Introduction to COACHING BOOK



The word “coach” comes from an old Hungarian term referring to the carriages and carts that were made in the village of the Kocs. On the American western frontier, the large four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage was called a “stagecoach.” The use of the term evolved in the 19th century as a part of university slang to mean an instructor or trainer, “the notion being that the student was conveyed through the exam by the tutor as if he were riding in a carriage.”[i]

Today, most people think of a coach as a person who helps athletes be successful—who carries them forward and helps them do things that they couldn’t do on their own. In the world of athletics, a coach’s goal is to move his or her team toward a championship. But the methods used by different coaches vary. Len Woods writes, “Successful sports coaches come in all stripes…There are ‘old-school’ tough guys like Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant, ‘human volcanoes’ like Bobby Knight and Mike Ditka, ‘gentleman teachers’ like John Wooden and Dean Smith, ‘motivational gurus’ like Phil Jackson , and ‘player favorites’ like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.”[ii]

The same ideas apply to coaching in the church. The goal of Christian coaches is to move people toward Jesus Christ. Paul expressed his goal as a Christian coach: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28 -29). The Christian coach strives to lead people forward to conformity with Jesus Christ, knowing that the ultimate crown is the one that will last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25 ).  

Cell Group Coaches  

    Cell groups or small groups have become the focus of many churches around the world. Cell groups are exciting because they provide a place where people can share their lives with one another, people can reach nonbelievers without using high-pressure evangelism tactics, and ordinary people can become new leaders. Pastors and church leaders who learn about the cell group vision usually become incredibly excited about the things that can happen in their churches.

These churches often begin by starting groups and focus on recruiting cell group leaders. Once leaders have been trained, they are set free to lead their groups. But most churches who do this run into a problem: they lack qualified coaches. Without solid coaching, initial small group excitement runs dry. Leaders who were once thrilled about cell groups find themselves drained, wishing they were involved in a less demanding ministry. Without coaching, cell groups that were once healthy begin to die slow, painful deaths.

Why Coaching?[iii]

  1. Coaching keeps a group leader’s motivation strong. Consistent coaching can keep a leader inspired and sharp.
  2. Coaching can improve a group leader’s ability to lead. Small differences in strategy (along with little mistakes) make the difference between winning and losing.
  3. Coaching can prevent disasters before they occur. Discouragement can be dealt with before it becomes deadly.
  4. Coaching helps leaders work together as a team, rather than as isolated individuals.
  5. Coaching can foster the discovery and development of new leaders. A group system grows when potential new leaders are discovered in existing healthy groups.


David Cho, the founder and pastor of the largest church in the history of Christianity, once said, “The key behind the cell system is the coach.”[iv] The research of Dwight Marable and Jim Egli confirms this. They researched small group churches around the world and discovered that coaching was the key element for assuring long-term cell group success. Egli says, “We looked at six church elements in our research. Coaching surpassed even training and prayer.”[v]

Just as the best athletes in the world require coaches to help them play their best games, so do the best cell leaders. No cell leader, no matter how gifted or how well trained, will be able to lead as effectively alone as he or she would with the help of a cell group coach.  

What Is a Cell Group Coach?  

A cell coach equips cell leaders with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective.[vi] A cell coach encourages, nourishes, and challenges cell leaders to grow and multiply their cell groups.  

Why Coaching?


Counsel in another’s heart is like deep water, but a discerning man will draw it up (Proverbs 20:5)

    The word “coach” is descriptive of the role a person plays as he or she supports cell leaders under his or her care. It is not a sacred term. In fact, churches use many terms to identify the role played by the cell group coach: supervisor, section leader, G-12 leader, cell overseer, cell sponsor, even “L” (which is the roman numeral for 50).

The purpose of this book is not to prescribe a specific structure for the number of cell group leaders a coach should oversee. This number varies from church to church, depending upon the vision of the church and the capacity of the coach. The point is that a cell group coach oversees at least one other cell group leader. For more on coaching structure see my books Groups of Twelve and From 12 to 3.[vii]

Just as a cell group leader does not stand alone, neither does a cell group coach. He or she is also cared for by another leader, usually a staff pastor (although in larger churches this might not be the case). Successful cell group-based churches have developed people to care for cell coaches as well as cell leaders, so that all people are nourished and protected—from the senior pastor down to the cell members.

            It is easy for church leaders to become so enamored with the cell group structure that they fail to understand the roles within that structure. So many people have confessed to me, “Joel, I don’t know how to coach! I know the structure and the logistics, but I don’t know what to do when I’m actually coaching. Please help!” To make matters worse, there is very little material addressing the role of the cell group coach. There are great resources available on how to lead cell groups, how to train leaders, and how to start a cell group system in a church. But little has been said about what a coach actually does to help his or her cell group leaders become more effective.

What a Coach Is Not  

Many people have become cell group coaches only to find themselves frustrated. Most of these frustrations stem from misunderstandings the coaching role.

Most people confuse coaching with consulting. Consultants are experts who provide wise counsel and advice on a short-term basis to a client. Consultants play an important role, but when cell group coaches adopt this model, there are at least two dangers.

            Danger #1: Creating dependency. The leader is forced to depend on the expert and rarely ever breaks away from that dependency. A coach, on the other hand, is a listener and encourager with the goal of enabling the leader to be all that God wants her to be.

