Are you ready to coach large churches?
Large churches grow through a “front-door” approach. The key to its growth is what happens in the worship services.

Written By Gary Reinecke

ICF Master Certified Coach, Resource Designer, Mission Strategist : InFocus
A large church has a congregation of approximately 400 to 800 people. Leading a church of this size comes with benefits and challenges that, as a coach, you need to be aware of. It’s important to recognize that a church of this size means that there will be many moving parts and a lot of people the leader relies on to keep the church as an organization operating at full capacity. 

Juggling the needs and ideas of this many people is very difficult. The more pieces involved, the more complicated the machine becomes; churches work the same way. However, a large congregation and staff also provides a large support system for the church. Here are some pros and cons of working with a large church:

Strengths of large churches

  • Multiplicity of ministries
  • Numerous ways to get involved
  • Momentum for growth 

Are you ready to coach a pastor of a large church?

A large church pastor is going to ask themselves: “Does coach _____ have the chops?”  If you are lacking in either confidence or credibility and the leader senses that, you will not be hired.  Be the best version of yourself and figure out how to grow in these two critical areas because the larger the church the more these will be scrutinized.  

Challenges when Coaching the Lead Pastor of a Large Church

coaching the pastor of a large church

Challenge #1: Multiplying options:

Up to the “800 barrier,” churches can still get away with having a mediocre or poor small-group system.

Coaching to become a church of small groups

If 80% or more of the adults in worship are not in small groups then leadership needs to be more aggressive in developing leaders for small groups.  Check-out the book “The Coming Church Revolution” by Carl George.  In it, he provides a blueprint to make the shift from a church with small groups to a church of small groups.

The driving forces to make the shift is two-fold:

  • Provide excellent pastoral care
  • Develop leaders

Small groups provide the unique environment to accomplish both.  As the small group DNA gains traction the result is a dramatic shift in the expectations of paid staff.  Staff will be hired to develop and empower leaders versus, provide direct ministry to church members.

Key questions to ask about small groups:
  1. What is your vision for small groups?
  2. What percentage of your adults are in small groups?
  3. How are you using small groups to spot, train and mobilize future leaders?

Challenge #2: Multiplying staff:

Up to the “800 barrier” churches can still get away with a small staff of generalists, but after the 800 barrier there must be much more specialization.

Coaching to develop a leadership pipeline

Everything rises and falls on leaders who are reproducing themselves in other leaders.  This is the way leaders are developed.  It can be accomplished through a number of modalities e.g. classroom, books, podcasts.  However, the relational support of another leader investing in the development of another leader is a critical factor in the developmental process.

Developing leaders through coaching is a critical piece in the leadership pipeline.  Help the lead pastor assess their leadership pipeline and identify the strengths, gaps, and deficiencies using a tool like the Leadership Multiplication Pathway Storyboard.  

Key questions to ask about their leadership development process:
  1. What is the vision for your leadership development process?
  2. What’s working?
  3. What’s not working?
  4. What needs to be addressed?
  5. What can you do that will have the greatest impact?

Challenge #3: Shifting decision-making power

Up to the “800 barrier,” decision-making power was becoming more centralized—migrating from the periphery (the whole membership or the whole lay board) to the center (the staff and eventually the senior staff).

Coaching to decentralize leadership

Help the lead pastor and senior leadership team move leadership authority and responsibility down the organizational chart.  This is done by clarifying what the key issues are that only staff can make the final decision on and who in the organization can make other decisions.

Vision-related issues can only be made by the senior leadership team but less strategic areas like ministry plans, down to the meeting schedule of a ministry, can be delegated to others in the organization.  Clear lines of communication, determining when a decision needs to go to the senior leadership team, and budget considerations that impact the entire organization are some of the issues that need to be discussed.  The clearer these communication channels, the cleaner the execution.

Key questions to ask about their leadership development process:

  1. What decisions can only be made by the lead pastor?
  2. What decisions can only be made by the senior leadership team?
  3. What issues are ambiguous and need more clarification?
  4. Who is in charge of what?
  5. What needs to be addressed and by when?

Challenge #4: More formal and deliberate assimilation

Assimilation, discipline, and incorporation of newcomers must become even more well organized, highly detailed, and supervised.

Coach to systematize the assimilation of new members

This is easier to say than done.  This seems to be a moving target for a lot of churches because of the craziness of life.  What was done over multiple sessions in the past has now been condensed into a few hours, perhaps in a one-time event.  

What works today may not work a year from now.  Closely related, monitoring the rapidly changing environment in which a church ministers requires an agile assimilation process.  With the advent of on-demand content (for such things as explaining church and denominational distinctives), church leaders are rethinking the benefits and real areas of focus for in-person gatherings throughout the assimilation process.

Key questions to ask about their assimilation process:
  1. What is the vision for your assimilation process?
  2. What’s working?
  3. What’s not working?
  4. What needs to be addressed?
  5. What can you do that will have the greatest impact?

Challenge #5: Changing the Lead Pastor’s role.

The pastor becomes even less accessible to do individual shepherding and concentrates even more on preaching, large group teaching, vision casting, and strategizing.

Coach to help the Lead Pastor change roles

Positively, the lead pastor focuses more and more on those things that only the leader can do.  Not one else in the organization is better positioned to do certain, mission-critical activities, like communicating vision.  

Negatively, members need to adapt to the new restrictions placed on the lead pastor and permissions needed to have access to the office.  And not everyone responds in healthy ways.

Helping your client process sensitive issues related to their role and responsibilities like staffing, conflict resolution, and energy management is a seat that you can sit-in as a neutral, third party coach.  Large churches are unique and in the US are in the upper percentile of churches.  Often, you are the only person that the lead pastor can talk to about these issues without fear of consequences.

Key questions to ask about their assimilation process:
  1. What is your passion?
  2. How does this line-up with your job?
  3. What can you do and only you can do?
  4. What can you delegate?
  5. What can you stop doing and nobody would notice?

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Cover Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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