By Dr. Nancy Going
Director of Research & Resource Development
One crucial aspect of the experiment that Vibrant Faith built into our Creating a Culture of Calling grant was a key structural feature that focused on congregational coaching. In retrospect, we’ve discovered that this had a singular impact on the outcomes of our work. At Vibrant Faith we’ve been growing in our expertise and practice of congregational coaching for more than 10 years. We know well the impact that coaching has on a church’s ability to actually change a congregation’s stuck faith-forming systems. This Lilly grant allowed us to experiment with launching and supporting an entire coaching system with a wide variety of churches.
While we’re still processing the feedback from our 24 churches, coaching has already risen to the top as the single most important catalyst for both congregational and personal transformation. One small sign of the power of coaching is that we began the grant working with 24 churches, weathered the shattering impact of Covid, and ended the grant work with 24 churches actively participating in the work.
When we recruited our C3 Vibrant Faith Coaches (Jim Merhaut, Denise Utter, Shonda Gladden, Melissa Cooper, Von Clemons, and Erik Samuelson), we looked for gifted, experienced leaders—some of them with previous coaching training and experience. In our three years together, ALL of them have become dear and significant voices under the VIbrant Faith umbrella. Through the grant, we were able to provide our coaches with training and mentoring throughout the multi-year process. Along the way we established our own Coaching School, recognizing that highly intensive, world-class coaching training is essential for magnifying the breadth and depth of its impact. We wanted coaches that have worked to attain certification under International Coaching Federation standards. And all of our C3 coaches have now completed coaching school and are either certified, or are well on their way to completing their certification.
Here’s what our coaches reported about the impact of the coaching process for the four churches they each worked with over three years.
1) Coaching helped the church identify the changes that needed to happen. While we had a “calling agenda” that we needed the churches to focus on, these congregations were universally able to use the calling theme and their coach in tandem to make needed changes in their culture.
2) Coaches were able to keep the leaders on track. Our church leaders reported over and over what a gift it was to have their monthly coaching meetings—to keep the importance of the calling work in their congregation front-and-center.
3) Coaching accelerated the church’s growth. Our coaches reported being able to clearly see how the coaching process was like a dose of steroids for jumpstarting a cultural shift in the life of the church. Coaching helped churches envision their next steps, and how to take them. And they did!
4) Coaches believe that God has already given churches what they need. One of the philosophical approaches to coaching is that people most often do have the agency to find their way forward already inside them—they just need help to be able to define it and take the first small step. That lines up with our belief in a faithful God who is constantly providing for us. Coaches are able to help leaders see how God is already at work. Our coaches reported story after story of walking alongside leaders and churches as they took that first small step that helped them move and change the culture of their churches.
One additional wonderful truth about our coaching experiment was how this work changed our coaches. They all reported an unfolding sense of their own callings that developed from these coaching relationships. They could see God at work in their own lives as they became tools for the sake of the churches they were serving. What a gift!
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Durham, North Carolina with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.