Fulfilling the Leader’s Dream

Co-Active Coaching discusses the difference, “This [coaching] is different from consulting, for example, where the consultant brings specialized expertise and very often sets the agenda for the relationship. The coach’s job is to help...[people] clarify their mission, purpose, and goals, and help them achieve that outcome.”[viii]

             Danger #2: Information overload that doesn’t work in the long run. Information is necessary to successfully lead and multiply a cell group. The major obstacle, however, is practically applying that information over the long haul. Consultants provide information for a predetermined purpose, while a coach focuses on working with cell group leaders over an extended period of  time, on whatever issues are important.

Another misconception about coaches is that they are middle managers. Many coaches feel like they are paper pushers who only relay information to their cell group leaders and make sure their leaders turn in their reports on time. The image of the coach as middle manager depersonalizes ministry and disrupts or even destroys cell group ministry. When coaches model information-pushing and fact-checking to cell group leaders, they set a bad pattern for cell leaders to imitate.

Another misconception is that the coach is a counselor, a person to whom cell leaders go when they face major problems. A coach doesn’t wait for a cell leader to come with concerns or complaints. A coach must proactively support his or her cell leaders, seeking to intercept problems before they occur.

At times a coach will provide advice, act as a middle manager, and serve as a counselor in crisis situations, but such roles should not be the focus. A coach is someone who helps another person fulfill his God-ordained calling.  

The Best Coaches Are in the Battle  

            Some coaches see their role as graduation from the hands-on ministry in the cell group. This could not be further from the truth. In order to encourage cell leaders, a coach must be able to say, “I’ve been there.” At a minimum, coaches should participate in a cell group to continue experiencing cell life so that their lives speak as models. It is even better if coaches can continue leading a cell group while coaching. (This can usually be done when coaching three leaders or fewer.)

The best coaches are those who have successfully led and multiplied a cell group. Why? Because they know what it’s like to experience the pain of giving birth, the joys of ministry, and the struggles of evangelism. They can offer a fresh word and relevant counsel to those they’re coaching.[ix]  

The Habits of Great Cell Group Coaches  

            The best cell group coaches use common habits in their ministry and support of their leaders. Habits are practices that a person does without thinking about them. They become such a part of a person’s character that no conscious effort is required. There are seven habits of great cell group coaches. Great coaches:  

¨      Receive from God (chapter 1)

¨      Listen to the leader (chapter 2)

¨      Encourage the leader (chapter 3)

¨      Care for the leader (chapter 4)

¨      Develop/train the leader (chapter 5)

¨      Strategize with the leader (chapter 6)

¨      Challenge the leader (chapter 7)

To adopt these habits, a cell group coach will have to consciously work on each one. These habits have been written in sequence, as a seven-step plan to help coaches re-order their habits for effective coaching. I have adapted this coaching sequence from a tape series called Empowering Leaders through Coaching by Steven L. Ogne and Thomas P. Nebel.[x] I have added Receiving and applied the concepts they teach so well to the specific role of the cell group coach.[xi]

“Habits are powerful factors in our lives. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character and produce our effectiveness . . . or ineffectiveness.”[xii]

In Section I (chapters 1-7), I will unpack these habits and show you how to use each one in a coaching situation—whether you’re coaching one-on-one or in a group setting.

In Section II (chapters 8-12), I will discuss increasing your coaching authority (chapter 8), diagnosing cell group problems (chapter 9), the different stages of cell coaching (chapter 10), the cell meeting (chapter 11), and cell group visitation (chapter 12).

Give What You Have

You might be feeling too inadequate to coach someone. But remember that God isn’t looking for perfect coaches. View yourself as a catalyst to help others develop themselves (coach versus consultant). Don’t be afraid to give what you have. When you do, God will pour back into your life new insight and wisdom so that you can continue.

[i] John Ayot, Dictionary of Word Origins “Coach” (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990).

[ii] Len Woods, “Successful Coaching,” Taken from  on Saturday, January 18, 2003 .

[iii] David Owen, “Coaching that Works,” (The Best of Small Groups. Com 1995-2002).

[iv] Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul , Korea (David Cho) has 25,000 cell groups and some 250,000 people who attend the worship services. Mario Vega , the senior pastor of the third largest church in the world, points to his supervisory system as central to cell success.  The Elim Church in San Salvador ( Mario Vega ) has 11,000 cell groups, 115,000 who attend the cells, and 35,000 attending the Sunday worship services. 

[v] Personal email from Jim Egli on Monday, December 16, 2002 .

[vi] David B. Peterson and Mary Dee Hicks, Leader as Coach: Strategies for Coaching and Developing Others (Minneapolis, MN: Personnel Decisions International, 1996), p. 14.

[vii] Groups of Twelve (Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1999), pp. 182; From Twelve to Three ( Houston , TX : Touch Publications, 2002), pp. 178.

[viii] Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, Phil Sandahl, Co-Active Coaching (Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing, 1998), p. 5. The coach, more than anything else, provides the ongoing tools to make people effective.

[ix] If you are coaching the daughter cell leader from your own cell, I would encourage you to continue to lead your cell group. The leader under your care will respect your counsel in a new way, knowing that it comes from someone who is living the life.

[x] Steven L. Ogne & Thomas P. Nebel, Empowering Leaders through Coaching, Audio Cassettes,

(Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1995).

[xi] Bob Logan and associates have developed a new five phase coaching order that uses the words: RELATE: building the coaching relationship; REFLECT: Analyzing the situation; REFOCUS: Visioning and planning; RESOURCE: Providing for resourcing needs; REVIEW: evaluating the execution of a plan. Personally, I don’t like this order as much. Although the words start with the same letter and have very similar purposes, the words don’t immediately clarify, in my opinion, and I prefer the coaching scheme I’m currently using.

[xii] Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), 46.