as lazy.
Church planters often have a spiritual gift mix that prepares them for their task but looks different than legacy pastors. Church planters usually rank high in apostolic gifts and lower in ministry gifts. This means that you are more likely to find a church planter networking at a Starbucks than conducting counseling or making hospital visits.
Church planters typically spend less time in sermon preparation than legacy pastors and more time in community service. In a nutshell, a pastor of an established church may focus more on ministering to the flock while a church planter focuses more on gathering a flock. Someone once asked me about the difference between pastors and church planters. My response was, “Pastors focus on preparing for the next Sunday because they know that there will be a gathering of people expecting to hear a good sermon. Whereas church planters start off with good sermons and spend most of their week preparing people to gather on Sunday, because they don’t know for sure if anyone is going to show up at all.
A church planter coach can help the planter to take an honest assessment of his relationship building skills. In the coaching relationship, the planter will look at areas where he may have relationship blind spots. He will set his own goals and evaluation standards. The coach will ask open-ended questions designed to hold the planter accountable to his own criteria for quality relationships. Such as:
· Who helped you to celebrate wins (accomplishments) this past week?
· What failures did you talk about and with whom?
· Who did you go to for advice?
· What other pastors or church planters did you talk to this week?
· What opportunities for evangelism did you have?
· How did you bring someone along as a leader?
Church Planters Need Help Clarifying Vision
While church planters are usually visionary leaders- scoring high in the “I” quadrant of the DISC profile, they are not always good at nailing down that vision. This can result in frustration for planters as well as the people that they are trying to lead. In the exploratory stages of church planting, the planter may see multiple opportunities for starting churches. Because of his entrepreneurial bent, the planter may give the impression that he is not focused as he bounces around from one prospective venture to another. It is not unusual for a church planter to openly discuss dreams of starting churches in various places, often thousands of miles apart, reaching people representing cultures that appear to have nothing in common.
The planter’s dreams can seem mutually exclusive and practically elusive to even his closest friends. Focus will come later on as God reveals the people and the place for the planter. However, it is hard for a church planter to build credibility, especially if this is his first time at attempting to start a church. A clear and compelling vision helps the church planter to gain credibility. The vision must answer the “why” and the “so what” questions. Such as, “Why does our city need another church?” and, “What impact will this church have on our community?” As the church planter wrestles with the vision, it becomes more than a written statement that appears on the church website or brochure. It becomes internalized so that the planter and those he enlists can express it with conviction.
This kind of vision originates from God, is grounded in scripture and is expressed in the mission of God’s Kingdom through the church. A godly vision is the key to enlisting team members and volunteers. It is the main ingredient in effective fundraising. It becomes a mental picture of what can and must be. It is compelling enough to motivate people to support with their time and money something that does not yet exist.
In the coaching relationship, the coach will help the planter to clarify and articulate his vision. It is crucial for the success of the new church for the planter to be laser focused on his God-given vision. The coach will ask the church planter end-game questions that cause the planter to focus on future outcomes without getting bogged down in the process. Vision questions a church planter coach asks may include:
· On the twentieth anniversary of this church, what will people in the community be saying about how the church changed the community for the better?
· What will it look like when someone comes to know Christ and is discipled by this new church?
· Who are some of the leaders produced by this church and what will they be doing in 10 years?
· Describe the direct impact that this church will have on global missions.
Church Planters Need Help Developing Systems
Systems are simply God’s way of organizing the universe. Solar systems, molecular systems, biological systems, mathematical systems, and societal systems are all examples of systems that we could not do without. Churches have systems too. Just as the human body has multiple systems that are interconnected and allow the body to function; churches function best when critical systems are properly set up and functioning. Most lead pastors oversee systems that were established decades ago, while church planters must create and develop new systems as the church is planted, grows and reproduces.
As mentioned earlier, church planters are not always good at detail-oriented projects. They need people around them who are strong where they are weak. Good leaders will recruit to their weaknesses. They will hire people or enlist volunteers to fill in the gaps of their own abilities. However, human nature leads us to surround ourselves with people who are like us and agree with us. This is a problem in many organizations and often the leaders don’t see it. This leadership blindness can happen in church planting as well. As the church planter is developing systems for the new church, his coach may ask powerful questions such as
· What are the gaps in your church planting system? What pieces are missing?
· What is your evangelism strategy?
· What is your process for discipling new believers?
· How does your assimilation system work?
· What is your leadership development path?
· Who are you equipping to do what you do?
· How will you plant the next church?
A church planter coach can help the church planter to overcome his feelings of loneliness. The coach can also help the planter to bring clarity of purpose and vision while defining values, strategy and critical next steps. The job of the coach is to help the planter to define success from God’s perspective and to deliver on it.
Developing a Coaching Culture
Ministry leader coaching is something that every church should offer and not just for church planters. While the results are often phenomenal, few churches ever go through the trouble of implementing a coaching system. The process may not be as complicated as you think, and the rewards may be greater than you realize.
Identify Potential Coaches
The first step in developing a coaching system in the local church is to identify potential coaches. A good coach needs to be a good listener and good at asking questions. A coach does not need to be a subject matter expert; in fact the coach does not even need to know as much as the person who is being coached. Remember, the coach is not there to impart knowledge, but to help the other person to draw upon his or her own knowledge and experience.
A church planter coach does not have to be an experienced church planter, but it is helpful if he or she understands the unique personality and needs of church planters. In the coaching relationship, the coach views the church planter as the expert. After all, if the planter has been called by God, vetted by the church and trained by the experts, now he simply needs a coach to guide him through a thinking process.
Offer Coach Training
Coaches don’t need to be experts, but they do need to be trained in the art of coaching. A coach needs to learn the discipline of withholding instruction and asking questions. A church planting coach needs to have an opportunity to be around church planters and to understand their unique coaching needs. This can be accomplished through a series of training events and practice. Training can take place online or in groups. However, the art of coaching is more caught than taught. Listed below are some resources that can help churches to develop a coach training process.
Facilitate Peer Learning
Peer learning groups are a great way to train both coaches and church planters. In this environment, the participants learn from each other. Peer learning can start out in triads where two people practice coaching each other and the third person observes and gives feedback. Triads could be a part of a formal coach training event and then extend beyond as follow-up training. The groups should meet weekly in a neutral location where each person can take on the role of coach, observer and person being coached. After at least three sessions, the triads can return to a follow-up training event where they share their experiences and ask deeper questions about their coaching roles.
On-going coach training can take place in a peer learning environment of not more than twelve coaches. As coaches gain more experience, they can get together monthly to share ideas and best practices. This environment is a great way for coaches to encourage each other, hold one another accountable and to practice their skills.
· Free online coach training: goba.org/coaching
· Coach certification: coachnet.org
· Coaching 101 by Bob Logan: churchsmart.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=C101