The 5 Stages of a Structured Coaching Conversation

Coaching and mentoring are a way of life. We can turn any conversation into a mentoring opportunity by listening, asking good questions, helping people focus on what’s most important, and empowering them to take next steps. However, there is also a place for using these skills in structured coaching sessions where we intentionally engage in disciple-making conversations during several planned sessions.

The five stages of a structured coaching conversation come from the COACH Model for Christian Leaders by Keith Webb. You’ll will notice that each stage corresponds to the letters in the word COACH. Here’s a summary of each stage.

Connect – build rapport and trust

Every mentoring conversation requires a meaningful connection, so that the other person is willing to share and explore possibilities. At the start of the session, it’s important to take time to build rapport, revisit goals from the previous session, and pray together.

Sample questions:

  • How have you been?
  • What progress have you made on the action steps you identified the last time we spoke?

Outcome – discover what the other person would like to discuss

In a coaching session, it is highly beneficial for the coachee to identify an outcome for the conversation. This helps focus the interaction on what’s most important to them, which leads to better results. Asking good questions can probe beneath the surface of a presenting issue and uncover something that might be even more critical to discuss. Make sure that the outcome is achievable during the time you have together.

Sample questions:

  • What would be most helpful for us to work on today?
  • What result would you like to take away from our conversation?

Awareness – discover more about the issues and current reality

This step highlights one of the biggest benefits of coaching: when the coach asks good questions, it can expand awareness around key issues that the coachee may need to address. We want to ask good, open-ended questions that do not lead the person in a direction that we think they should go. People are much more likely to own and act on something if they discover it for themselves.

Sample questions:  

  • What are the keys points in understanding this situation?
  • What other factors are influencing this situation?

Course – determine next steps

Many coaching conversations fail to challenge the coachee to take action. The COACH Model gently pushes coachees to identify and follow through on 2-3 action steps that will help them address their key issues. The action steps should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound), so that coachees have a specific target and can sense whether they’re making progress (here’s how you can to develop a personal growth plan using actions steps that are SMART).

Sample questions: 

  • What options do you have?
  • Which of these options would you like to follow through on?

Highlights – share lessons and goals

At the end of a coaching session, it’s important to capture the key points and action steps emerging from the conversation. Don’t provide a summary for the coachee; instead, have them tell you their main takeaways. In fact, your key points may be different than theirs and we want them to run with the ideas they already own. Take time to pray for them and their action steps.

Sample questions:  

  • What would you like to remember from our time together?
  • What parts of our discussion were particularly helpful?
  • What do you realize now that you weren’t aware of before?

During my years as a pastor, church planter, and missionary, I thoroughly enjoyed coming alongside people to help them take next steps in their discipleship journey. Looking back, I wish I had learned the COACH Model earlier. It has made a huge difference in my mentoring effectiveness with my family, friends, people in my church, and students.


[Randy Wollf is Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Practical Theology and Director of the ACTS World Campus.

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