8 More Reflections on Church Consultations

Just over four years ago, I published a post on “10 Reflections on a Decade of Church Consulting.” Here’s an updated list that now covers our most recent years of consulting as well.

  1. If the church is in conflict, leaders often don’t recognize its depth. They may know there’s a problem, but they don’t always know how widespread the concern may be. Sometimes that’s because laypeople simply don’t address the issues with their leaders.
  2. The Internet has fostered conflict in churches. The sin of pornography is, of course, a problem, but the relationship between the Internet and church conflict is even wider. Members now get more easily stressed with their pastors when they compare them to others they hear on the Internet. Some members have even set up websites to make their case against pastors they don’t like. More on this topic tomorrow . . .
  3. The growing interest in a church polity of plurality of leaders has both helped and hurt. In many cases, a plurality of leaders has offered wise and needed input. In other cases, new elders who may not yet understand their role have created some of the internal tension.
  4. Attendance matters to church leaders, but decreasing dollars often lead to a consult. Pastors often allow decreasing attendance numbers to concern them deeply, but churches frequently turn to outsiders when the bills aren’t paid. At least, that’s when some lay leaders begin to verbalize their concerns.
  5. Many churches see themselves as unhealthier than our team does. This finding has surprised us. When we ask members to rate their church’s health, they’re often more critical than our team is. Sometimes, internal conflict causes members to miss the blessings God is still giving.
  6. Worship wars have become more like guerilla warfare. That is, the battles are still going on, but they’re not always as open and volatile as they used to be. Disgruntled members still have their say, but behind the scenes.
  7. Many church members don’t know what evangelism is. When our team asks about a church’s evangelism, we often hear things like, “We take food to the hungry,” “Our church has built buildings overseas,” and “We participate in our annual city festival.” All of these activities are good, but none is evangelism apart from telling the good news.
  8. Overstaffing is common in hurting churches. That happens because churches that were formerly larger don’t make needed staff adjustments when congregation size and dollars decrease. The result is a smaller church with a larger church staff – and an unhealthy amount of the church’s budget devoted to personnel costs.

What do you think about these findings? Let us hear from you. 


  • Don says:

    I think one of the drivers for churches to seek outside consultants is the loss of the power and authority of the middle judicatory that used to reside in the regional denominational leaders. When they were strong they could come into a church knowing it over the years and speak truth to power. But the factors you mention above, specifically the decreasing dollars and the overstaffing are the key issues we must address moving forward.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Helpful thought, Don. Thanks.

    • Mark says:

      When you have congregational turnover and a lot more new people, your regional leaders won’t always know the people there too well or they will know only a slim, but overly powerful, group. However, newer people frequently wonder how regional leaders got their positions and if they are competent or just played politics.

  • Dave says:

    Regarding your last point, do you have a general guideline on what is a healthy balance of the budget regarding personnel costs?

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      The estimates vary according to things like debt load, church status (e.g., a church plant may have a higher percentage dedicated to personnel costs), etc., but I’m most comfortable if personnel costs don’t exceed 50% of the budget. I’d prefer closer to 40% if it frees up more dollars for ministry and missions. 

  • david mcbryar says:

    #2 on the internet fostering conflict in the churches caused a huge incident for me once. I posted on Facebook that I was watching a football (which is true) but I was also working on tons of other things many of which were for the church. One of my biggest critics took this opportunity to complain to her deacon that I was not doing enough for the church. One little sentence made me look like I was having a lazy Saturday afternoon (which I deserve a day off and every pastor does). But one sentence can be interpreted so many different ways when it is just a post on the internet!

  • Mark says:

    As to #1, some lay people don’t bring things up because some leaders have let it be known that they don’t want to hear about problems and don’t intend to do anything about them.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Mark.

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