Watching consultants at work makes good TV. Maybe you have seen BBC TV’s Susannah and Trinny (left) give their blunt clothing advice on ‘What not to wear’; Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and co advise couples who swap homes on how to decorate a room on ‘Changing Rooms’(though how many are changed back immediately?) ; Jamie Breese and Wendy Leavesley de-clutter the inveterate hoarders in Channel 4’s ‘Everything Must Go’ and Gerry Robinson gives business advice on BBC’s ‘I’ll show them who’s Boss’. Some viewers like the expert tips, others the straight talking, and many more love seeing people squirm…
The role of the independent consultant in churches and Christian organisations is less heralded. You might call in a consultant when property is bought and sold, fabric is changed, your office is being relocated, sound systems are updated, computing systems are installed. Or maybe you have a personnel issue – staff recruitment, people in conflict, team building. Perhaps the issue is more to do with corporate identity, strategy, developing a mission statement, streamlining your organisation. Or things may be dire – falling numbers, low turnover, little fruit in evangelism, declining interest in mission, ineffective fundraising programmes.
Calling in a consultant often requires courage. Many would rather struggle on than risk an outsider observing the church or organisation’s dirty washing; they believe asking in a consultant could be interpreted as an admission of failure and fear being left squirming as the expert picks apart their recent attempts to resolve the problem.
But as the saying goes, “stupidity is continuing to do the same things and expecting a different result”. There comes a time when you know you should act and there is evidence that consultants are growing in their influence in the UK church scene. Client confidentiality means you won’t see ‘consultant saves board from daft decision’ as a headline in our news section, but that’s exactly what is happening on occasions.
So let’s clear away some of the misconceptions surrounding consultancy by looking at what they can do for you; how you decide who to have; what you can expect; what you will be charged; and what are the limits of their usefulness…
Help I need somebody
If you are a church of 300 plus members and the largest in the town, you might be forgiven for assuming you have church sussed. But Penrith Methodist Church, Cumbria, knew they wanted to do better.
“We realised that although the church was strong we needed to move on,” explains Tim Thorpe, one of the Ministers. “We knew that the best visions are owned and birthed through the church, not necessarily through being imposed from above. So we wanted to get someone outside the church that could look at things in a detached but professional manner. Stanley Jackson (then a consultant at Bible Society) was just right for us. He led a weekend for the whole church looking at the purpose of the church. He had profiled the town so that we knew the make-up of the population and possible ministry opportunities. We then looked at the strengths and weaknesses of the set up and goals for the future. As a result we have purchased a hotel across from the church to be made into a new youth centre, and a new fulltime Youth Worker starts this summer.”
So the visit from a consultant isn’t necessarily a sign of crisis. Just because some of your key areas seem positive, it doesn’t mean you couldn’t benefit from someone reviewing your ministry and suggesting future options.
Consultants may be called in when the church faces a key milestone; maybe the first member of staff, the first specialist staff such as a Youth Worker, a building move, a key strategic change or a handover. When Southampton Community Church (part of the C.net stream of churches) anticipated a leadership handover from the founding ‘apostle’ Tony Morton to Billy Kennedy, they asked a consultant to help lead the church through the change.
Billy Kennedy speaks warmly of the way the process was received.
Consultants also come into their own when growth in a church or organisation makes the founding structures outdated. John Truscott is an independent consultant working solely in the Christian world: “I may discover an organisation’s understanding of employment legislation is not up to date. Or a small church has grown, taken on staff, but naively assumed that all will be well without appropriate structure and contractual arrangements for all concerned.”
It was growth that led Moorlands College in Dorset to call in a consultant. Steve Brady, told Christianity+Renewal: “Having been Principal for a year or so it became obvious to me that we needed a management structure that would facilitate growth and development of the degree courses and rising College numbers. So we called in Bryn Hughes, an independent trainer and consultant to take a dispassionate look and make recommendations. As a result, we appointed a second Vice Principal (Development) to move us to a better system of line management and demarcation of responsibility. It also freed me from doing things that others could do far better. Hardly a day goes by when I am not thankful for what we did.”
But for some churches, the need is rather more tangible and the results clear for all to see. Churches and Christian organisations that plan to renovate or build premises are advised to depend on the expertise of consultants. Rowena Henry, a Director at Paul Henry Architects, who advise clients on all phases of the building process toldChristianity+Renewal: “There are basic things that clients can easily forget, but saves money and hassle in the long run. For example, before paying a deposit or agreeing a mortgage on a building, always discuss with the local planners if the building can be converted, used as a place of worship or for community use. And no matter how many builders you have in your congregation or how ‘willing’ people are, it pays in the long run to get a professional contractor to come in and do the building works, who will save you both time and money.”
