This interview is part of the “Think Again” series, in which Businessing Magazine talks to small business owners and nonprofit leaders about how their organizations have evolved and how things don’t always go as originally expected. In this interview, we asked Dave Miles of VitalChurch Ministry about how his nonprofit has grown and changed since its founding in 1994.
Tell Us a Little about Your Organization and the Clients You Serve.
I am a founding partner of VitalChurch Ministry, an organization that primarily serves churches who find themselves in a season of leadership transition. We offer diagnostic assessments and place interim pastors in churches throughout the United States, as well as the UK.
How Has Your Ministry Model Shifted over Time?
Our ministry model has not shifted greatly over time, though we are always learning and growing as individuals and as a team so that we can best serve the churches we are called to. Over the years, we have adjusted our nomenclature to more clearly articulate what we do. For example, we no longer use a medical analogy to describe our process: diagnosis, surgery, recovery. We now use a therapeutic model: discern, implement, follow up. Churches, even the sickest churches, do not like to be described as sick. So, while not changing what we do, we have reframed. The goal is godly change. If we can help churches achieve this without offending people’s sensibilities, that’s a win.
How Have You Had to Adapt to Industry Changes, Economic Ups and Downs, and Market Shifts, in Order to Continue Growing Your Organization?
As an organization dedicated to walking with churches through transition, we have a framework we’ve developed that is theologically and biblically based and proven to help churches navigate seasons of transition. That model has not changed. However, we do attempt to stay up-to-date and informed in terms of best practices important for our work. This often has to do with conflict resolution, models of church governance, leadership development, Christian apologetics, strategic planning, and theology. We also are committed to addressing cultural realities, no matter how challenging they are, to help our churches navigate those transitions as well. Often, this has to do with helping people understand what Christianity is and why it makes sense. I’ve personally found that many people, including those who identify as Christians, seem to not understand that.
What Expectations Did You Have about How the Market Would Perceive and Consume Your Services and Which of Those Expectations or Assumptions Have Turned out to Be Accurate?
With COVID, we expected to see an increase in churches in transition and a greater need for interim pastors. We have begun to see this happen as pastors are leaving ministry and creating gaps in churches. But what many churches want, I think, is an interim pastor to sort of keep things going while they look for a new pastor. That’s not what we do at VitalChurch. We’re actually change agents. We need to make sure people know we’re not place holders who keep the status quo while a search process for a long-term lead pastor is executed. Rather, we enter churches in transition and help them discern their core issues and implement changes so when they call their next pastor, they are in a strong position to impact their communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and grow as a church.
What Has Surprised You (in Both Positive and Negative Ways) about What Clients Want from You, or How They Interact with Your Nonprofit?
While we are a fee-for-service nonprofit, we never want our prices to be prohibitive for churches. In fact, we fundraise so we can serve churches who can’t afford the full scope of our services. One thing we have heard though is how low our prices are! Churches actually save money over the long haul by partnering with our ministry. One wrong hire can be extremely costly. We help churches come to a place where they are ready to hire their next lead pastor. We also strategically walk them through the hiring process.
What Lesson(s) Can You Share with Others about the Importance of Strategic Planning, but Also the Need to Be Nimble and Adaptable in Order Remain Relevant and Successful?
In our experience, strategic planning should be shorter term in its scope. For example, a three- to five-year plan may no longer be feasible because things change so rapidly. I’m beginning to think that we need to focus on a one- to three-year plan, and then move on from there.
Churches need to be nimble organizationally. We believe planning is important, but it’s not the most important thing. One of the things that made the early church so effective was its clear understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. They were not burdened down with buildings and people who acted like consumers. The church in the West needs to get back to this mindset. We need to make the main thing the main thing. For the church, that’s the glory of God and the gospel.
Where Can Readers Go to Learn More about Your Organization?
You can visit vitalchurchministry.org to learn more about our ministry!