Some church leaders disagree with the idea that we now live in a post-denominational world. If they are arguing that issues of doctrine and polity are still important to many Christians, I can understand their position a bit. There are still congregations that are clearly part of “faith tribes”—Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.—that cling to a specific commitment to one another as part of a denomination of Christians.
On the other hand, I have to disagree if they are asserting that those denominational ties fulfill all of the same purposes they once did or provide the same benefits as in the past. Denominational judicatories don’t provide the services they did in the 20th century; in fact, every denomination has cut personnel and field services in the past two decades. Judicatories still attempt to provide support for local congregations but the breadth and quantity of those services have declined.
One reason for this change is that churches are no longer giving financially as much to their judicatories due to declines in membership, disenchantment with the denomination, or a shift in priorities. The interesting aspect is that many churches continue to expect the same “free” services that they formerly received even though they don’t provide the same level of financial support. Of course, as one denominational leader once pointed out to me, no service is really “free”—someone has to pay for it. Under the old paradigm, churches gave money to their denominational judicatories and some of this was used to assist congregations. This is less likely today.
This lack of adequate services has led many churches to pursue outside consultants or providers to help them with their needs. Different types of providers attempt to fulfill various needs. They might be divided into four categories—content providers, linkage providers, advocacy providers, and process providers.
Content providers supply curriculum materials, educational resources, or information services. This includes organizations like Nurturing Faith, Upper Room, Smyth and Helwys, Baptists Today, and Associated Baptist Press.
Some organizations offer linkages or partnerships that will assist the church in fulfilling its mission. Entities such as Global Women, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity would fall into this category
A third type of provider is the advocacy group that works to change society, influence culture, or impact the political process. Two examples are Baptist Women in Ministry and Bread for the World.
Finally, there are organizations that are primarily process providers. They help churches and their leaders learn how to do something—train leaders, disciple believers, initiate new ministries, raise money, resolve conflict, transition to a larger size, or die with dignity. Included in this group would be the Alban Institute, Center for Congregational Health, The Columbia Partnership, and Pinnacle Leadership Associates (the organization with which I work).
There may be overlap, of course, where a process provider also supplies curriculum or the advocacy provider supplies a process to train advocates in the congregation, but most tend toward one of the four categories. An organization like ethicsdaily.com, for example, might be seen as both a content provider and an advocacy provider.
How does the church find the right match in a provider? Evaluation standards would differ for each type of provider, but let me talk a minute about finding the right process provider.
If a church is going to contract with an outside process consultant, the first step is assessing what skills are already available on the staff or among volunteer leaders in the church. If someone in the church already has the expertise, availability, and credibility to provide the service, there is no reason to look elsewhere. A church should contract with an outside consultant who provides something—a skill, an insight, or a process—not already available through “home grown” talent.
The second step is to review the competencies and experiences of a potential provider: What is the training and experience of the individuals who will provide the service? What’s the “track record” of the organization? How compatible are those providing the service with the congregation members? Are their fees fair in light of their abilities, experience, and preparation?
Third, determine whether the goal of the provider is to foster dependency or self-sufficiency. Will the provider empower and train church members so that they can take what they learn and move forward or does the provider encourage dependency that requires that the provider continue to lead the initiative? Self-sufficiency and sustainability should be the end product.
A church that has clarity and passion for the mission that God has given will be proactive in finding the partners to pursue that mission. If those partners are not found in their own denominational “tribe,” they may be found elsewhere.