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The Benefits of Coaching: Two Church Planters’ Testimonials

Justin Juntunen

Justin Juntunen

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Church planters who have coaches are more effective than those who don’t. In 2009, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird published research showing that after the first four years of church planting, pastors who were regularly coached were leading churches twice the size of churches led by pastors without a coach. Multiply Vineyard has been offering coaching to our church planters for a couple years now, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

To give you all a better idea of what coaching could look like, we asked a couple of the planters who have been receiving coaching to tell us how it has benefitted them:

Shari Luebbert—Tapestry Vineyard Church, Elko New Market, MN

How long have you been church planting?

We became a Vineyard in the May of 2013. Before that we were a small group that had grown to about 40.

How long have you been receiving coaching from Multiply Vineyard?

I’ve been receiving coaching for almost a year—about 10 months. I figured that if the Vineyard was offering coaching that I would really like it, and I wanted to take advantage of any help that I could get. I’ve been reading about church planting for years, and the high number of churches and church planters who just don’t make it, and you know, I just don’t want to be one of those. I really see the need in this area, I really felt the call in my life, and I wanted to get whatever help I could.

Did you have an idea of what coaching would be like before you began?

Well, it was completely different than I thought it was going to be. I thought coaching would be like a coach on a football team—somebody who’s watching from the sidelines who’s telling you what to do, who’s making the calls, who’s guiding what I’m doing, and that is not what it is. Not at all. It’s more that the coach pulls from me what God is doing.

Sometimes during the coaching session, I’ll feel a disconnect that I can’t quite identify, and the coach will ask questions that help me to get to the heart of what I’m wrestling with, and then they’ll ask more questions to help me come up with solutions that actually work in my specific situation. So truly it’s not the coach telling me what to do. It’s the coach looking at me and helping me to ask the questions that I don’t know to ask. Does that make sense?

Do you have a story or example of how coaching has helped you?

Yeah, actually the most recent one was that I signed up for a coaching call when I was at MLM in Colorado Springs, so that was different than my regular coach. But at that point in time, the problem I was thinking about was that we had all these people that would pop into church once a month or twice in three months, and when we asked them “what’s going on,” “why are you not coming back,” and they’d say “well, it feels funny when there are 20 or 30 of us in the room, instead of a big group.” But the fact was that if everybody came there would be around a hundred thirty people. So I was wrestling with how in the world to get everybody in one room at one time.

So the coach there just kind of walked alongside with me, and together we actually came up with a plan to invite everybody in at one time. We’re calling it Great Big Family Sunday. And I came up with it, but he kind of cheered me along. And if I was off on something, he would ask, “oh really, and what does that look like down the road?” and I realized, “oh wait, that doesn’t work, does it?”

But we’re actually doing it this Sunday, so we’ll see how it goes. Everybody knows we’re having this big dinner afterwards, and we amped up the worship band, instead of just having one worship leader. We’re doing it as part of our “Get Ready for Christmas” series, and so we actually have photo booths set up all around with different props and stuff, for crazy, goofy Christmas card photos.

As we’ve talked about it, the people that are regular attenders are getting so pumped for it, and it actually gives them an opportunity to invite people that normally wouldn’t come to church, so I’ve been getting calls all week from people, saying they’re coming and asking if we need help, and it’s been really fun to see everybody getting excited about it. So that came out of a coaching session. One session. And it was the coach just talking me through it, me coming up with ideas and him bouncing it back at me—will that idea really work? And we’ll see how it goes.

Another thing is that practically every month I would wrestle with this question of “what is church,” to the point where now my coach asks it of me. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how church should look for me and for us. So my coach keeps coming back at me with “what have you discovered this month about what is church?” And it’s my question, but I hate it when he asks, because I have to really think about it. But I feel good now because after almost a year of coaching I can finally say “I know what church is!” And it’s not Sunday morning—Sunday morning is where we all get together and celebrate God, but church is what happens during the week, getting together, encouraging and living together. That might sound simple, but it’s taken me a whole year to get there. And my coach came up with that question after hearing me talk for a while. So it’s not like he’s throwing something at me that wasn’t inside of me. He just brings those things back up and helps me think on them.

If you were recommending coaching to another church planter, what would you say? What’s your pitch?

My pitch would be: get a coach. I mean, just do it, because I don’t know how you would keep going without one.

 

Daniel Jergensen, a.k.a. “DJ”—Durango Vineyard Church, Durango, CO

How long have you been church planting?

We’ve been in the process of planting for about two years. We arrived on the scene in Durango in August of 2013, so just a little over a year of being here. And when we moved, it was six months before we did anything, because we just wanted to get to know the area first.

How long have you been receiving coaching from Multiply Vineyard?

I think the first coaching call was in May 2013. So before we even moved out here we were paired with a coach.

Did you have an idea of what coaching would be like before you began?

The idea of coaching has always been a huge value for me. When we started this deal, we knew that we needed help—mentors or leaders, or just people speaking into our life. So even before we were paired with a specific Vineyard coach to help with church planting, we had already chosen four other coaches to help coach us in this church planting process. Two were kind of mentors, and one was a guy from a different movement who just had a different perspective. So we’ve always had this huge value to get help, because we knew when we started this church planting thing that we were going to be in big trouble if we didn’t have some help from some smart people.

