Archive for Consulting

A Look Back at 2018

Over the past year, at the Center for Congregational Health, we have experienced many changes, some that were natural and easy and some that were unanticipated and arduous. Les Robinson, frequently says that congregations are in a state of continuous change. We see this clearly in relation to congregations dealing with pastoral transitions, however, we all are always in a state of continuous change.  Bill Pasmore, of the Center for Creative Leadership says,

"Change is multifaceted, complex, and continuous. What seems to be a single change is anything but — it is a complex change that competes for time, attention, and resources with other changes that are already underway, and those changes yet to be conceived…Every day, you face complex, continuous change, which is defined, as a series of overlapping, never-ending,planned, and unplanned changes that are interdependent, difficult to execute, and either cannot — or should not — be ignored." ( [])

A most significant change for us happened in June when our long-time colleague, friend, and provider of oversight for all things having to do with Interim Ministry, Dr. Les Robinson, was officially retired and ended his 23 years of service and leadership with the Center for Congregational Health.

Over the past six months we have worked to continue to offer assistance to congregations in transition as well as to find partners to continue to provide training for intentional interim ministers.  (You can read more about what will be happening in 2019 in the next blog post.)

In the midst of this change we have continued to be invited by congregations to facilitate custom designed processes for:  dreaming into the future, seeking healthy ways to manage challenges and conflict, discerning if it is time for a congregation to close, working through the in-between times and transition to calling a new pastor. We have continued to offer coaching for clergy, faith groups, staff teams and our denominational partners.  We have continued to offer training events for church leaders, consultants, coaches and workshops for denominational and clergy gatherings.

Also, this year we developed a closer working relationship with the School of Divinity at Wake Forest University and together applied for a Lily Foundation’s Thriving in Ministry grant.  The WFU School of Divinity received the nearly $1 million grant that will greatly impact our work over the next 5 years.

2018 was a year that offered challenge and celebration and we are excited to continue to offer assistance and resources for congregations, clergy and judicatories in the coming year.

Posted in: Coaching, Congregations, Consulting, Interim Ministry

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Celebrations and Changes

The Center for Congregational Health is in its 25th year!  The Center has been working with congregations, clergy and lay leaders since November of 1992.  As we move through the remainder of this year, we celebrate 25 years of partnering with congregations and leaders to help your churches make a difference in your communities.  Thank you for 25 years of serving together, we look forward to the many ways we may continue to work together.

For 21 of those 25 years, the Rev. Dr. B. Leslie Robinson, Jr. has worked full-time with the Center as Manager of Interim Ministry Resources, with a period of time as acting director.  During that time, Les has worked with several hundred congregations, training more than 2500 interim ministers representing 27 denominations, traveling to 33 states and 2 foreign countries. We are grateful for Les’ leadership and ministry and the amazing work that he has done throughout the years.

We all knew the day would come when Les would want a bit more freedom from the 40+ hour work week and that day has come!  There is good news to go along with it—Les may be scaling back and thinking about his time a bit differently, however he will continue to work with the Center for Congregational Health providing oversight and curriculum development for the Intentional Interim Ministry Training program and for the Association of Intentional Interim Ministers.  We are delighted and honored that Les is choosing to continue the very important work for which he is very well known, and that he will continue to journey with us.

In honor of Les and the work he has done with the Center for Congregational Health, we have worked with the NC Baptist Foundation who manages the Poe Fund, to establish a line item of financial donation where the funds will be used to assist congregations who desire to use the services of the Center for Congregational Health and do not have the funds to do so, we invite and encourage you to offer a financial gift to the Poe Fund in honor of Dr. B. Leslie Robinson, Jr and the work he has accomplished in living out his calling.   When sending a donation, please designate for the “Les Robinson Fund”.  Donations may be mailed to:  the Center for Congregational Health, Medical Center Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27157.

