Maybe one of the greatest ministry tragedies is when a ministry outgrows its leadership. I see it happen all the time. Something good is happening which causes growth, but the growth put’s pressure on the organization and things start to fall apart. Structure is a key the key to handling growth. Structure will also help you overcome a hectic and frenzied ministry environment.

  • Don’t have enough small group leaders? Structure will help.
  • Have you reached your limit on how well you can lead all the people you are leading? Structure will help.
  • Are parents or kids getting something less than a personal experience on Sunday? Structure will help.

Let me unpack six pieces to a ministry framework that will help you scale your ministry to something healthy and thriving.


The best place to begin is with how you organize your team of small group leaders. With smaller teams, organizing them isn’t difficult to do. Like a basketball team, everyone knows everyone else on the team and the positions they play. In fact, all of them are generalists. Though they each bring different strengths to the team, they all play offense and defense making the entire team flexible and nimble. If you were to map your smaller, basketball-like team on paper, all names would point directly to you. You’re their coach, their guide, their primary encourager. And all works well until new families start coming. More kids are in your environment. Your ministry is growing. As a result, you have to recruit more small group leaders. You bring them on the team, define their role, get them some “on the job” training and you should be off to the races. But with each new small group leader you add, your team grows and over time – your team changes. You move from coaching a basketball team to coaching a football team. With a football team, there are far more players and very few generalists. With football teams, sheer numbers alone prevent you from knowing your volunteers in a meaningful way. And if you can’t know your small group leaders in a meaningful way, then how can you encourage, guide, equip and empower them for meaningful ministry? The key is in how you organize them. (Read more about this great analogy from Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne.)


Start by defining leadership roles. The very purpose of these roles is to help you to do together what you cannot do alone. To know, encourage, guide, equip and empower your team of small group leaders. In my setting, we have two leadership layers: Team Leads and Coaches. These roles have specific job descriptions that describe what is expected from their role and how they can win. It looks a little something like this:

Small Group Leader <  Team Lead < Coach

This is a great start to establishing layers of leadership on your team. But we can’t stop here.


The next step to organizing your team is to set ratios. You probably have ratios that define when to add more volunteers based upon the number of kids in attendance. The truth is, if you have 30 kindergartners and one small group leader, things will not go well. The same holds true for your leadership layers. How do you know if you have enough leaders helping you to lead your team? That’s where a ratio is very handy. At Faith Promise, we set a ratio of 6 Small Group Leaders per Team Lead and 4 Team Leads per Coach. It takes the guesswork out. For every 8 kids we increase, we add a Small Group Leader. For every 4 SGLs, we add a Team Lead. These ratios help predict when to add a layer of leadership to ensure the team remains relationally strong.


You can put a lot of work into organizing your Small Group Leader team, but there’s more work ahead. The next phase requires shaping and developing these leadership layers. Development is a slow process. It’s never a one-and- done conversation. Just the opposite. It’s a series of interactions working on one layer at a time drawing out more in them than they thought they had in themselves. The process of shaping these leaders comes down to two repetitive actions.


One of the biggest challenges we can have as leaders is our tendency to project on those we lead. This is definitely a hole I step in often. Here’s how it goes. We discover someone with leadership skills so we elevate them to a leadership position. We give them a role description, announce them to the team, spend some time showing them the ropes then step back and wait for the magic to happen. As we watch, we notice things they do that make us scratch our head. Why aren’t they doing what we would do? We think that a volunteer leader is going to morph into the leader you want them to be simply because they are hanging out with you. But it doesn’t work that way. That volunteer leader has different ideas, experiences, and thoughts that shape how they will lead. If you want them to lead in a certain way, you’ve got be intentional about teaching them how to think. And that begins with defining expected behaviors. Like giving them the answers to the test, defining expected behaviors for the role is critical to ensuring your coaches are going to do what you know they should do to be successful. At Faith Promise, we keep the behaviors simple. We want them to be memorable, simple yet powerful behaviors that really help them win as they lead. Our 5 Leader Behaviors are:

  • Engaged Relationally
  • Communicates Proactively
  • Leads & Empowers
  • Has a Can-Do Attitude
  • Recruits Actively

If a Team Lead and Coach adopt these behaviors they will lead successfully. You might come up with different behaviors. Ones that you would say are critical to success in your ministry. No matter what those behaviors might be, if you write them down and share them with your leader, you have a fighting chance you’ll see those behaviors replicated in them as they lead.


Now that you’ve defined behaviors, your next critical step is accountability. Accountability is the part of the equation most people don’t like. I know I never did. But accountability is the secret sauce. It’s the key to success. Without accountability, all the work invested in defining leadership layers, setting ratios and defining behaviors will only produce mediocre results. The reason is that a lack of accountability fosters an environment for low performers to inhabit and high performers don’t want to work with low performers – even in a church. As Craig Groeschel would say, “Your culture is comprised of two things: What you elevate and what you allow.” When we allow volunteer leaders to remain in a role where they are not meeting expectations, not only does your team suffer but your inaction communicates to everyone else that the expectations defined don’t matter after all. Setting a cadence of accountability means you have regular check-in times with these leaders to review expectations and evaluate progress. A cadence of accountability ensures that conversations aren’t lost in the noise of weekly ministry. They’re hard to do but with repetition, they get easier and more natural over time. It’s funny to think how remarkably simple yet complex these two steps are: Organize and Shape. Yet building a strong Small Group culture requires intentional focus on each. Like building the marshmallow structure, throwing together a Small Group Leader team and hoping for the best is not your best game plan. Your role as the ministry leader is to constantly organize and shape your team, building a structure for strong small groups and future growth.