Below is a republished post by Brad Bridges
Church consulting is all over the map these days. It seems like every month another person tries to start another church consulting firm or initiative. How do you navigate the complexity? How can you be sure you have chosen the right organization?
Pastors have enough on their plates with preaching calendars, visitations, conflict management, family events, endless meetings and myriad other challenges. We understand. That is why we created this list of tips you should know before hiring a church consultant (you can also take a look at another resource where we share 5 indicators you do not need a church consultant):
10 CHURCH CONSULTING ESSENTIALS TO KNOW BEFORE HIRING A CONSULTANT:
1) Sufficient Strategy
Is the organization you are looking at overly focused on one area of the turnaround process? Some consultants will point everything to one component of the turnaround process (i.e. growth barriers, vision, etc.) and do little to address other key areas of your church’s revitalization. The best church consulting addresses all areas in a way that gives peace of mind that nothing has been left out.
(To get started with assessment, sign up for our 16 church analysis questions or complete the church profile below and we’ll send you our 16 church analysis questions.)
Remember: there is more to church leadership than having a precise vision, breaking out of growth barriers, or getting your church out of its “stuck” mentality. Be sure your church consultant articulates a process that focuses on more than vision alone. Vision without clear strategic measures yields temporary excitement and lots of inaction. If your consultant focuses exclusively on the church growth barriers, you may increase your numbers this year. Then you will yourself overextended, burnt out, and unprepared for what lies ahead in the following year. Address your growth barriers, ensure vision clarity, but make sure to integrate both into your overall strategic direction.
2) Denominationally Flexible
As you begin looking at church consulting groups, you find a few that are strongly affiliated with one or two denominations. In fact, a few church consulting companies are owned by a single denomination. Be sure to ask what organization or denomination owns the church consulting organization (if any). Ask why they have chosen to affiliate with only one denomination. They may still work with other denominations. However, if they are owned by one denomination, they may struggle to align with yours.
The churches we recently worked with have represented many different denominations. We find that our breadth of lead navigators from various denominations allow us to best understand your situation. For example, many mainline churches have become disillusioned. They are moving in a different direction than their denomination and are trying to navigate how to go forward. If the consulting organization is driven by one primary denomination, you will encounter some unique obstacles. There will be struggles to understand what makes your church unique, the specific challenges you face, and how to facilitate a clear process forward.
When the church consultant you speak with hears about your context, do they immediately jump to solutions? Or do they take the time to understand your unique situation?
One organization recently announced a major initiative. They are focusing on all their solutions to the challenges churches face. I’m a big fan of solutions, but I don’t think solutions are the right place to start. Churches will apply a quick band-aid if they start with solutions instead of assessment. Remember: diagnose before you prescribe. (Two of the best ways to do this are through a Church Ministry Analysis or a Mystery Worshipper Consultation).
4) Biblical Foundation
What is the foundation for your church consultant’s strategy? From your perspective, have they rooted all they do in Scripture? Do well-known, Scripturally-grounded seminaries utilize the consultant’s leadership in the preparation of pastors and other ministry leaders? If so, you can be confident that they not only have a good process to help revitalize your church, but also have derived it from the pages of Scripture.
If you notice that their core process is built around an attractive marketing plan that creates a captivating model and unique combinations of words, you may want to rethink the church consultant you are considering. Many of these organizations can still point to Scripture that might support their process, but their hyper focus on design could indicate a lack of spiritual depth (not always though).
5) Clear Process
Fast growing churches and those hitting a plateau both need a clear process for you and your team. Simplicity is great, but it shouldn’t trump clarity. Does the church consultant or church consulting firm you spoke with offer you a clear process? Do they present a couple modules you can select without integrating them into a clear process?
Make sure that you can get your mind around the process. But be careful that it isn’t so simplistic that it comes across as insufficiently malleable to address your unique church context.