Posted in: Consulting, Future, History, Interim Ministry, Leadership, Uncategorized

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End of 2016

As we move toward the end of 2016, we have been reflecting on our work over the past year and diligently working on the training and event schedule for 2017.  We want to hear from you what you experienced and what will be helpful for you in the coming year.  (Survey)

In the past year, The Center for Congregational Health offered three tiers of Interim Ministry training: 1--a three-day course focused on the role of the interim minister as they work with a congregation during a transition between pastors. 2--a five day course, plus approximately six months of fieldwork following the classroom work that allows participants to practice and hone newly acquired skills.  3--a three-day course that prepares intentional interim ministers to serve as transition facilitators.  We offered our church consultant training, The Art of Consulting with Faith Communities. Two times we offered the Vital Mergers workshop with our colleague Dirk Elliott sharing about his work of helping congregations to join with others to increase the presence and missional impact on communities.  In addition to those events we participated in several denominational gatherings leading workshops and talking with individuals about the possibilities within their own congregations. Also, we have continued to offer our consulting and coaching services to many congregations, denominational leaders, clergy and lay leaders, and our staff have been faculty for various programs beyond the day-to-day work that the Center for Congregational Health does, including teaching at the Divinity School at Wake Forest University, partnering to build a D.Min program tract with Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta), and serving as faculty and advisors for the CBF Fellows program, for clergy serving in their first call beyond seminary/divinity school.

As we look toward 2017, we are planning to increase our offerings to help clergy and laity function in healthier congregations/organizations and we believe that you and your congregation can and do make a difference in the communities where you are.  We will be adding back to our training list a coach training that will offer assistance/guidance for any leader to use coaching skills as well as a more advanced coach training for those who wish to build more intentional and professional coaching relationships.  We will work to offer resources and events that help clergy to function in a healthy manner--caring for self and ministering to others, and to find appropriate professional support as you seek to navigate change in church and society and lead others through the changing landscape of life and congregations.

Over the next few weeks we will be sharing new dates and opportunities with you.  We hope you will check our website often and join us as a partner in the work that we are called to do.

Posted in: Coaching, Congregations, Consulting, Interim Ministry, Leadership

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Vital Merger: Joining Church Families Together

By Dirk Elliott

DownRiver Church celebrated its first worship service as a new church start on July 7, 2013, with 186 people in attendance.  DownRiver is a Vital Merger of four churches in the Detroit area.  In December, 2012, each of these four churches voted, with over a seventy percent majority, to become a new church together.   On July 7, 2013, Carlisle UM Church also celebrated their first worship service as a new church.  Carlisle UMC is a Vital Merger of three churches.  They celebrated their first worship service together at the grandstand of the Carlisle Fairgrounds.  Over 600 people attended their first worship service in their newly remodeled and updated facility on July 14.

These two examples of Vital Mergers provide a model of merging churches in a way that produces a healthy new church.  As a Vital Merger, they made commitments to each other to:

  • Sell all church buildings and relocate to a new location
  • Worship in a neutral location from the day of the official merger
  • Reset the new congregation’s focus on the mission field and begin new ministries to reach the new mission field
  • Receive a pastor that has been assessed and trained as a church planter
  • Choose a name that is not a part of the name of any of the merging churches

Sometimes, people hear the word “merger," with anxiety because it implies uncertain change. Some people view the idea of a merger as a hostile takeover with winners and losers. Others immediately see issues involving loss of identity. Any kind of merger requires foundational change that on the surface, tends to feel impersonal. Still others may point to a merger that did nothing but more of the same.

It is true that some church mergers have failed to create health, growth, and vital ministry.  What makes the difference? The answer often lies in the process used to vision, transition, blend cultures, and form healthy leadership-teams.

Church mergers take various forms. Traditionally, the most common form has been two or more churches deciding to consolidate their resources by moving into the best facility they already own and retaining only one pastor. These mergers rarely bear the fruitful ministry anticipated by the merging churches.  While there may be occasional exceptions, often the resulting congregation from this traditional form of merger will eventually lose participation and decrease in attendance to the size of the larger church before the merger. So instead of 1+3=4, you get 1+3+ much drama = 3.  Often, the lack of fruitfulness and growth in traditional mergers stems from its primary motivation: the need to survive rather than the need to further its mission.