Decisions at the planning stage can have massive repercussion. I wish churches would heed Rowena’s advice: “It is no use purchasing a building that will seat 200 people when you have a congregation of 200 people! You have to think about growth. By the same token, you should not consider purchasing a building for 1,000 people when you have a congregation of only 100 people, it would be an unnecessary financial burden while you wait to grow into it.”
You’re the one that I want
Many consultants will require a thorough knowledge of your church or organisation in order to advise. How do you make sure you get someone you can trust?
“You need someone able to work in the denomination/stream who shares your theology or is prepared to restrict themselves to working within the constraints of your common practise,” says Paul Sandham, an independent consultant working in secular and Christian contexts. “I happen to have a theology degree and post graduate MBA, but I am not sure that qualifications matter as much as shared theology and experience.”
Andrew Sercombe, Director of PowerChange Plus Ltd, argues that understanding the theology is not so important: “You need someone who understands the culture of the organisation, but is not part of it. Someone from the outside is not caught up in the politics and so is able to puncture the bubbles of thinking that mean little outside that culture.”
“Track record is important, I would encourage leaders to take up references,” says Bryn Hughes. “A Masters in Management Studies is likely to be more important than theology. The ability to train and an ability to diagnose are not the same. Just because someone is good at one, it doesn’t mean they can do the other. I would also recommend a good theoretical base – consultants need to have a handle on a variety of analytical techniques.”
Sometimes the church invites someone to work in one capacity and then discovers their consultancy gifts. Philip Walker, Executive Director of Healthy Church Association (formerly British Church Growth Association), finds that most of his consultancy work comes after churches have completed a Natural Church Development Survey. The survey, now conducted in 450 UK churches, measures eight characteristics it believes should be seen in healthy churches: empowering leadership, gift-orientated lay ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-orientated evangelism, and loving relationships. Just recently a church was found to have a low score on empowering leadership and so became a prime candidate for Walker to help strengthen this area.
Sometimes the right person will become clear when you make the initial contact. Most consultants offer the first conversation free and most would encourage you to check with people they have worked with. Remember that no consultant wants to take on work that may give him or her a bad name.
Having decided who to contact, what sort of approach can you expect them to take?
“Consultants are employed because of what they know, or because they can help people reach conclusions themselves”, says Paul Sandham. “It helps to have someone from outside the group who can ask questions. For example, when I was facilitating a church I was able to ask, ‘does the leadership think this Pastor should stay for the next season of the church?’ This was a question that would have been pretty tough for the group members to ask.”
When I was helping a church, one of the key moments came when I was able to ask the Pastor to articulate his vision, and hear the other team members affirm what he said. If a team member had asked the same question it would have seemed threatening.
But what about that fear that the consultant will make you squirm? “Very few consultants would be condemnatory. Where weaknesses are perceived, they are considered in order that growth may be possible,” says Hughes.
“I am not the know-all coming in from outside. No one has all the answers,” says Truscott. “We are looking together for guidance, not for a best management solution as would be found in the secular world. I speak of working alongside, providing an outside look, taking a snapshot of where things are. I am there to seek God’s will with the client.”
Of course you should expect to be challenged. “Someone once told me ‘I’m very open to change’. So I asked him, ‘what change are you open to?’” says Sercombe. “He was quiet. I had become specific and he had nothing to say! I try and force people to be specific.”
The client also needs to be prepared for a surprise. “It is rare that the presenting problem is the real problem,” says Rob Norman, Executive Director of the now Birmingham based, Administry. “Most consultants are aware of what they call ‘the can of worms syndrome’. Problems are rarely what they seem!”
“Sometimes the group facing the problem have limited language to assess or understand the problem,” says Hughes. “I was once asked to do some team building with a bookshop when relationships had became fraught. It turned out that the real problem was that the financial software didn’t allow one of the managers to know the stock levels. Installing the right software meant everyone was happy. On another occasion I was asked to build a team, when the real problem was that the wrong people were on the team!”
As Richard Higginson writes in ‘Questions of Business Life’ (Authentic Lifestyle, 2002), ‘It is clear that a faithful consultant is not a job for the fainthearted’. Ask Nathan how he felt when told to point out to David that “Thou shalt not commit adultery” was still one of the Ten Commandments.’
