NE Parish Consultants help churches retool for the future

February 23, 2016

How do we retool for the future?

That's the number one question churches ask, said the Rev. Barbara Lemmel, coordinator of the New England Conference Parish Consultants.
And the Parish Consultants, Rev. Lemmel said, are an excellent resource for helping churches find some answers.

The Parish Consultants are a group of 10 clergy and laity active in the local church who have expertise in various areas. Rev. Lemmel said the consultants are "absolutely familiar with how Methodists do things and how local churches run."

Consultants come alongside churches to help them with any number of issues from financial matters and board development to conflict resolution and church revitalization.
Rev. Barbara
Rev. Lemmel said: "An increasing amount of the work that we do is church revitalization: helping churches move into new ways to do ministry."
A significant part of that, she said, is helping churches answer the question: What does it mean to be church now? 

While that work may be complex, the process for hiring a consultant is simple: The church first calls Rev. Lemmel, who, as coordinator, conducts an over-the-phone intake process and assigns a consultant. That is free to churches; supported by mission shares.

The consultants also work with districts – for example, on District Resource Days, and with the Cabinet itself. In 2015, Rev. Lemmel helped put together a Transition Workshop for clergy moving to new appointments.

Once a consultant is assigned to a local church, the cost for their time – onsite, over the phone or doing prep work – is $40/hour. That's a very reasonable cost, Rev. Lemmel said, compared to the typical church consultant fees of $150-$200 an hour. The churches pay the Conference, which then pays the consultants. Consultants are also paid for their travel, though Rev. Lemmel says the District Superintendents will sometimes help churches meet those costs.
"What we bring in is knowledge that churches do better when they're very clear about what they're about; when they know their strengths and their growing edges, when they know the community they serve well enough to understand how they can best be in ministry to that community."

–  Rev. Barbara Lemmel, coordinator of the New England Conference Parish Consultants

It’s important, Rev. Lemmel said, that churches know the consultants do not report to the Cabinet and they are "very careful not to be involved in anything around appointments."

"When I assign a consultant to a church," she said, "I always have the superintendent in on that loop, but we don't report back to the superintendent about how the church is doing."

And, Rev. Lemmel said, it's important for churches to understand those boundaries.

"For a church to feel like they can work openly with us, it's important for them to know that they're working with just us, and there's not the shadow of the Cabinet behind us," she said. "That distinction is really important for congregations. We're sort of in the system and outside the system at the same time."

Rev. Lemmel said it's also important for churches to be clear on another point when understanding how consultants work: "We don't go in and tell people what to do," she said. "We go in and help them figure out what they need to do."

She described a call she got from one church during this past year. The person said, "I want to hire one of your consultants to come and tell us what we need to do to get better."

"My reply to her, and I have this conversation all the time, was 'we're not going to come and tell you what to do. We’ll come and ask you lots of really good questions, so you can get clear about who you are, what your purpose is, what your community is, what God's call is to your church in this place in this time, and we'll talk about some practical steps to make that happen," Rev. Lemmel said. 

Just as each church is different, so is each consultation. Some are one-time discussions, others can go on for a period of months or years, Rev. Lemmel said, but in all cases there is some follow-up. It helps churches put the information consultants provide into practice and holds them accountable.
Rev. Lemmel said it's not easy to pinpoint the difference between a consultant and a coach; and it may be more useful to see them as part of the same continuum.

"As I hang around in coaching circles more in The United Methodist Church," she said, "I'm hearing again and again how beneficial it is for pastors to have a coach that they talk to on a regular basis all throughout their ministry. 

"And we're starting to see some of that as well. For folks who are really intentional about growing themselves as leaders and continuing to try to keep their church responsive and nimble in a changing society, a long-time relationship makes a lot of sense."

Whatever terms are used and however long the process lasts, a successful consultation, Rev. Lemmel said, results in "a church and/or pastor feeling like they have the tools now to address whatever their issue is and they've got some confidence in their ability to utilize those tools and go forward."

At the moment, Rev. Lemmel said, the Parish Consultants are available to take on more projects. She hopes that churches will see the Parish Consultants as "a tool for regular ministry instead of just a solution to something gone awry."

Parish Consultants will share 'Real Tools for Real Churches'
Over the next few months, the Parish Consultants will be writing short articles offering some of their "Real Tools for Real Churches." Watch the UMCatalyst and this website for those.

To learn more about the Parish Consultants, click the link or go to the homepage and click on the resources tab.