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Distinguishing Between Facilitators, Consultants and Coaches

Congregations and faith community leaders can often benefit from the perspective, the support and the expert contributions of coaches, consultants and facilitators. However these experts do not provide the same kind of help and support. For an article published on the website of the Center for Congregations, an Indianapolis-based organization dedicated to helping congregations address the opportunities and challenges churches face, the Center’s staff interviewed a range of pastors who had recently engaged the services of one or more of these professionals to clarify the differences and similarities between them.

Coaching utilizes a one-to-one relationship to clarify personal life dynamics or expand leadership skills. It emphasizes a holistic perspective that integrates an individual’s personality, faith, relationships, gifts and other resources. 

The goal of coaching is to maximize personal and professional growth and the best time to use one is when a pastor has a specific area of his or her personal or professional life that the pastor could not address without some outside help or guidance.

Unlike coaches, consultants and facilitators bring expertise to a situation. Consultants may help with specific areas, like strategic planning, fundraising campaigns, building issues and organizational development. They “are in the business of telling others things that oftentimes they cannot see on their own or do not have the expertise to assess,” and are likely to “recommend solutions or advice on how to address a problem or challenge.” Facilitators, on the other hand, function as neutral outsiders who have no invested interest in any particular outcome. Typically, facilitators will design a meeting process, advertise it, set its ground rules, facilitate its process and provide a written summary of the proceedings. They “enable the pastor and other congregational leaders to be free to fully engage in the discussion and not be responsible for the management of the meeting.” A good facilitator “brings out the best of the group and ensures balanced participation, high energy and total group engagement.”

At times the roles of facilitator and consultant can blur. A consultant might assess a congregation’s situation and provide a report, then help the congregation move forward on recommendations by facilitating a meeting to, for example, develop a plan of action. The role of coach and facilitator may also blur. For example, a pastor described how his personal coach became a coach for the entire congregation by attending meetings with the church leadership team to ask questions and facilitate discussion on potential change options. However, unlike a consultant, the coach in that instance “was very careful in enabling the congregational leaders to shape their future and did not suggest or recommend strategies or actions.” For more resources for church leadership teams, consult our article, “Best Resources for Church Leaders.”

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