4 Succession Planning Trends for Church Leaders


by William Vanderbloemen

The longer I do executive searches, the more I am convinced of this simple truth:

The most expensive hire you will ever make is hiring the wrong person.

Taken one step further, the most expensive bad hire you can ever make is a bad hire of a new Lead Pastor.

Unfortunately, there are too many stories of bad transitions, bad results from a senior pastor search, or a senior pastor succession. So what are some steps that churches are doing to ensure a good senior pastor search? What steps should churches be taking to ensure that their transition goes smoothly and mitigate the chances of problems?

As we work with churches across the country and around the world, we’re starting to see four succession planning trends arise for church leaders.

Trend #1: Secure the Outgoing Senior Pastor’s New Pastoral Identity

Many senior pastors have been serving at their church for twenty, thirty, or more years, and their identity is defined by their ministry and church responsibility. I don’t know of another job that ties identity to vocation as much as ministry does. Church is where you do life together, have your spiritual journey together, and it’s where you do work together. When that goes away, pastors are left asking, “Who am I?”

Smart churches are answering that question by finding a way to say, “Here is your identity after you leave. Let’s talk about it ahead of time. Let’s write it down.”

For some churches, that means the pastor is going to start with a vacation paid for by the board. It may be six months to a year so that the new pastor can get his or her feet on the ground and build leadership trust as the new pastor. While that sort of expense may sound extravagant, smart boards are realizing that an extended sabbatical for the outgoing senior pastor both honors their longtime leader and provides a buffer period for the new senior pastor to get established. In the end, I believe this is an expense that pays for itself.

Many denominational churches have a policy that the outgoing pastor cannot be a part of the church for a designated amount of time. Having a policy in place before a pastoral transition ensures that the outgoing pastor knows the lay of the land before he hands off his job.

I’ve seen other churches create a clearly defined new staff role for the outgoing pastor. One example that comes to mind is a church whose outgoing pastor left for a season and then returned by invitation from the new pastor in the position of Pastor of Designated Giving. That pastor was able to raise money from longtime parishioners that simply wouldn’t have been possible for a new senior pastor. It gave the outgoing senior pastor a new, defined identity and purpose. It also let parishioners know what to call the new pastor to do (and what not to do). Many churches we serve create roles for the outgoing senior pastor around their passions. I’ve seen new roles as a Pastor of Missions for a particular part of the world, Pastor of Caring Ministries, and many others. In all cases, the new role gave the outgoing senior pastor a clear identity as they enter uncharted territory in their life and ministry.

Smart churches, denominational or non-denominational are setting up a successful succession by clearly identifying the outgoing pastor’s identity as it relates to the church.

What are some areas within your church where your outgoing pastor can find identity?

Click here to download my white paper 4 Succession Planning Trends For Church Leaders where you can read all four trends and share it with your staff as you plan for a successful transition.


Current Succession Opportunities:

This has been a sponsored post from Vanderbloemen Search Group, a strategic partner of TonyMorganLive.com.

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About Author

Jason Vernon

Jason is the Director of Content Development for The Unstuck Group. He graduated from Liberty University with a degree in Marketing and a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership. He also received an MBA from Lynchburg College. Jason was a Marketing Consultant for over 7 years. He currently serves as Communications Director at Free Chapel in Gainesville, GA.

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