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Creating a Coaching Culture in Your Church

No matter the size of your church, creating a coaching culture can move your congregation forward in carrying out the Great Commission.

By Bill Copper

Author's introduction

At its core, coaching is about relationships. It is about connecting people to their highest aspirations, potential, and passions. Coaching is a means by which we can help people plug in to their dreams, calling, and design, and help them discover the actions that will move them forward. Your church, too, is a place where these connections are made, or at least it could be.

What would it be like for those in your church to be really clear about who and how God designed them to be? How would it change the impact of your congregation on your community if those involved in your congregation were intentional about how God has gifted them, where their passions lie, and what they could do to leverage those gifts and passion for the betterment of their community? These are the kinds of benefits churches and other organizations are experiencing as a result of creating a coaching culture within the organization.

Reflection questions: How can you, as a ministry leader, better equip others to serve their faith community? What if the members of your congregation felt more ownership and responsibility for the ministry of your church?

What is Coaching?

You have probably heard people use the term coaching to describe various activities. Given the growing popularity of coaching in the last several years, it is no wonder many call themselves coaches. So, what are we talking about?

As we understand coaching in our organization, we are talking about a mindset, a skill set, and a relationship.

Coaching starts with a mindset … a fundamental belief in the worth, capabilities, and motivation of others. Coaches believe in other people and in their value — that inherent set of talents, passions, and potential. Coaches believe others have within them the ability to determine what they want, the actions they can take to get what they want, and the ability and motivation to take that action. Coaches start out believing that others do not need our solutions, but are capable of determining their own solutions.

How would believing this about the people in your congregation change how you interact with them? What would your conversations look like if you believed this about others?

Another important element of a coaching mindset is the belief that people are more likely to act on their own ideas. We have adopted a saying popularized by Thomas Peters in his 1985 best seller A Passion for Excellence: “No one ever washes a rental car.” People take care of what they own, including their ideas. Coaches understand that when we draw out ideas and solutions from others, they are much more likely to act on those ideas.

In addition to a mindset, coaching is also a skill set. Coaches use a specific set of skills in their communication with others that is designed to draw out the best in them. Coaches listen, ask questions, and encourage others in a way that inspires them to think, dream, and discover their own solutions and then take action on those solutions. Excellent coaches learn to listen well. When we listen to others, we hear their passions, fears, and dreams. We listen for doubts, roadblocks, and assumptions. We listen on behalf of the other person without judgment, without trying to solve or figure out.

Coaches also ask questions. We use questions not to get answers, but to get people to think in ways they have not thought of before. Coaches do not ask leading questions, attempting to get the other person to see some truth the coach sees. Coaches ask questions to get others to see things from a whole new perspective.

Coaches ask questions in much the way Jesus did. In Mark 6:38, Jesus asked His disciples, “How many loaves do you have?” Do you think Jesus did not know how much food was at their disposal? Was Jesus curious about how many loaves the disciples could gather up? Certainly not. Jesus knew the answer. He was not asking so He could know. He asked so they would open their eyes to the resources available. Jesus asked this question to get them to see the situation from a different perspective.

Jesus never asked questions because He was curious about the answers. Jesus knew the answers — He knew the hearts and thoughts of the other person. Jesus asked questions so the other person would know the answer (see the sidebar, “Jesus’ Questions”).

How would your communication change if you started telling less and asking more? How would your relationships change if your questions caused others to really think?

Coaches also encourage others. In all of our work with congregations and denominations, we have yet to find a group that does too much encouraging. What can simple, intentional encouragement do to help people plug in to their dreams, calling, and design, and help them discover the actions that will move them forward? Coaches know that encouraging others gives people hope, helps them take big steps, dream bigger dreams, see themselves as God sees them, recognize their gifts and talents, and gives them the motivation to keep going. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul tells the church, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (ESV1).

How well are you doing in encouraging others? Do your words “give grace to those who hear”? Do those with whom you relate walk away feeling encouraged? How would your congregation be different if you fostered a culture of encouraging? What results would you see if people were intentional about encouraging one another? Using coaching skills in your everyday interaction with people can make an incredible difference in the lives of those you serve.

Effective coaching occurs in the midst of relationships with one another. Coaching occurs in relationships as we interact and communicate using a mindset and a skill set designed to bring out the best in people. As you begin to create a culture of coaching within your congregation, many of you will establish some formal processes for coaching those inside and outside your ministry. Others will informally coach one another in your everyday interactions.

Reflection questions: How would your relationships change as you begin creating a culture of coaching in your congregation? How would people’s lives change as you adopt this way of being with each other? How would your life change?

How Do I Get Started?

If you are beginning to see the advantages of creating a coaching culture in your church, how can you get started? What are the steps in the process of introducing this way of being community?

The road to creating a coaching culture is different for every congregation. Every organization takes a unique approach to introducing the principles of coaching into the life of the congregation. We have, however, observed some common elements among organizations that have successfully made the transition to a coaching culture.

Find a champion. Every successful transition to a coaching culture that we have witnessed has had, from the beginning, a champion for creating that culture —someone who has caught a vision for coaching and wants to bring that vision to the congregation. Often this champion for creating a coaching culture is the pastor or other senior leader. Just as often, however, that champion is someone in the congregation who was introduced to coaching in another context — perhaps though his/her business. In either case, it is critical that any effort to bring coaching to your congregation be led by someone who is passionate about the impact coaching can have on the lives of those in your ministry and on the ministry itself.

Reflection questions: Who are the champions for coaching in your congregation? Who else could you enlist to drive this fundamental change in how you relate to each other?