“We make it clear that if the church or Christian organisation engage us, we will say what we believe we should say regardless of whether they like it or not,” says Norman.
“So there are times when this is tricky, not least when we say we believe an employee is in the wrong position. But there is a prophetic edge to the consultant’s role and the prophet was not always welcomed!”
Money, money, money
It has been said that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time and then walks off with it. Some consultants have given their profession a bad name making some Christians sceptical about whether a Christian consultant would be good value. So what can you expect to pay?
When deciding what to charge, Paul Sandham has questions he asks himself, “What do I need to charge to do this programme? What do they need to pay to value it? What can they afford? Sometimes I will work for nothing, sometimes I charge £500 a day, which is a fraction of business rates.”
John Truscott works solely in the Christian sector. Each job is priced individually based on the following charges: £35 per hour for no more than three hours, £27 per hour for the first 30 hours and £24 per hour thereafter, with the daily rate capped at £240. He has a subsidy fund and is also able to offer reductions for smaller missions and churches.
Administy, who provide consultancy and training in the Christian sector, offer a range of types of advice including extended phone conversations at £30 an hour, visits once a year (£185 a year) as well as tailor made training which works out at £325 for a day visit to a church and £350 for an organisation.
Hughes also works solely in the Christian world. “I am flexible about what I charge. I recognise the same fee will seem extortionate to one group, and be accepted by another without a fuss.”
There are a few stories circulating of consultants that seem to have taken Christian organisations for a ride. In one case it seems the contract was too openended and the charity concerned faced a bill they hadn’t expected. So it is worth checking the contract details carefully especially if the job takes longer than anticipated.
Putting a price on ‘Christian ministry’ is of course tricky. Consultants are quick to point out the real and tangible long-term results. A strategic change that leads to growth is likely to see greater income from giving or fundraising. Time spent empowering a key leader lifts the whole organisation, helps retain and attract staff. Most leadership would agree that it is impossible to put a price on advice that helps a leadership stay on track with what God is doing.
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But before we run away with the idea that the consultant is ‘the answer to all our problems’ it is worth noting that we can be totally unrealistic about what a consultant can do.
Experience of consultancy over the last 17 years leads Bryn Hughes to conclude: “You can’t change people if they don’t want to be changed; you can’t change things overnight; you can’t change corporate culture in less than two years; you can’t change things where the structure has been impose.
There is no such thing as good and bad structure, but a structure that comes before a vision is bound to fail.”
So in some cases organisations and churches find the cost (in emotions, turmoil, change etc) of solving the problem is too great. Key people involved in calling in a consultant may be unwilling to make the changes necessary.
Philip Walker tackles the vexed question of ministerial roles when he says: “I’m convinced that someone with a pastoral gift is not the best person to lead the church. The ‘Pastor’ wants to ‘please’ everyone; the leader cannot have that mentality! In the New Testament ‘leadership’ includes the visionary leader and the person with gifts of administration (the helmsman who steers the ship). You need both – vision and strategy. Often the Pastor is a shepherd, or preacher, but not a leader and until that is sorted you won’t get very far.”
So if you employ a consultant and don’t like their advice – don’t shoot the messenger, at least not before checking that you have done your bit to make it work.
Maybe this look at consultants has raised issues that you may want to consider within the privacy of your Board and leadership teams, and if you are able to resolve it there, all well and good. But if there is a growing realisation that your problem won’t go away, why not contact one of the names in the box and start a conversation that may lead to things getting back on track? If God has raised a band of people to operate in this way, maybe it is time you tapped in to what he is doing?
- DLK Chartered Architects 01628 630123 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Paul Henry Architects & Project Managers Ltd 020 8503 2101 email@example.com
- Building Project management Peter Perham 07973 524455 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Derek Kemp CPL Architects Chartered Architects, Property Designers & Consultants 01323 416900 email@example.com
- RG Jones Sound Engineering PA and sound reinforcement systems 020 8971 3100 firstname.lastname@example.org
- DM Installation Projects church sound and audio-visual systems. 01582 768844 email@example.com
- Bryn Hughes, Church Matters Ltd 01474 854774 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rob Norman Administry 0845 128 5177 email@example.com
- Global Options 0870774 3806 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Paul Sandham 07973216449 email@example.com
- Andrew Sercombe Director, Powerchange Plus Ltd. 01903 744399
- John Truscott 01727832176 firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Philip Walker Healthy Churches Association 01767 692 938 PO Box 100 Sandy, SG191ZR