Church consulting is all over the map these days.
It seems like every month someone new is launching their own consulting group. 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.
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).
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 been partnering with churches for over 20 years, and we want you to be well-informed about what to look out for in this space.
10 Church Consulting Essentials To Know Before Hiring a Consultant:
1) Balanced Approach
Is the organization you are looking at overly focused on one area of the process?
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 a balanced approach.
You cannot decide what to do (strategy) until you fully understand who you are and where you’re going (mission, core values, and vision). But a good identity-formation process that lacks an actionable strategy is a waste of time and money.
Any group that lacks a comprehensive approach will undoubtedly leave you with a dysfunctional conclusion. The best church consulting processes address all areas in a way that gives peace of mind that nothing has been left out.
Remember: there is more to church leadership than having a clear vision or learning new systems. Vision without clear strategic measures yields temporary excitement and lots of inaction. Address your 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 Malphurs Group will work with any church that has evangelical convictions. We find that our breadth of experience from various denominations allows us to 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.
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?
This is why The Malphurs Group strategic envisioning process begins with two assessments. Churches may have similar challenges, but the context and nuance is always unique. Be sure the consultant you work with has a system for assessment. Not only will it help the consultant to understand your church, it will help your church better understand itself.
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 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.
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 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 can be adapted (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 your church consulting firm have a built-in plant 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. They find themselves frustrated by their interactions with the church consulting organization they had hired. After encountering an obstacle, they might attempt to contact the church consulting company. Rather than serving a church under contract with them, their approach to church consulting might mean the pastor would wait a few weeks to discuss their issue. 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 with certain groups.
At The Malphurs Group, we call our churches “partners” not “clients.” Words matter. We want to partner with you in your journey, which means we don’t watch the clock on phone calls or video conferences. We have a built-in coaching schedule after our on-site visits, but are more than happy to talk at “unscheduled” times, too. We are invested in your success.
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?
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?
We’ve been honored at how many denominations, seminaries, and thousands of churches utilize Dr. Aubrey Malphurs‘ books and processes. Experience and cross-denominational impact should give you a process you can trust.
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. Our experience has been “you get what you pay for.”
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.
Working with a consulting group can vary in price widely, but to get a decent result, your church should anticipate spending between $10k-$20k. There are groups who charge double this amount (we aren’t one!). Be sure to ask about which costs are included: travel, coaching, etc.
Certainly, your church can pay under $10,000 for a one-on-one process, but it will be reflected in the value you receive for that price (fewer on-site visits, less personal attention, less experienced consultant, etc).
If this price range is far outside what your church could ever do, consider some second-best options: look into a guided course (like Church Revitalization University) or look into a cohort approach (you can contact us about setting up a Strategic Envisioning Cohort in your area). You won’t get the level of personalized attention from a dedicated guide, but often the process is comparable because it’s a modified version of the same process used in the one-on-one format.
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 use a Strategic Leadership Team approach, which includes some staff and board members, but also targets key lay leaders in your church that are currently under-utilized. 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.
We 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, 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 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’ll even point you towards others in the space that we trust. After all, we are all on Team Jesus.
Brad Bridges is a pastor and former consultant with The Malphurs Group. Follow him @bradbridges.
Scott Ball is the Director of Services and a Lead Guide with TMG. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott)
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted by Brad Bridges in May 2015 and was refreshed and updated by Scott Ball in June 2019.