When Church Consulting Becomes Difficult

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I've been a church consultant for more than 20 years. My wife and I have closed our company, the Lawless Group, to join the Church Answers consulting team, and I remain excited about the possibilities of our helping struggling churches.

I've learned, though, that not every consultation leads toward health and renewal, particularly in these cases:

1. When nobody's praying about the process. I'm convinced that every consulting team and every church undergoing consultation must be covered in prayer in the process. We're dealing with God's church, and to go through a consultation without seeking the wisdom and presence of God is to operate too much in our own power.

2. When the lead pastor isn't really on board with the consult. I've seen this happen particularly when another leadership group in the church almost requires the pastor to accept the consult—a situation that already reveals problems in the church.

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3. When the leadership fails to accept the depth of the problems. Typically, the leaders recognize some problems, but sometimes they don't understand just how deeply the issues have affected the church. When we point them out, these leaders tend to become defensive.

4. When leaders don't fully explain to the church the purpose and plan for the consultation. I've interviewed laypersons who began the conversation with, "Who are you, and why are you here? They asked us to be available for an interview, but they didn't tell us why." An uninformed church will also be an uninvolved church in the consult.

5. When the church keeps no records of attendance, additions and so forth. We can learn a lot about a church by looking at things like growth trends, assimilation patterns and giving trajectories. It's almost impossible to do, however, when the church has been unconcerned about numbers.

6. When the church is seemingly unaware of, and unconcerned about, the community around them. If the church assumes the consultant's role is only to deal with internal issues—and they don't even ask questions about the community they need to reach—it takes long-term effort to turn their attention outward.

7. When the church is comfortable with transfer growth. That is, they don't care about how their church grows; they just want to see increased numbers. They're pleased if they grow at all, even if it's at the expense of other congregations in the community.

8. When the church has other previous reports sitting on a shelf. They've been through this process before, ignored the suggestions then, and likely assume they'll do the same this time. This kind of situation is most frustrating to a consultant.

9. When the church refuses to ask for help—which means they don't even consider a consultation in the first place. No matter who we are or what success we've had as church leaders, we can use outside eyes on our work at times. When we're unwilling to admit that need, we lose out on the benefit of learning from other brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Church Answers consulting team, on the other hand, wants to make a difference in local churches. We want to walk alongside struggling pastors and churches to help them walk well into the future.

That's one reason I'm glad we now offer virtual consulting that any church can use. I encourage you to check it out!

For the original article, visit churchanwers.com.

Chuck Lawless is dean of doctoral studies and vice president for spiritual formation at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He also serves as team leader for Global Theological Education Strategies for the International Mission Board. He formerly served as vice president for Global Theological Advance of the IMB, in addition to leading the Lawless Group, a church consulting firm.

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