Consultants Help Churches With The Business Of Growth

To stand out in a crowded field — and attract more members — churches are hiring some of the estimated 3,000 consultants trained in ecclesial concerns

These days many churches are struggling to detect God’s direction. Many congregations are mired in debt, saddled with large mortgages as they lose longtime elderly members and scramble to woo young families that will place checks in collection plates. The recession took the most vulnerable. Nearly 350 churches have been sold in the last seven years after defaulting on loans, said CoStar Realty Information Inc., a data company.

 

Each weekend, 18,000 people gather at one of Eagle Brook Church’s five locations outside St. Paul, Minn., to hear pastors preach family-friendly sermons on avoiding excuses and learning to forgive.

When it’s time to ask for donations, Executive Pastor Scott Anderson said he’s careful to ask only when God deems it necessary.

In recent years, it’s been necessary a lot.

Since 2001 the nondenominational church raised $40 million to build four new campuses.

“We take very seriously the command Jesus gave to evangelize and to reach the world,’’ said Anderson. “When we start to get overfull, we look at the demographics and see if God opens a door.”

A door has opened in Woodbury, he said, where about 2,000 people pack a high school auditorium each weekend. Last year the church decided to erect a $30 million campus in Woodbury with state-of-the-art sound, light and video systems and stadium seating for 1,500 people.

Anderson and his staff knew it wouldn’t be easy asking churchgoers to donate to a fifth building campaign. So the church once again hired RSI Stewardship in Dallas — one of a legion of church consultant businesses in the U.S. RSI helped Eagle Brook raise $24.6 million three years ago during the recession.

Last November the church started a new “One by One” campaign, with a goal of $20 million. “Our mission is unwavering,’’ the website reads, “to reach people for Christ. Our avenue to reach them is to build new campuses.”

Eagle Brook members pledged the full amount in two months.

RSI shaped the campaign message and used both print and digital media to build interest. The company urged church leaders to get members to pledge online, rather than through the traditional paper pledge cards, and ask them to write checks immediately.

Fancy brochures and websites don’t hook congregants, said Joel Mikell, president of RSI. “A capital campaign is a spiritual thing before it is a financial journey,” he said.

These days many churches are struggling to detect God’s direction. Many congregations are mired in debt, saddled with large mortgages as they lose longtime elderly members and scramble to woo young families that will place checks in collection plates.

The recession took the most vulnerable. Nearly 350 churches have been sold in the last seven years after defaulting on loans, said CoStar Realty Information Inc., a data company.

To stand out in a crowded field — and attract more members — churches are hiring some of the estimated 3,000 consultants trained in ecclesial concerns, according to the Society for Church Consulting, a membership organization in Louisville, Ky. The society said it has taught 1,000 church coaches in 11 years. And while some worry consultants may be exacting too steep a price for their services, others point out that the church support network has changed.

“Many churches were not getting the help they needed from their denominations,” said Gary McIntosh, owner of Church Growth Network, a business in Temecula, Calif. “So many found independent people outside the denomination who had a new perspective.’’

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