The Coach’s Role in Breaking Growth Barriers

Cell Coaching

By Joel Comiskey

Appeared on Small Group Network In June 2003. For more on this topic CLICK HERE

My family loves the movie Remember the Titans. Based on a true story about racial tensions, desegregation, and unexpected friendship, this movie focuses on one thing—Coach Boone’s strategy. Coach Boone, played by Denzel Washington, is an African-American football coach who must develop more than a strategy for winning on the field—he must turn a white team and a black team into one team.

While racial prejudice and disunity is the number one barrier Coach Boone has to overcome, It is my conviction that multiplication is the number one barrier in small group ministry. Many resist multiplication because they associate it with the numbers game or statistics. The reality is that multiplication is a health issue. Christian Schwarz crunched 4.2 million pieces of data from 1000 churches in 32 countries, and found eight quality characteristics true of all growing churches. He concluded, “If we were to identify any one principle as the most important, without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups.” Talking about multiplication, he says, “Virtually no other aspect of church life has such an enormous influence on both the quality index and the growth of a church.”

The failure to multiply slowly causes small group health issues, including the fatal disease called koinonitus. In this article, I’ll focus on the coach’s role in helping the small group to multiply.

Helping the Leader Catch a Barrier-breaking Vision

Before a leader can multiply, he or she must first develop an image of the future state of the small group—in a condition that is better than the current one. Eric Johnson writes, “Many groups fade or resolve to become just a social group due to the lack of a clear vision.”

The coach plays a critical role in encouraging the leader to fulfill Christ’s vision to reach a lost world (Matthew 28:18-20). The coach graciously reminds the leader that small group multiplication best fulfills Christ’s command to make disciples. A coach might say, “George, who are you preparing to lead the next group?” or “Have you told the group about the greater purpose of small group multiplication?”

Coach’s Role in Birthing

  • Cast vision
  • Provide affirmation for the leader and his or her apprentice
  • Participate in the process (attend meetings leading up to the birth of the new group)
  • Follow-up (be in constant contact with the leader throughout the process)
  • Administration (provide resources and training for the leader )

Helping the Leader Delegate

The coach should not allow the small group leader to fall into the trap of doing all the work. Small group leaders are facilitators, not work horses. Small group leaders should orchestrate the work for the whole group to carry out.

If the leader refuses to delegate, the coach should remind him or her of the difference between net fishing and pole fishing. Net fishing is much more productive, and the team does the work together. Everyone participates. There is too much work for one leader to do alone.

A coach should encourage small group leaders to:

  • Delegate the various parts of the weekly meetings to others one month at a time and watch them learn as they do it. Ask someone in the group to be in charge of refreshments, prayer, worship, and the ministry time.
  • Establish mentor-protégé relationships in the group (or accountability partnerships) and supervise them.
  • Meet with interns or apprentices every week and decide together what the next steps are for the group. Then, let the interns gain first-hand experience by leading the small groups. This will reduce leader workload and give new leaders a vision for the future.

Set a Date for Multiplication

A coach and a small group leader should dream together about a concrete date to multiply the small group. The date should be far enough away to ensure the health of both the mother and the daughter small groups, but close enough to ensure urgency. Small group leaders discuss the goal to multiply with small group members. Because reproduction involves all of the group members, and one or two will even be leading the new group, it is important to be forthright and open. The goal of multiplication starts with the small group members.

How Long Does it Take to Multiply a Group?

  • One year is normal. However, this differs from country to country, depending on the soil (receptivity/resistance of the people)
  • In Latin American countries, the average is 9 months and in some cities (like Bogota, home of ICM church) multiplication takes only six months
  • In Europe it takes longer to multiply, sometimes as long as 24 months.

Setting a multiplication date helps guide all the various elements of the small group into a unified purpose. Without a date, there is no preparation. A mother giving birth knows the approximate time for her delivery. She prepares her entire world for the birth of that child—the house, her habits, the future. The birth date fills the mother’s schedule and dominates her activities. Everything flows from it.

Finding an Apprentice

One of the most important details is finding an apprentice. A coach should work with the leader to identify a potential apprentice who possesses a hunger for God and a faithfulness to attend and participate in the small group. Small group leaders often do not know what to look for in an apprentice. They try to discover talent, gifting, or personality. Some even continue to focus on physical, outward characteristics. This is where the more experienced coach can provide help in discerning spiritual values.Then the coach should help the leader approach and develop the apprentice.

Tips on releasing new leaders:

  • Cast the vision from the first day
  • Remind and review the vision regularly
  • Pray about whom to release and when
  • Rotate leadership weekly
  • Focus on balance and multiplication will come
  • Watch terminology (split, divide, break)

Discussing How to Give Birth

One important meeting should focus on how the group will give birth. Once the coach and leader feel like the apprentice is fully prepared, they should look at multiplication options:

  • Mother-daughter Multiplication—Half the group goes out under the leadership of the apprentice, or the current small group leader takes the daughter small group, leaving the original small group with the apprentice.
  • Group Planting Team—Two people go out to plant a new small group.
  • Modified Planting Approach—The current small group leader goes out with one or two others.
  • Solo Approach—An apprentice leaves to find an assistant to start a small group.
  • Cluster Model—The new, potential group meets in another room of the house while preparing to leave the mother small group.

Common Multiplication Mistakes:

  • Assigning people to a group
  • Multiplying before the apprentice leader is ready
  • Breaking up close relationships
  • Low growth intention/momentum in new groups

Pass the Baton

At the end of his life, Paul exhorted his own disciple, Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Leadership development must continue. A small group leader’s main task, therefore, should be to develop small group members to lead small groups. By doing this, disciple-making leaders gain authority, new leadership, and small group multiplication. And they eventually become small group coaches! By concentrating on leadership development, coaches help leaders break growth barriers and multiply their ministry over and over and over.

Further reading on this topic: Comiskey’s book How to be a Great Cell Group Coach highlights what it takes to effectively care for small group leaders. Comiskey’s book Groups of Twelve expounds on the coaching principles. The book From Twelve to Three explains G12 principles as it relates to coaching leaders. Buy HERE or call 1-888-344-CELL.


Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development (Carol Steam, IL: ChurchSmart Resources), p. 32.

Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development (Carol Steam, IL: ChurchSmart Resources), p. 68.

Eric B. Johnson, “Creating a Dynamic Coaching Strategy,” Small Group Networks at…/feature2.html. Accessed on Saturday, January 18, 2003.