Healthy church consulting process involves listening

Published Jun 26, 2017

FRESNO — While easy to calculate, a church’s numbers do nothing more than illustrate whether attendance is up or down, baptisms are more or fewer, and giving is increasing or decreasing.

Numbers are merely a reflection of reality. What can be changed are the things that affect numbers, and that’s where the California Southern Baptist Convention healthy church group (HCG) comes in.

“If attendance is going south, everything is going south,” said HCG member Roger Byrd, whose specialties include music and worship, discipleship and prayer. “The people vote with their feet each week. If attendance is going down, probably finances are going down.

“The third one is the real indicator: how many are you baptizing? If a church’s baptisms or salvations are zero, the church is not doing what God called it to do.”

Consulting is one of the things the HCG provides.

“The majority of time, when a church hears we do consulting, they contact us,” said HCG member Mike McGuffee, whose specialty is leadership. “The first step would be to schedule an interview with the pastor or church leaders, and talk with them about what consultation would look like.

“We’re doing this for free,” McGuffee said. “This is part of what giving to the Cooperative Program is all about.”

CP is the way Southern Baptists support the work of state conventions and their related global missions causes.

“If a church is giving to missions through the Cooperative Program, there are no fees for our consultation,” McGuffee explained. “If they went to an outside consultant, it would cost $7,500 to $10,000 for what we do to add value in our service to Convention churches.”

The consultant is onsite one weekend, “to watch what a normal Sunday would look like, basically with a fresh set of eyes, to see if we can narrow down two or three things that, if addressed, would make a significant difference in the church,” McGuffee said. “On Sunday, we look at the congregation, try to get a feel for ethnicity, ages, worship participation, music; take notes of the time it takes to transition; friendliness to each other and to visitors; facilities, needed repairs; ease of getting kids to the nursery.

“One of our big things is listening,” McGuffee continued. “We listen to what leaders tell us; we listen and observe.”

The HCG consultant interviews leaders by asking each the same questions, then compiling the answers.

“What we’re looking for are the common threads,” McGuffee explained. Among the questions: how long have they been at the church, what led them there, why they stayed, strengths as well as improvements needed, memorable moments good or bad, what makes that church different from others in the community, and more.

The consultant looks at the congregation’s constitution, bylaws and other records, and has demographic tools available to help gauge the church’s connection with its community.

“Then I’ll do a study of the church for the last 10 years,” McGuffee continued. “On the basis of that, I’ll write a report. If it’s a full consultation it would be a 100-page report that always ends with specific recommendations. Not only do we give suggestions of what needs done, we give the name of the person who can help, and even give resources.

“Then I get in a coaching relationship with the pastor, basically to encourage him and hold him accountable for what he’s leading the church to do,” McGuffee said. “Many of us are available for further workshops to help the church.”

McGuffee also gets calls from pastor search committees. He can train them and suggest assessments to help them know what they’re looking for in their next pastor.