Why? How? What?

So far you have…

…oriented yourself to what succession planning is.

…designed an initial strategy.

…evaluated key areas.

…now its time to start talking about it.

The Pastor and a representative from the Formal Team should lead each Gather session. The goal is to establish a sense buy-in for your succession planning strategy. I recommend borrowing Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” approach for communicating during these meetings – Why? How? What?


WHY are you developing a succession planning strategy at this time? Reasons for this vary, but the simplest and most accurate response to this question boils down to STEWARDSHIP. This stewardship, however, is not as much about managing your time, talent or treasure as much as it is about navigating the season of life God has placed you in. This is a unique opportunity. Show them what it means to navigate this season well: both for you personally and for the organization as a whole.

This portion of your time together has nothing to do with strategy and information. This has to do with providing your leaders a behind the scenes look into your personal journey of preparing for transition. These can be very personal comments. Be “appropriately vulnerable.”


Tell them HOW you plan to implement the succession planning strategy. Let them know that this series of meetings is part of that plan. Let them know their feedback is an important part of finalizing your plan.

Unlike the WHY portion of your comments, the HOW is full of strategy and data. You want to demonstrate that your team has done its homework in preparing the plan. Highlight some of your findings from the areas you have evaluated. Pick a handful of specific ways the information you gathered influenced your planning process.

Don’t feel pressured to give specific dates, unless you know them. Where there needs to be a sense of timing to the overall process, having exact dates is not necessary at this time.

Here are some areas you may want to consider in your comments:

– Communicate with visuals. Helping people see the process will go along way in their being able to understand it. You are welcome to use the Succession Framework image library.

– Explain what your by-laws require. Be transparent about needing to change your by-laws if necessary. Make sure they understand how the changes will help facilitate a more effective succession planning process.

– Provide a three to five year snapshot of where the ministry has been. What are the trends telling you? How are those trends influencing the strategy you are have developed?


Let them know WHAT they can do to help in the process. Succession planning is ultimately about establishing a process that protects people through the eventual leadership transition. Here are some practical ways your core leaders can help.

– Evaluate the Plan

Ask for their feedback. You are not inviting them to rewrite the strategy, but they may be able to fill in some gaps you hadn’t accounted for. Take note of the questions they are asking. You have probably addressed 95% of them in your planning process already. It’s the other 5% you are looking out for.

Gauge their response. Even though your core leaders already possess a high level of buy-in, chances are they will be caught a little off guard. There may be some parts of your strategy certain people will disagree with or simply need time to adjust to. Be mindful of this. These are the people you are counting on to set the tone. Be sensitive to people you may need to spend more time with.

– Stay Engaged

There is a tendency for people to take a “wait and see attitude” during key leader transitions. The reasons for this vary. They don’t agree with the process, they don’t agree it’s time for their leader to step aside, they don’t feel they have enough information about the plan, they’re childish/immature, they don’t like the new person………the list goes on and on.

Remind your leaders that Jesus is the Head of His capital “C” Church. Regardless of your ministry context – church, para-church, nonprofit – a season of leadership transition does not mean you are to stop advancing the mission King Jesus has issued. If there is ever a time for your core leadership to be engaged, it is now!

– Maintain Financial Support

This is similar to my previous point. It is not uncommon for ministries to experience a dip in giving during a season of leadership transition. Giving your core leaders a clear sense that you are working hard to prepare for a transition will go a long way to establish trust with these important givers. Don’t be afraid to ask them to maintain, if not increase, their level of support during the transition.

You may even consider a series of meetings designed specifically for your major donors. Leverage your influence with this group. They will want to know your ministry is going to be viable after its key leader is no longer in place. Giving them insight into amount of planning you have invested into the succession strategy will build a high level of trust with this group.

1 Chronicles 19:1-9 is a great picture of a leader leveraging his influence to make financial provision for his successor. This passage is often referenced as an example of a capital campaign. After reading verse 1 you will see this was actually a part of David’s succession plan.

– Be Available to Share Their Story

As you interact with this group you will hear stories and perspectives that need to be told on a broader scale. These could be stories of how Jesus has used the ministry to impact their life. Some may shore how your proactive attention to this issue is encouraging them to do the same in their context. Maybe this process is being used to inspire a renewed sense of investment into the ministry.

To help with your logistics planning I have provided a sample invitation letter and agenda.

Sample Invitation Letter

Sample Agenda


Click to read “Levels of Disclosure” or “Preparing to Gather?”