So then when we were paired with our Vineyard coach, and we kind of saw his role as a specific help in the Vineyard sense of what we were trying to do. And what we found is that every coach kind of has a different role, and the coaching that we’ve received from people, not just our Vineyard coach, but all around has been the life’s blood of allowing us to be where we are today. I really think that that’s been the biggest difference between being in a place where we feel good about where we are and feel like we’re succeeding, to a place where we have no idea how we’re doing.

So you have a coaching-receiving lifestyle.

Yeah, and I just think to be in church planting you have to have that. I just don’t know how you do it otherwise. We’ve talked to so many church planters—so many—that talk about how lonely and hard it is, and how they don’t know how they’re going to make it and succeed, and I agree with them, it is so lonely and so hard when you’re out here by yourself. But for me that just proves that you need coaches.

Did you have any doubts or fears about what coaching would be like before you began?

I was able to think of a couple that I was able to remember very specifically. The first one was probably a fear, along the lines of wondering, “is this coach going to help me to find what God has gifted me in? Or is he going to try to tell me how he thinks I should do it?” And to be honest, what I needed was somebody to fan the flames of what God had put in me. So one of the things that Sean, my coach, and I talked about is that his job as a coach was to kind of be there for me personally. Like, to help walk through what I was thinking through and to be that fanning of the flame. I love that. And as we now have been talking for a year and a half, almost, I’ve gotten to watch him do that, and he has definitely been fanning the flame, and so that’s definitely cool.

The other thing that I had for a question was, “what do I need?” You know, when you’re going to church plant, there’s this big unknown of you’re going to show up in a new place and I’m doing something that I’ve never done before. So there’s the big question of I don’t even know what I need. And I didn’t really know. But I would say now, a year and a half in, that what I needed was somebody that was on my side, that could walk through the ups and downs and the sideways and forwards and share in the victories a little bit, and also, kind of like accept and weep at the failures a little bit. Because there’s a lot of all of that. There’s just so much.

One of the things Sean talks about is that he’s on our team. He always talks about the church as if he’s here right alongside of us. And so he’ll say things like “how are we doing this week,” or “where do you sense that the church is going? Where do we need to take the church?” Or he’ll say things like “It’s really awesome to see where we’ve come as a church.” It really has helped me to feel like he’s engaged and on a journey with this. And that’s so good, because one of the things you don’t have when you’re church planting is elders. So when you look at the church and it talks about how the church is supposed to function like a body, and you get here and realize that, until things get going, and until you’ve got solid people alongside of you, you’re really all by yourself. And so you need practical elders, and that’s what our coaches have been. Even though they’re not here, they’re not caring for people, they are still guiding the church.

How has coaching been important or beneficial?

I kind of said this at the beginning, but I believe this to be true—having a coach is absolutely critical. And the biggest reason is that, church planting can become so much about you. It can so easily turn into your thing, your church, what you’re doing. And having coaches has helped it be something that we are doing.

One of the things that I’ve found a lot in people in Durango, at least, is that we have a lot of people who have gone to church, been engaged in some way, but then have been burned. So the real challenge for us is to build rapport with those people to where they actually trust us, because we represent the hurt and pain of their past to them. And so more than once, but last week this happened, that a guy we’ve been connecting with really well who’s been kind of coming off and on to our services, said point blank, “how do I know that you’re following somebody, and not just doing this on your own? Because I was hurt by a church where the pastor never had any accountability. How do I know that you’re going to have accountability?” And that’s when I started telling him about the coaches. As I talked about that, there was just this wave of relief, like, “oh, ok. This guy understands authority, and he is being led by other people.” It was this huge point of rapport with him. And I think that’s a Biblical way of thinking about leadership and authority, too.

Another reason I think that coaching is important, is that you just don’t know what to expect. I’ve kind of alluded to this, but we’ve been here a year, and our journey has taken us all over the place. We’ve gone from showing up here without knowing a soul in town, to inviting people to our home, to trying to just make friends, to starting a little service in our home, to now we are meeting in the local community center, and we have new people coming to explore what Jesus is all about. It seems like in every step of the way, you’re in a new place, like you’re in a totally new city or venture. And when that new place of the church comes, what comes with it is all kinds of new challenges and you need somebody to walk through that with you. So that’s some of the reasons I think that this whole church coaching thing is so crucial.

What have been some of the needs you’ve had as a church planter, and how has coaching filled that void?

So here’s how church planting has felt like for us. It’s felt like we’ve been in a raft in the middle of the ocean trying to paddle to an island. The Lord is birthing this new movement out of your actual life and heart, and you could try to do what everyone else did in the church plating cross section, but in the end, it’s where your heart comes alive and you take risks and bring other hearts alive with you, that you see the kingdom come in the specific way that God’s called you to do that. So I feel like you’re working really hard, but you have no idea if you’re paddling toward the right island. And so coaching is just unbelievably helpful. Every time I talk to Sean, I ask, “Sean, how am I doing?” And maybe the biggest thing that he’s been able to do is help us pinpoint where we are in the process. We all want to have a sense of how we are doing. Are we succeeding? Is this is helpful? Does it matter? And he is really good at being able to put his finger on ‘yes, and here’s why.” And ‘no, and here’s why.”

And finally, there’s the sense that your coach believes in you. It’s really good to have someone believe in you, and who can be a cheerleader for you.

Find out more about how coaching works and how to get a coach or become a coach.

And let us know what you think below!
And, as always, you can send us additional questions & comments via email.

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