Trend #1: From Knowledge Expert to Learning Broker: If you want to be a consultant today, stop calling yourself one. The market for knowledge experts is decreasing because we have been, as Gary Hamel puts it, “mugged by change.” If you presuppose that you have an answer for a local church before you show up on-site, you are less likely to be helpful. Knowledge is important, but only as it transcends itself to become perspective and conviction that leads to skillfully crafted, hand-made solutions. To reflect this emphasis at Auxano, we call ourselves “navigators.” I oftentimes write “consultant” on the board in front of a team to explain how our service is different in helping discover solutions on the inside rather than importing them from the outside.
Trend #2: From Wide and Shallow to Focused and Deep: Over time, the advantage belongs to the specialist not the generalist. Although consulting has existed in broad categories for a while (creating some sense of specialization), you can expect the categories to expand and diverge. A consultant will be a better learning broker, by being a one-trick-Johnny rather than a Jack-of-all-trades. So you want to be a church growth consultant? That might have worked as a general category in 1970, but not today. Think of the myriad of ways you can help a church grow in 2010. I am seeing new categories emerge in the capital campaign industry as ministries like Generis expand how they help churches in the field of generosity and stewardship. Lance Witt of Replenish recently left a prominent mega-church staff to be a “soul coach” to pastors. William Vanderbloemen of FaithSearch Partners is another pastor who has taken executive staff search for churches to a new level. Other expanding categories include consultants in new forms “ministry space” like Jim Tomberlin with multi-site and Rack & Roll Church with rental facilities. The list of expanded categories goes on from specialists in marketing and communications to conflict resolution. I have carved my particular niche by focusing on vision. Every day I earn a living as “clarity evangelist,” having created a useful divergence from strategic planning called the Vision Pathway to make clarity and vision more real for leaders.
By the way, it’s not uncommon to run into consultants that have a lot of different services to offer. Usually the more services they have the less busy they are. The one exception may be the consultant who works within a small geographic boundary with smaller churches.
Trend #3: From Denominational Boundaries to “Tribal” Networks: In the 20th century the needs of churches could be clustered by denominational differences. Since theological identity or ethnic heritage was the taproot factor for a church’s uniqueness, the consultant would naturally develop a client base within that domain. Today, however, the consultant is more likely to serve churches by cultivating a “tribe,” to borrow a term from marketing guru, Seth Godin. This tribe is of group of “followers” (clients) that is created from the value a consultant delivers and sustains through an ongoing relationship. An effective tribe today will quickly cross denominational boundaries. Tribes are defined by three dynamics: 1) the role that geography plays in the consultant’s work, 2) the degree of specialization the consultant maintains, and 3) the consultant’s skill in building awareness through relational networks.
What’s the bottom line? Churches are navigating all kinds of change and complexity today and, as a result, they are in desperate need for qualified consultants. It remains true that profound knowledge comes from the outside. If you are teetering on the edge of a new ministry calling, or are just getting started, I don’t think there could be a better time to jump in!