One Key Reason Why Church Consultations Fail

I did my first church consultation in 1988. Since then, I have been involved in hundreds of consultations of different ilk and varying depth.

I am not the brightest person, but I can lead a church consultation with ease. I am glad, because we had more consultation requests in 2023 than I have ever seen in my experience in this ministry. The ease by which I consult is not due to my intellect, but to the fact that I have done so many. Patterns develop. Solutions become obvious. Objections can be anticipated.

When a church leader contacts us to discuss a consultation, that leader often asks us about our “success rate.” For most church leaders, they define success as a numerical turnaround. Others have a specific problem they want us to solve. For them, the consultation is a success if the problem goes away.

So, how do we answer the question? What is our success rate? If you define success like church leaders did in the previous paragraph, our consultation success rate is only about one-half.

In case you did not read closely, I want to say it again. We only succeed in our consultations in one out of two cases. That is 50%. That is abysmal. 

But on the positive side, we’ve learned the one major factor that most often determines success in church consultations. Let’s look at that one key factor. You might be surprised.

The Main Factor

I love my primary physician. He is not only a great doctor, he’s a very good friend. Though I don’t frequent his office that much (I am thankful for good health), I do enjoy (most of) the visits. Recently, we got into a discussion about his “success rate.” He is considered one of the best diagnostic physicians in the business.

Though my doctor did not give me a quantitative success rate, he did tell me that it is lower than he wishes. Of course, I asked him why. His response was straightforward: “Because the patient does not act on my recommendations.”

Hear me clearly. My doctor is a humble man, a Christian whose faith is obvious. He does not have one ounce of arrogance when he says that patients should act on his recommendations. He really knows what’s best for them, but they do not take his advice and treatments.

From Human Health to Church Health

With that context, I hope you will understand my posture of humility when I share with you the number one reason our consultations are not successful: The one key reason why one out of two of our consultations are not successful is that the church does not act on our recommendations.

In other words, when a church does implement our recommendations, their chances of “success” are high. But we offer a path and not a shortcut. Sadly, many church leaders choose not to take the path we recommend. Why? I see at least four reasons.

Why Recommendations Are Not Implemented

After 35 years of church consultations, I can articulate with a high level of confidence why the solutions our consultation team offers are not implemented. Indeed, I see four key reasons.

1. Our recommendations often include a plan for the church to be more obedient to the Great Commission, the recommendation most often resisted. Evangelism scares some church members. Evangelism scares some pastors as well. I think the implementation of evangelism is spiritual warfare. The Enemy will fight us and the church from moving into our communities to reach people with the gospel.

2. Church members will focus on and even fight over the minor recommendations. Thus they don’t get to the major direction the consultation offers because they are distracted by the minor issues. A church might spend countless hours resisting  the recommendation of new interior signage and a cleaned-up foyer. If they resist and fight over relatively small issues, they are not likely to get to the essence of the consultation report.

3. Church members often expect a silver bullet. I’ve learned over the years that church members can see a consultation to be like taking a car to be serviced and repaired. Once a few issues are handled, the car (or the church) is like new, and they can get back to business as usual.

4. Church members are ready to accept change until the change affects them. When church members hear the caution that a consultant will likely recommend changes for the church, they often accept that they are fine with it. And they are fine with it until it affects them personally. For some reason, church members can view change as something that affects other people but not them.

When a consultation request comes to Church Answers, we often caution the prospective client that our consultations are successful only half the time for the four reasons cited above. Most of them move forward because they believe that their church will be one of the 50% that has a positive outcome.

Sadly, half of them are wrong.

P. S. It’s too early to make a definitive statement, but we are seeing a higher success rate when churches implement The Hope Initiative for their Great Commission initiative. I will keep you updated on this issue.

Posted on January 8, 2024

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • The link for the hope initiative does not work. It needs to point to

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    Thom, I am not surprised at all. At the very beginning of this century the church that helped to plant in the 1980s was strongly advised to hire a church consultant and undergo the cosultation process after the church’s annual meetig was unable to elect a new church board. In the denomination to which the church belonged the church board was the governing body of the church. Among the findings of the church consultant was that the pastor was inexperienced in leading a rapidly growing, large church and would benefit from additional training to that which had recived i seminary. The consultant’s also identified that the pastor had become the lightning rod for the various difficulties of the church. The pastor was willing to undergo the training. However, members of the church board decided on a different course of action. At the next meeting of the board they called for the pastor’s resignation. He refused to resign. A number of church members had caught wind of the board members’ intentions and they spoke in support of the pastor at the meeting. The outcome of the meeting was that the board members who called for the pastor’s resignation resigned themselves and left the church. About a third of the member households of the church joied them. The pastor no longer had an incentive to udergo the trainig that the consultant recommended and the church split put an end to the church’s rapid growth. The church had gone from two servces on Sunday morning to three services and a midweek service. The third service on Sunday morning and the midweek service were dropped from the church’s service schedule. The church split would have other effects. Seven years later the church was no longer self-supporting and was heavily in debt. The pastor had no choice but resign. To this day the church has not recovered from what happened. If the board members had taken the consultant’s advice, the pastor would have received the eeded additional training and the church would have continued to grow. It would have been in a better position to weather the other exigencies that followed three years later and which affect the denomination to which it belonged.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      That is a fascinating story, Robin. Although the details differ, the major principles are similar in many churches.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    We have been working with the Unstuck group and it has been a positive experience. In this last year, I cannot praise enough the lay leaders who have led many significant changes in the church. We went from blended worship to contemporary worship. We had the foyer and main hallways repainted. We put up new televisions in the foyer for announcements. More importantly, our outreach is more intentional than it has ever been. Almost everything that we do is focused on reaching people outside of the church. I should add that we spent all of 2022 praying about what needed to happen and we made sure that we were communicating with the people who would be effected by the changes. One example that stands out is when we honored the organist and pianist in the church. Because we were not going to utilize them for contemporary worship, their talents would no longer be needed in that capacity. The organist had been playing for the church since the late 1950s when she was in high school. They were approached ahead of time and both of them were receptive to the vision that was being cast. We took a Sunday to honor both of them and gave them a standing ovation when we recognized them during worship. These two ladies are truly mature Christians who understand that the times are changing. That does not mean that we have not had tension along the way. We have lost some people but we have gained just as many back and then some. It is truly an exciting time at First Baptist Aurora, IN

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I love what the Unstuck Group is doing. Tony and his team are among the best. And I incredibly grateful for how the process unfolded in your church. Thank you for sharing.