Over the last 50 years, a number of consulting firms have emerged with a primary focus on church development. Organizations emphasizing capital development (fund-raising) were in the vanguard, but many others have emerged, especially as denominations have down-sized the services offered to local congregations. These new groups offer strategic planning support, conflict management, search committee orientation, leadership training and other services to churches, judicatories and faith-based organizations.
Many of these consulting firms have not only taken the place of denominational entities, but they have generally adopted the programs and processes of those denominational entities. In other words, they are simply building on and repackaging old techniques. Although providing worthwhile services, they have remained mired in the old denominational mindset of bigger is better. They have generally adopted an organizational, mechanistic approach to church development.
A new type of church consulting firm has emerged in the last twenty years. This type of firm recognizes the importance of personal development, spiritual formation, and relationships in church development. Very often their leaders have come out of a counseling and pastoral care background. They would tend to agree with the idea at the heart of Patrick Lencioni’s book Getting Naked: A Business Fable about Shedding the Three FearsThat Sabotage Client Loyalty. He contends that relationships are at the core of effective consulting and that the most effective consultant is one who adopts an approach of vulnerability and humility. This person recognizes that he or she has as much to learn as they have to teach.
This new type of church consultant has adopted a relational model of church development. This approach is seen in the way that this consultant operates. He or she seeks to facilitate communication among leaders, congregational members, and God. One approach used to facilitate such communication is appreciative inquiry—encouraging the telling of stories and experiences so that people can identify commonalities, strengths, and successes.
Another part of this consultant’s work is to lead a congregation in spiritual discernment. This requires taking the time to listen to one another and for the voice of God through prayer, reflection, and worship. In addition, the consultant recognizes the value of developing groups to not only identify what needs to be done but to provide accountability.
The relational consultant may employ coaching techniques to develop leaders or to assist groups to follow through on their decisions. As in any coaching relationship, the coaching consultant realizes that he or she does not have the answers, the client or clients do. The consultant provides direction, insight, and action by asking good questions.
Very often the relational consultant helps client churches and organizations to pursue strategic capability rather than strategic planning. Strategic or long-range planning takes a lot of time. Once it is done, the church is often too tired to pursue the plan or it finds that the context has changed in such a way as to make the plan obsolete. The relational consultant helps the church to discover what it does best and to marshal all the resources to pursue those opportunities.
Some will dismiss this approach as too “touchy feely,” but the relational consultant knows that he or she is in the people development business. Programs come and go, but empowered people keep on making a difference.