Does your church consulting firm offer to help coach you through the challenges? If not, why not? It may be that their primary focus is on gaining more clients and guarding their time, while not investing sufficiently in your context.
I recently spoke with a genuinely discouraged pastor. He found himself frustrated by his interaction with another church consulting organization. After encountering an obstacle, he attempted to contact the church consulting company. Rather than serving a client under contract with them, their approach to church consulting meant the pastor would wait a few weeks to discuss it. He informed the church that they didn’t provide consistent coaching in between church consulting meetings. They only did their workshop and left, because consistent coaching was “outside the scope” of their “consulting” agreement. In other words, it would be an added cost with them even while the church was under contract with this group. (It makes sense to have an additional agreement if it is after the consulting period, but if you are going through a process of church revitalization, you should have access to someone to answer questions if they are taking you through the process.)
What previous experience does the church consulting organization have with churches like yours? Have they worked with a large church in growth mode recently? Do they know what it takes to help a mid-size church navigate the church growth challenges you are facing or will face?
A good way to gauge this issue is to look at who trains the other consultants. When church consulting groups create processes, what do they base their work on? I’ve been amazed in my years with the Malphurs Group at how many denominations, seminaries, and thousands of churches utilize Dr. Aubrey Malphurs‘ process. Some even admit to having derived all they do from what Dr. Malphurs taught them. I do not know of any individual who is currently influencing more churches, church consulting groups, and denominations around the world. While everything shouldn’t revolve around experience and endorsements, experience and cross-denominational impact (coupled with the other essentials mentioned in this article) give you a process you can trust.
How adaptable is the church consulting firm or church consultant? In one sense, you want a clear process that isn’t overly changeable. But at the same time, you need to know that the organization can adapt its approach? It should be easy to adapt to what makes the culture and identity of your church unique.
Has the organization you are speaking with turned church consulting into a boxed up format? Or do they provide a customized approach for your church? Perhaps everything is always neatly framed around an operations plan or a vision. If so, your church will complete their process, but potentially find itself lacking clarity for forward movement.
Church consulting firms are all over the map in terms of pricing. My experience has shown that “you get what you pay for.” If you want individualized attention for your church and a tailored approach that takes into account your context, your leadership, and what makes your church unique, you should plan to set aside sufficient funds to bring in someone who will provide industry leading expertise for you and your church. The last thing you want is to spend $20,000-$30,000 dollars and walk away with a template approach and a vision framed on the wall. My guess is that you would much rather have a clear direction forward, specific areas of improvement defined for you, and a unified team. The good news is that you can get all of this for less than the cost of a part-time associate pastor (not to mention that that you don’t provide benefits or pay a consultant beyond the months they are under contract).
9) Leadership Pipeline
Does the church consultant emphasize clarity of your leadership pipeline? Various organizations do some work around leadership pipeline and even create cohorts that lump together large groups of pastors. But if your church needs revitalization, you will need to involved more than a few members of your church in the design of a leadership pipeline for 3-6 months. Clarify where in the process the church consulting organization will help your group to assess, clarify, and implement its leadership pipeline. Sending 1-3 members of your church or staff to a cohort may equip them and leave the rest of the church in the dark. Be sure equipping a select few is what you need. If you don’t, you’ll risk alienating your church leadership and those “experts” you sent to the cohort.
I cannot overstate this important distinctive. The top calibre church consulting organizations demonstrate this in the first conversation. Does the consultant take time to get to know you? Have they prayed with you? Did they get just enough information to make a proposal to you or were they genuinely interested in hearing your story and the dreams you have for your church? Some church consultants have out-of-the-box workshops, labs, cookie-cutter emails, and lots of glitz and glamour. But all of those can highlight a lack of interest in you as the pastor and your church’s unique culture. Make sure that person or group you hire demonstrates authentic curiosity about you and your church. Their curiosity will increase their understanding, grow your trust, and lay the groundwork for an exciting church revitalization. It will position your church to break-thru the noise and clarify a path forward.