I don’t know what the deal is, but over the past couple of weeks we’ve been inundated with requests from current pastors who have become interested in becoming church consultants. I’ve responded personally, but I think there’s enough interest that I wanted to set the record straight about what it takes to be a successful church consultant in our cultural clime.

We’ve found there are four typical paths to church consulting.

Path 1: The Integrity Path

  1. Plant a church – or turn one around – and grow it to over 1000 -or- Grow a church to 300 and then launch a multi-site initiative and launch a couple of successful sites -or- Plant or turn around several churches, grow each to sustainability and hand them off to effective pastors who will grow them from there.
  2. While you plant or engage the turnaround process, write articles for magazines such as OutreachNet Results, as well as denominational magazines; start and maintain a blog of your church growth process; and finally write a book on successful church planting or church turnaround.
  3. After you have successful personal experiences such as these, you won’t have any problems getting invited to teach, consult, and coach because you will be well known in the field as an experienced and successful church planter or church turnaround leader.
  4. However, be careful. Once you’ve been successful your denomination may try to pick you up as a free agent, give you a salary, send you out on the road, and hope you can make a difference within their structures.

Path 2: The Publicity Path

  1. Write a book on successful church planting or church turnaround-ing (it’s going to take a book on any legitimate path). On this path, it won’t make any difference if you’ve been a successful church planter, turnaround pastor, or not.
  2. Hire a publicist. A good one will cost you $15,000 – $25,000 per year or per campaign, depending on the contract.
  3. Do what your publicist says … they’re good at what they do.
  4. Once they’ve made a name for you, you won’t have any problems getting invited to teach, consult, and coach because you’ll be well known. However, because you will have limited or no experience, you’ll want to be careful about answering questions posed from the audience because you’ll quickly lose credibility if it gets out you’re only operating on book knowledge and an MDiv … the same degree 80% of all the other pastors have and have left 85% of those pastors stuck in failing churches (and even those with DMins have little success in the church growth area). Unfortunately, there is little correlation between book knowledge and successful leadership in church planting or church growth.

Path 3: The Professor Path

  1. Apply for and get accepted into a PhD program for church growth, evangelism, or church planting.
  2. Excel academically … you’ll need to be at the top of your class for step 4 below to become a reality.
  3. Do intensive research on church planting, church turnarounds, and/or church growth.
  4. Write a book on the topic that you’ve done your research on.
  5. Get a job as a professor of church growth, evangelism, and/or church planting.
  6. Publish or Perish. You will need to write a book at least once a year (think Len Sweet) on your topic of research.
  7. Once you have a name for yourself with students and via your writings, you won’t have any problems getting invited to teach, consult, and coach.

Path 4: The Crash and Burn Path

If you do like most pastors and consultant wannabes do, the path looks pretty much like this: Hang out your shingle that says you do consulting and coaching. Set your fees low enough so that you can attract some clients. You’ll get a couple clients based on relationships, but you’ll quickly discover that there’s not a lot of money in low-end consulting and coaching … and high end coaches/consultants have taken one of the three paths mentioned above, so competing with the higher dollar churches is difficult. And so, after a year or so, if you’re like most, you’ll either return to the parish where you can make a living or you’ll leave the ministry so you can make a living.

I know that’s probably not what you may have wanted to hear … but we’ve watched literally hundreds of pastors who have tried the short cuts and ended up closing up shop in failure because the competition out there is brutal. Most successful church consultants have travelled one of the first three paths, and most have significant experience to rely on.

If you decide to move forward, keep us posted in your progress and let us know if we can be a help if you decide to opt for the integrity path.