Research of traditional mergers from 2000 to 2015 reveals that traditional mergers have not brought the significant growth that the merging churches had anticipated. A study of thirty-three mergers during this time showed that twenty eight churches never achieved the worship attendance of the combined worship of the merging churches. In fact, twenty-two of the merged churches lost the equivalent of the attendance of the smaller church within one year.  Traditional mergers seldom result in the growth or health of churches.

In response to the poor results of traditional mergers, while addressing the fact that many churches can no longer be viable as a single-church parish, a new model of merger is needed to decrease potential conflict and increase healthy growth. The Vital Merger model was developed over a ten-year period, working with the pastors and lay leaders of several mergers.

Instead of consolidating resources, the Vital Merger strategy creates a new church—a healthy, growing, new-church-start with a fresh focus on the mission field and new ways of doing ministry. Using a Biblical metaphor, the traditional merger is attempting to pour new wine into old wineskins. The Vital Merger, on the other hand, creates new wine that is poured into a new wineskin.  Vital Mergers create new churches that are stronger, healthier, and more fruitful than any of the individual churches were before the merger.  Attendance is greater than the combination of the merging churches, finances are healthier, and more people are involved in mission and ministry.  

Vital Mergers have worked with churches in urban, suburban and rural areas.  Small churches have merged together, as well as mid-sized and large churches.  The churches need to commit to work together as partners, agreeing to the five basic commitments, and have a willingness to be in ministry together.

Want to learn more about vital mergers?

Dirk has successfully led congregations in vital mergers all across the United States. He will personally lead a Vital Merger workshop on December 1, 2016 at First Baptist Church, Decatur, GA from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm.  The workshop is sponsored by the Center for Congregational Health. You can register for the workshop by clicking here.

Dirk’s book, Vital Merger: A New Church Start Approach that Joins Church Families Together, will be available for purchase at the workshop. You can also pick up a copy at  Vital Merger is a practical handbook that outlines the key elements necessary for a Vital Merger and provides instructions for exploring, beginning, and walking through the Vital Merger process.  The advice, examples, and stories are taken from actual churches that have merged—including processes and practices that have and have not worked well. The stories from these churches inform and infuse the process with authentic insight and witness.

Posted in: Congregations, Consulting, Future, Leadership, Ministers

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Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry Webinar

The conventional approach to problem-solving in business or church is to discover the root cause of a problem and to fix it. Appreciative Inquiry takes a radically different approach: Discover the root of cause of success and improve it. Problems are acknowledged in the process, but why spend so much energy on what’s not working when you can be spending creative and innovative energy on what is working?

The Center for Congregational Health is partnering with The Clergy Leadership Institute and Larry Glover-Wetherington, Coach and Intentional Interim pastor, to offer a webinar on the Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. Rob Voyle is the principal trainer because we are tapping into his course. He has already developed the content and recordings. As Tutorial Facilitator, Larry Glover-Wetherington  will be facilitating a weekly teleconference call with the class. Dr. Rob Voyle’s content is refreshing as it presents an Appreciative Inquiry approach to ministry that integrates spirituality and theology.

For info on the course and registration  go to:


Posted in: Consulting, Leadership

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The Who, What, How, and Why of Congregational Consulting

By Rev. Christopher R. Gambill, PhD

One of the original drivers for the founding of the Center for Congregational Health in the early 1990s was the emerging need for congregational consultants. Congregational consulting quickly became a core part of the ministry of the Center and has remained so for the entire 20 plus years we have existed. During that time, we have worked with hundreds of individuals and groups all across the US and beyond. And, we have trained quite a few consultants!