Start small. Although each organization takes a unique path to introducing coaching into its ministry, all of the successful transitions we have seen have been the result of an organic movement — one that started small and then blossomed as more people began to catch a vision for how coaching could impact the congregation. Coaching is not a program your church can start promoting. Rather, it is a way of relating and communicating with one another. Getting started in some small, but intentional, way will ensure that a coaching culture develops naturally among the members of your congregation.

Reflection questions: What is one way you can get started to bring coaching to your church? What is your first step?

Introduce coaching to key influencers. Creating a coaching culture will depend on the support and endorsement of the key influencers within your congregation. Introducing your key influencers to coaching will go a long way toward rolling out the welcome mat for a coaching culture. Matching coaches with influencers to help them experience the benefits for themselves is a great way to garner support for coaching in your ministry. Providing opportunities for key leaders to learn about coaching is another way to grow your group of coaching champions.

Reflection questions: Who are the key influencers in your congregation whose support you will need? What coaches do you know who could help you by coaching some of your key leaders? How will you get this started? How can you provide coach training to your key leaders?

Use coaching skills in existing relationships. One way to help others experience the difference coaching can make is to begin using the key coaching skills — listening, asking questions, and encouraging — in your existing relationships and interactions. As a ministry leader, you already interact with members of your congregation on a regular basis. As you begin using coaching skills in these interactions, others will notice and begin to experience the difference.

In what existing relationships could you begin using coaching skills? How would an intentional focus on listening, asking questions, and encouraging others change your staff meetings? Board meetings? Pastoral counseling sessions? Marital counseling? One-on-one conversations?

In addition to these basic steps in creating a culture of coaching, there are a number of unique ways in which congregations are introducing coaching into the life and ministry of their church.

Offer coaching-based discipleship resources. Many churches provide opportunities for their members to mature in their faith by providing discipling opportunities. Whether your congregation prefers small groups, Sunday School, one-on-one discipling, or other methods, consider providing resources that use a coach-approach to discipleship. Many traditional resources for discipleship use a telling approach that delivers information/knowledge from the leader or expert to the student. Coaching-based resources use an asking approach to help the learner discover truths and the next steps they need to take in their faith journeys.

Reflection questions: Where can you find resources that take a coach approach to helping others move forward in faith? Who are the leaders in your congregation best suited for this kind of approach to discipleship? How can you train/equip disciplers to use a coach approach?

Launch a coaching ministry. Many congregations offer, as a part of their ministry to their communities, counseling ministries. Churches often staff these ministries with church staff or members who have credentials and are qualified to offer these professional services. They typically base their fees on one’s ability to pay. Similarly, coaching ministries are cropping up among those congregations that have embraced a coaching culture. These churches see the benefits of offering professional services to their members and others in the community. They handle the staffing, qualifications, and fee arrangements similarly to church counseling ministries.

Reflection questions: How can providing a coaching ministry serve the members of your congregation and community? Who has the capacity and passion for launching such a ministry from your congregation? How can such a ministry impact the effectiveness of the ministry itself?

Provide coaching for staff. Coaching is a great way to assimilate new staff into the life and work of the church. If coaching helps individuals plug into their dreams, calling, and design, and helps them discover the actions that will move them forward, what better way to get a new staff members off to a successful start than by providing them with a coach? Providing coaches for new and existing staff is a great way to model for your congregation the idea that coaching is beneficial.

Reflection question: How can providing coaches for your staff change how they function?

Hire trained coaches on staff/get coach training for staff. If coaching is to become a part of your congregation’s culture, demonstrate this is by making sure you equip your staff to coach others. Whether you consider hiring staff who are trained coaches or provide coach training for your existing staff, making sure staff have a coaching mindset, and coaching skills will go a long way toward creating a coaching culture in your congregation.

Reflection questions: What resources will you need to train your staff in coaching skills? How can you get coach training for your staff?

Commit resources to coaching. Some resources will be necessary to get coaching off the ground. As you begin creating a coaching culture in your church, commit the necessary resources — money, time, and people — to make sure the effort can succeed. Funds may be necessary to pay salaries for coaches on your staff, external coaches, training, and coaching resources.

Reflection questions: What are you willing to commit to creating a coaching culture in your church? Where can you find the additional resources to ensure success? How can you see these resources as an investment in the future of your congregation?

Is Coaching Just for Larger Congregations?

Many pastors assume that creating a coaching culture is only possible in congregations of significant size. You cannot imagine hiring a staff of coaches or offering a coaching ministry in your church. Some of the examples of churches bringing coaching into the mainstream of their congregations can seem out of reach to the vast majority of smaller churches. The good news is that there are ways you can begin creating a coaching culture in any size congregation.

Pastors and other leaders from churches across the country — from the smallest to the largest — are seeing results when they take a coach approach to their leadership. Perhaps you are the only staff member of your church, or you are pastoring more than one small church. As you begin to use coaching skills in your everyday interactions with people, you will see a difference in how they respond. Imagine how, in your small congregation, members would behave differently if they really understood their strengths, gifts, and passions. What could it look like if you were intentional about helping them see how they can align their strengths, gifts, and passions with how they serve in the church? What if you began communicating your belief in other people and created the expectation that they can come up with solutions and take action? My own experience is that people hungrily respond to this kind of leadership.

As you begin to take a coach-approach to leadership in your church, you will see more fulfillment as members gain new insights and take new actions. You will see a greater sense of ownership in the ministry of the church among members as they experience a greater sense of empowerment. No matter the size of your church, creating a coaching culture can move your congregation forward in carrying out the Great Commission.

BILL COPPER, director of the Hollifield Leadership Center and a principal with Coach Approach Ministries. He is coauthor of Faith Coaching: A Conversational Approach to Helping Others Move Forward in Faith. He lives in Conover, North Carolina.

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