LOUISVILLE, Ky. Ã¢â‚¬â€ If you want to be a minister you go to seminary. But where do you go if you want to be a church consultant?

Some 275 church leaders have opted to train with Church Central Associates. About 40 attended the most recent training series, held in Louisville July 26-28.

"To my knowledge there is no other organization that is certifying consultants," said Dr. Chuck Lawless, senior associate dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

"That adds credibility," he said. "The training adds credibility. The accountability of the level-five mentorship adds credibility."

Lawless joined Dr. Thom S. Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School, in presenting the training series in Louisville. The Church Central Association offers five levels of training under the tutelage of Lawless, Rainer, and Dr. Glen Martin, senior pastor of Community Baptist Church in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and adjunct professor at Talbot School of Theology.

The training program began about two years ago with materials developed by Rainer, a church growth specialist and author of 15 books on the subject.

So far Church Central has licensed 113 church consultants and fully certified five, who have completed the five-level course and been personally mentored by Rainer.

Consultants, ministers and church leaders came from the South, East and Midwest United States as well as one from the Caribbean, to learn more about church health consulting during the July 26-28 session that offered four levels in three days.

Learn more about consulting

Some consultants, such as Jim Hendrickson of Cape Coral, Fla., attended the training to learn more about a profession they have already undertaken.

"I wanted training," Hendrickson said, "and [Church Central] was the only place I saw that did it." Hendrickson, a former minister, said he began consulting full-time in April because he felt he could "help more churches be more valuable to the kingdom of God."

Jim Hendrickson began working as a church consultant in April. Photo by Shawna Miller

He calls his program, "Dynamics for Growth," and has already worked with seven churches. He has developed his own surveys and other materials centered on a church's goals and visions, but he said he wants to specialize in financial and tax consulting. He is also a certified auditor.

Part of the Church Central training addresses finances. Level 2 contains a section on the composition of church budgets, church financial ratios and information, giving and the minister's personal finances. Hendrickson said he wants to focus on the non-profit and the Internal Revenue Service, the church and the IRS, and the minister and the IRS.

Church consulting resources

Another consultant, Berthold Olbrich, from Trinidad and Tobago, started the Caribbean Church Growth Institute last year to address what he saw as a need for traditional churches on the island to become more effective.

"I want to reach out to key persons of the church," Olbrich said, "for ministry effectiveness in the 21st century."

Berthold Olbrich started the Caribbean Church Growth Institute last year.
Photo by Shawna Miller

Olbrich estimated that 90 percent of the 1,400 churches on the island of 1.3 million people have memberships of fewer than 80. He has also begun developing materials for consulting, but he said he was happy to receive resources from Church Central and from the training.

"Developing everything from scratch takes a long time," he said. "And even then consultants don't know if their tools will work."

Consultants who take the Church Central training receive instruction in the Church Health Survey, a diagnostic tool for assessing church health in six areas as outlined in Acts 2:42-47: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, ministry and prayer.

The survey was developed through Dr. Rainer's research and has been tested on 4,000 churches and used in more than 1,100.

In addition to the survey, the consultant training provides a notebook of information from Levels 1-4. That includes a consultant code of ethics, information on using the Church Health Survey, sample fee scales, consulting strategies, congregational analysis, and much more.

Dr. Chuck Lawless of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., trains consultants through the Church Central program. 
Photo by Shawna Miller

"We provide a number of resources," said Dr. Lawless. "This material can be used in denominational consulting or your own church. It's easily used in other systems as well."

The training is conservative theologically, but crosses many denominational lines as evidenced by consultants who have trained with church central from Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, and other evangelical groups.

That was appealing for many of the consultants who attended the July sessions. "I hope that in establishing cross-denominational church consulting network that the body of Christ will work together," said Olbrich.

Consultants want to help

Terry Ross of Liverpool, N.Y., is a former student and music minister who said he left his denomination because he was tired of the internal conflicts. He said he wanted to be independent as a consultant. And he said what many others said -- that he wants to help.

"I have a heart for pastors, especially pastors of churches of about 100. We need to re-define success. A lot of pastors are never going to pastor a mega-church. Success comes in obedience to God's purpose and God's will."

Kurt Williams of T&W General Contractors in Indianapolis and a presenter for the National Association of Church Design Builders (NACDB), attended the church consulting seminar he said to further his ability to help churches, too.

"Really my goal for NACDB is to look at if from a more well-rounded vantage point," he said. "Design and construction are really ministry issues." He said he appreciated the practical aspects of the church consultant training. A part of Level 3 training includes building and remodeling issues for churches and encourages consultants to advocate a master plan, something Williams agrees with and an issue he covers in more depth during training seminars with NACDB.

Don Matthews of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, works to train church leaders to deal with conflict.
Photo by Shawna Miller

But even church leaders with expertise in ministry attended the consultant training to better prepare themselves for doling out advice to churches in need.

David Persson of Lavallette, N.J., said he attended because he wants to be able to help struggling churches, such as the one in which he is now a part-time interim pastor.

"I wanted to get more training," he said. "I need more tools in my ministry toolbox to help me do that. I thought this would be helpful. It has been. This to me is targeted to most churches that are not healthy and most churches are not healthy. If a church is healthy it should be growing."

David Kueker of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church said he appreciated the practical nature of the training. He said it gave him practical tools, the "nuts and bolts" for helping churches, as well as theory. He attended with about eight other members of his conference interested in consulting on the denominational level. "I'm very impressed by the research by Dr. Rainer and Dr. Lawless," he said.

Other denominational-level representatives included Don Matthews of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia. Matthews works in church enrichment consulting for the state convention. He said he specialized in conflict, which he said is inevitable, even in a healthy church.

"When a church begins to grow they don't realize it changes the nature of the church," he said. The No. 1 conflict he sees in churches is one between growth and old leadership that has "lost sight of the vision."

Matthews said he aims to hold leadership conferences and seminars for pastors in his denomination to give them hands-on tools to deal with conflict resolution.

Church Central offers church consultant training for levels 1-2, Sept. 13-14, and levels 3-4, Nov. 8-9, in Louisville. Levels 1-4 will be taught in Los Angeles, Nov. 2-4. Click here for more information.

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