Choosing a church consulting partner is a huge responsibility. The sheer number of choices: large consulting firms, denominational outlets, independent consultants… make the selection process feel overwhelming.
How do you navigate the complexity? How can you be sure you have chosen the right partner?
Pastors have enough on their plates with preaching calendars, visitations, conflict management, family events, endless meetings and myriad other challenges. We understand.
This list empowers you with tips to know before hiring a church consultant.
We understand that it might sound self-serving to have a consulting group giving advice on what to look for in a consulting group! However, The Malphurs Group has 20 years of consulting experience with churches, and we want you to be well-informed about what to look out for in this space.
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10 Church Consulting Essentials To Know Before Hiring a Consultant:
1) Balanced Church Consulting Approach
First, look for an organization that helps you develop a solid foundation but also empowers you to implement strategic change.
There tend to be two extremes in church consulting: groups that focus primarily on high-level elements (like mission and vision) and others that focus primarily on systems and strategies (like staffing plans and volunteer culture). The reality is that you need to work with a partner that focuses on both ends of the spectrum.
You cannot decide what to do (strategy) until you fully understand who you are and where you’re going (mission, core values, and vision). Likewise, a good identity-formation process that lacks an actionable strategy is a waste of time and money.
Therefore, any group that lacks a comprehensive approach will undoubtedly leave you feeling frustrated and empty-handed. The best church consulting processes address all areas in a way that gives peace of mind that nothing has been left out.
That’s why the Strategic Envisioning process aligns the foundations of church health with a clear plan and process for strategic innovation and implementation.
In your interviews, ask potential partners about their process and determine if it is balanced enough to give you the results you’re looking for.
2) Denominationally Flexible (but Theologically Aligned)
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.
At the same time, be sure that the group you chooses has a theological point-of-view and that it aligns with yours. Some organizations work with anyone at all, regardless of theology. This might mean they do not have much of a Biblical foundation for their process (more on this below).
The Malphurs Group works with any church that has evangelical convictions. We define evangelical as having a commitment to the Great Commission, the authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, and the power of His death and resurrection to save. For a more detailed description of our theological convictions, see the Lausanne Covenant. Our breadth of experience from various denominations allows us to understand your situation. For example, many mainline churches with evangelical convictions are disillusioned, moving in a different direction than their denomination, and trying to navigate the future.
Next, 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? You cannot make good decisions without good information. Good assessment is central to effective church consulting.
The Malphurs Group offers a Church Ministry Analysis to assess the current, unique reality at your church. In fact, many churches begin their relationship with us through this service due to its low cost: just $99. The Church Ministry Analysis service includes a custom-written report and virtual consultation with your leadership.
Churches have similar challenges, but the context and nuance are always unique. Be sure your consultant has a system for assessment that isn’t one-size-fits-all. A good assessment helps the consultant to understand your church and helps your church better understand itself.
4) Biblical Foundation for Church Consulting
What is the foundation for your church consultant’s strategy? From your perspective, have they rooted all they do in Scripture? If so, you can be confident that they not only have a good process to help revitalize your church, but they also have a good foundation, derived from the pages of Scripture.
If you notice that their core process is built around an attractive marketing plan or a model that’s being used in business, 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 “proven systems” and “models” might indicate a lack of spiritual depth.
Scripturally-grounded seminaries utilize our founder Dr. Aubrey Malphurs’ books to train up leaders all around the world. Our track record for practical and biblical processes is a core value we hang our hat on. We believe any partner you choose should share this value, too.
5) Clear Church Consulting Process
Fifth, you need a clear process that empowers you to thrive. Simplicity is good, but it shouldn’t trump clarity. Does the consultant or group you spoke with offer you a clear, step-by-step process? Do they present ways to adapt the process to your unique situation?
Make sure that you can get your mind around the process, and be sure that it is adaptable (if necessary) to your challenges and situation. Be sure you communicate your expectations up-front so that the consultant or group can clearly communicate that they can or cannot meet your requirements.
Does the church consulting firm have a built-in plan to coach you through the challenges of implementation? 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.
We sometimes hear from discouraged pastors frustrated by their interactions with the church consulting organization they hired. After encountering an obstacle, they might attempt to contact the church consulting company. Once under contract, the consultant becomes difficult to contact. Some groups will inform the church that they don’t provide consistent coaching in between church consulting meetings. They only do their workshop and leave, because consistent coaching is “outside the scope” of their “consulting” agreement.
In other words, it could be an added cost with them even while the church is under contract.
At The Malphurs Group, we call our churches “partners” not “clients.” Words matter. We want to partner with you on your journey, which means we don’t watch the clock on phone calls or video conferences. Monthly coaching for one year is built into our on-site process, but we never turn down “unscheduled” conversations. We succeed when you do.
What previous experience does the church consulting organization have with churches like yours? Have they worked with a large church in growth mode? Do they know what it takes to help a mid-size church navigate the church growth challenges you are facing or will face? Have they walked a church under 100 through the difficulties of experiencing a turn-around?
While everyone has to start somewhere, your church doesn’t need to be the guinea pig. Working with an established group ensures that they’ve seen the challenges your church is facing and knows how to help you overcome them.
The Malphurs Group has over two decades of consulting experience. Multiple denominations, seminaries, and thousands of churches utilize Dr. Aubrey Malphurs‘ books and processes. We don’t take that honor lightly! Experience and cross-denominational impact should give you a process you can trust.
8) Cost of Church Consulting
Churches often enter the journey of exploring church consulting without an understanding of what it might cost. The reality is that pricing is all over the map.
If you belong to a denomination, you likely can get free or very cheap help from a local association or state group. Not intending to insult the denominations, but most of these cheap or free efforts are ineffective. This is because they cannot give you personalized attention due to the fact that there is a real-world cost to do so.
Conversely, well-known consulting groups often charge $10k-$20k for their process. Some groups charge double this amount for large churches. Be sure to ask about which costs are included: travel, coaching, etc.
Because The Malphurs Group is non-profit, and our overhead is subsidized partly by donor partners, we are able to offer first-class services at fees your church can afford. Our self-guided process is accessible for under $1,000 and on-site processes cost under $5,000. A process with multiple on-site visits costs under $10k. We never let cost prevent a church from getting the help they need. Grants are available to off-set the cost of our self-guided process by emailing us.
9) Empowered Leadership
Does the church consultant emphasize the importance of empowering a broader base of leaders in your church?
Far too often, consulting groups will leverage existing leadership (like staff or boards) for their process. While this is useful in some ways, the reality is that these leaders are often over-extended already. Be sure you use a process that includes these existing leadership structures but also expands the base of leadership so that more can be accomplished.
At The Malphurs Group, we help you develop a Strategic Leadership Team (SLT). The SLT includes some staff and board members but also targets under-utilized key lay leaders in your church. In the final stage of our process, we also leverage Implementation Teams, which creates opportunities for even more people to “own” and participate in the process.
Finally, we cannot overstate the important distinctive of good church consulting organizations: they listen.
The best 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 show genuine interest in hearing your story? Did they hear the dreams you have for your church?
Some church consultants have out-of-the-box workshops, labs, 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 distinct culture.
Make sure that the 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 through barriers and maximize your impact.
Find yourself uncertain about how to move forward? Contact us with any questions you have and we’ll be happy to help. If you don’t think we are a good fit for you, we can point you towards others in the space that we trust. After all, we are all on Team Jesus.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).