Succession Planning Conversations (Post 1)

Earlier this year I met with the leadership team of First Baptist Church in Somewhere, USA. A team was assembled to walk through the Succession Planning Workbook.

The pastor feels as though he will transition sometime in the next 3-4 years and wanted to take a proactive approach to their planning process.

We met for an initial Orientation session in late Spring. The team was assigned three specific tasks for homework.

1st – Identify the four areas they feel would be most disruptive once the transition process formally begins (they had a list of 23 areas to chose from)

2nd – Rank their preference for which process pathway to follow (there are three process pathways)

3rd – Prioritize how the pace by which they will begin addressing key areas of implementation

After 2-months, the team reassembled and walked through their results. During this meeting, we also discussed how to begin communicating with the broader congregation. The team decided to spend the summer conducting listening sessions with smaller groups of people. Feedback would be captured and then communicated to a broader group in special called congregational meetings. I coached one of their key lay leaders on how to structure the questions and schedule the meetings. In total, they met with 65 people in the listening sessions, which is approximately 20% of their average Sunday worship attendance. The broader congregational meetings were well represented.

As you can imagine, the listening sessions affirmed many incredible things about the church. They also provided a platform for a certain contingent of people that were waiting for their opportunity to complain. The process was grueling, but worth it. Here are some key takeaways from these meetings related to the specific homework the team was originally assigned (see above).

1st – The listening sessions affirmed the four key areas the team had originally identified as being significant barriers to continuity. They also identified a handful of other items that can easily be addressed.

2nd – The listening sessions caused the team to rethink their initial process pathway ranking. This was a positive thing. The feedback is also helping the pastor discern the best timing for his transition.

In a recent phone conversation, the pastor and I had an opportunity to review the process to this point. Here are a few of his comments that stood out.

“I was naïve about how difficult this was going to be”

“This process brought to light the secret conversations that would have otherwise taken place behind the scenes.”

“I would absolutely do this process again!”

“I have decided to spend the remainder of my time as our church’s intentional interim.”

“The church has done a great job in loving on my wife.”

“I have fallen in love with my church again.”

Succession planning is difficult, but worth it!

Initiating a clearly communicated process is critical to the overall success of the succession planning process.

The humility of an aging leader is demonstrated by their courage and care in the way they address organizational challenges and prepare the people for what’s next.

The pastor isn’t the only one transitioning. Their spouse must be considered!

This particular church still has a ways to go. No doubt, they will encounter more highs and lows along the way. Specifically, they have identified some difficult staffing issues to work through over the next 12-18 months. I don’t like to comment on the overall effectiveness of a transition this early in the process. There was one more comment from the pastor, however, that encourages me to think this process will be a great case study one day.

“My successor will step into a much healthier situation than it would have been if we had not committed to this process. I am committed to doing this well.”

I love serving pastors like this!!!

Would you like to know more about the process I am taking this church through? If so, you can email me at willheath@auxano.com.