The vast majority of churches that engage in a consultation with an outside consultant do so because they’re hoping for positive change. Many are struggling, and they're looking to an expert to bring a fresh perspective as they navigate that struggle. However, when the process doesn't yield the desired results, it might leave some shaking their heads in puzzlement or disillusionment with the consultation process itself.

I have been honored to journey with a number of churches over the years, serving in both interim pastor and consulting roles. I have observed that there is one key reason why church consultations so often fail to deliver all that the church had hoped for—that failure starts before the consultant even arrives at the church. It all centers on one word: commitment.

To be clear, this isn't a critique against outside consultants. The true problem resides with the congregation, its leaders, and their attitude at the outset of any change process.

Commitment Defined

What do I mean by commitment? In this context, commitment refers to the belief, the expectation, the understanding that real transformation often comes with a high price, a cost that includes sacrifice, time, effort, and a willingness to grapple with, question, and ultimately change long-held traditions, practices, and even personal perspectives.

Commitment speaks to the realization that the enduring strength and vitality of a congregation does not rest solely with the insights and solutions brought by a consultant. Instead, it is the readiness and willingness of the leaders and members of the church to embrace a more challenging journey. They must be prepared to take a hard look at their mission, vision, priorities, ministry models, and habits of communication and decision making.

The Engagement Lens

Consider the commitment model through the lens of engagement. Commitment is an acknowledgment that it’s not enough to engage just once with a consultant—showing up for the first meeting or daylong retreat while assuming the rest will be handled “by them,” the professionals. Such an approach misses the point. A transformative consultation process requires deep, deliberate, and sustained engagement by the church leadership and members.

Engagement means time invested in listening, sharing, probing, reflecting, praying, pondering, and then working through the entire process in a prayerful, collaborative manner. Each step forward makes the next step possible, and every contribution matters. This level of sustained attention is critical for building the kind of understanding necessary for lasting change.

Early in the process, the consultant should be helping the congregation understand the level of commitment required. If these initial explanations are dismissed, then the seeds of failure are already taking root.

Here are some warning signals and potential misconceptions that may indicate a waning commitment from the church:

1. "This is too big; we need to start small."

Reality Check: The impulse to "start small" is commonplace, but such gradualism can sidetrack the entire effort if each mini project becomes an end unto itself rather than contributing to the larger transformation. The purpose of consultations is to move the whole congregation toward greater health and effectiveness. If the big picture begins to recede, and conversations settle into a cycle of planning only surface changes, then the consultant’s work may serve only to reinforce the status quo.

2. "We're just too tired" or "We need time to think and pray about this."

Reality Check: Certainly, there will be times when a church needs to pause and give everyone space for reflection and renewal. However, one should consider whether the perception of fatigue might be a mask for resistance to the hard work of change, or trepidation about the uncertainty that lies ahead. There is no progress without action, and sometimes significant reflection and prayer lead people into clear and courageous action.

3. "Let's run this by our attorney first."

Reality Check: If a church has an attorney reviewing a written report, that's wise, but beware when the congregation or select leaders begin to slow up the process by demanding legal analysis instead of trusting the skilled, experienced assessment provided by the consultant. A fixation on legal reviews could also signify an intention to obstruct a recommended course of action.

4. "If only _ could see or hear this."

Reality Check: If a consultation is likely to encounter resistance unless the pastor or a favored staff member is more closely engaged, then red flags are waving. The consultant should work not just with the client, but with whoever emergesas the designated team leader. But make no mistake, a successful process hinges on a genuine congregational commitment to engage, openly communicate, and work together.

The Mixed Role of the Consultant

Remember that a consultant serves two overlapping roles. As a guide, a consultant provides objectivity, new perspectives, and creative ideas. As a facilitator, their role is to help the congregation work through the internal dynamics that stymie healthy change. Should resistance or lack of commitment emerge, the consultant needs the moral courage to not collude in the denial of the situation. The purpose of the consultation should not be obscured by political maneuvers or selective attention to the data and recommendations. The consultant must remain steadfast to the original hope and aspirations of the congregation as articulated at the outset of the work.


In summary, no consultant (no matter how talented) can bring about transformational change without the requisite commitment from the church. The responsibility to set the pace, to dive deeply into the process, to stay the course, and to welcome whatever learnings and reorientations are called for, rest with the church itself. Let's speak honestly in this delicate dance between the call for change and the reality of human resistance. And let us recognize and affirm the hard work of many good church consultants who give their best in the pursuit of God’s purpose for a better future.