It might seem a bit counterintuitive for an organization that provides congregational consulting to train new consultants. In the business world, this would be akin to training your competitors. The Center has always tried to operate from a mindset of abundance. Since there are easily more than 300,000 Christian congregations and another 12,000 non-Christian ones in the USA, we believe there is plenty of work to be done. More, not fewer, congregational consultants are needed--but not just anyone can do it well.


Who makes a good congregational consultant? It would be easy to create a long list of attributes that would describe an effective consultant, but in our experience there are a few that seem to matter more than others. The first might seem obvious, but it still needs to be said--a congregational consultant should love congregations. Congregational consulting should not be construed as a career pathway for someone who is jaded or cynical about congregations, or who is feeling burned-out, rusted-out, or emotionally or spiritually injured by congregational life. Congregational consulting demands individuals who still love and believe in the power and possibility of congregational life and want to see congregations thrive.

Effective congregational consultants also need to have good boundaries. Congregational work is often emotionally charged and if you do care about congregations (and you should!) then there is always the temptation for the consultant to “own” the congregation’s challenges as their own. A consultant’s capacity to be helpful often hinges on their objectivity and their ability to speak the truth in love. Getting caught up in the process or struggles of the congregation can make a consultant part of the problem instead of the solution.

Congregational consultants also need emotional intelligence (EI). There isn’t time or space here to describe all that means, but at it’s core, EI is the capacity to perceive emotions, utilize them to facilitate thinking, understand emotions, and to manage emotions well. Each of us has some emotional intelligence and we can develop our capacity to to utilize it with the right training and support.

Finally, congregational consultants need significant experience in congregational life. One of the biggest challenges in congregational consulting is establishing trust between the consultant and the client. Our experience has taught us that congregations and leaders are more willing and able to trust consultants who have spent time “in the trenches” of a local church. Consultants need to understand the day-to-day challenges of both leading and being a member of a congregation.


Peter Block’s definition of a consultant still seems to best capture and describe what a consultant is: “. . .a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, a group, or an organization, but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.” The key word here is “influence.” Congregational consultants, through their temporary, outsider role as a trusted helper, can positively and constructively influence a congregation to become healthier and stronger. One of the challenges of becoming a consultant is this role shift from “manager,” “implementer,” or leader,” to “influencer.”

Effective consultants are able to leverage their outsider role to bring a fresh perspective to a situation that an insider often cannot see. Because they are not the “manager” or a congregational leader, they have the emotional space to speak the truth that an insider would often be hard pressed to verbalize. The best consultant is not an expert who can tell you “how to” fix something, but a trusted partner in ministry who knows how to create spaces in which God’s Spirit can be discerned and the collective wisdom of the congregation can emerge.


The way in which Center consultants work is one of the things that sets us apart from many other consultants and kinds of consulting. As I mentioned above, we believe the most effective congregational consultants aren’t “experts” who tell others how to lead or manage their congregational challenges. In our experience, the best consulting comes from creating great processes that empower leaders and congregations to make good choices and decisions.

Implied in this approach to consulting is a basic trust in the capacity of congregations to solve problems and overcome challenges. The real “experts” are not the consultants, but congregations themselves and their leaders. This means congregational consultants need to know how to create transparent, participative processes that empower the congregation to make good choices. We have often referred to the Center’s approach as “radically congregational.” What’s truly radical is believing that a good process can empower a congregation to discern God’s leading and make a good decision.


There is one final question that needs addressing. Why have congregational consulting? The “why,” for us is actually pretty simple. We want to change the world! We want to be part of transforming this world to reflect God’s sacred intentions. We think healthy, thriving congregations are a key to making this happen. Congregational consulting helps congregations become the agents of transformation and change the world desperately needs. Interested?


If you think you might be interested in becoming a congregational consultant, the Center’s next consultant training event is coming up October 19-23 in Thomasville, NC. There are still some spots available for this session. You can learn more about the training by clicking here or visiting our website at and clicking on “Learning Opportunities” then “Consultant Training.”

Posted in: Congregations, Consulting

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