Every role in your church is an interim position. Life happens. Someone gets sick, moves away, or gets burned out from being on point every week. True succession planning focuses on leadership reproduction, not replacement.
Imagine it’s Saturday at 8pm and you’re the preschool director at your church. The couple who teaches your 3-year-olds just texted that they have the flu. Who do you call to teach the 3-year-olds their weekly Bible lesson?
Or what if your church is launching your first multi-site campus? You currently have a great parking team, but the new site will meet in a downtown area where parking is limited. Oh, and the service times overlap with service times at your main campus. Who will lead the parking team at your new site?
Or consider that you’ve pastored at the same church for 20 years and are nearing retirement age. However, a sudden medical diagnosis has expedited your retirement to now. Who will fill the pulpit and minister to your congregation?
Odds are strong that your church has faced similar circumstances. So how is your ministry prepared to respond to each of the scenarios previously discussed? Do you have the people and process in place to ensure continuity of ministry takes place or will you spend half your weekend putting the dumpster fire?
Whether you lose your senior pastor, your preschool teacher, or the leader of your parking team, not having a succession plan in place can cause significant problems. And things can go from bad to worse quite quickly in those circumstances.
Succession planning is not easy and takes time, energy, intention, and resources, but not having a plan in place can result in:
- Lack of clarity about your church’s direction
- Decline of the church’s reputation and image in the community
- Anxiety among key staff and volunteers
- Decreased motivation and morale
- Inability to respond to opportunities and crises in an appropriate and timely manner
- Decreased quality of service and ministries
- Loss of critical knowledge causing confusion and delay
However, having an all-inclusive succession plan:
- Communicates to everyone in your church a clear sense of direction and a plan to keep things moving forward in your leadership pipeline
- Maintains your church’s reputation and image in the community
- Shows key staff and volunteers where the church is going and where they fit in the leadership pipeline
- Maintains quality of service
- Responds to opportunities and crises in an appropriate and timely manner
- Provides a process to ensure critical knowledge is passed on to new leaders
- Provides flexibility to improve competencies in key roles
- Allows horizontal movement across the church with little disruption
- Identifies leadership opportunities for high potential leaders across the entire organization and helps individuals see personal opportunities for advancement in the leadership pipeline1
Your church is designed to produce the results you are currently getting. If you offered effective solutions to these scenarios, you likely already have an effective leadership development pipeline in place. If not, your church should devote time and attention to creating succession at every level of your leadership pipeline. Doing so will not only provide solutions to different succession situations but will also lead to a greater kingdom impact.
1. Adapted from Arnie Dahlke, Business Succession Planning for Dummies (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012), 9-10.