Inevitable SuccessionApr 18, 2022
Life happens. Death happens. Unfortunate circumstances incapacitate leaders. We’ve all heard of sudden death, long-term debilitating illness, moral failure, deviance from doctrine and mission, and unforeseen resignations. Most organizations do not have a plan or a process to deal with such catastrophes. In these situations, intervention is necessary to provide for a transitional Pastor or replacement candidate. This is especially critical when there is no succession plan in place.
As a church leader, can you think of a church pastoral succession or transition that went badly? Knowing what you know, what could have averted that? How long did the fallout continue? How many people left the church and never went back? Now let’s look at the other side of the spectrum. Can you think of a church pastoral succession or transition that went well? We would suggest that the primary difference between the two is that the one that went badly was done by default, and the one that went well was done by design.
If you were designing a pastoral succession and transition and were asked to give counsel to the church leadership in charge of managing it, what would you say? We don’t know what your counsel would be, but our guess is that few churches are following it. Why is that? Why would churches default on one of the most crucial passages in the life of a congregation rather than prayerfully seek counsel and design? The church of the future should be designed, so we don’t lose generations yet to be born. We want to offer pathways of thinking toward a designed pastoral succession or transition.
According to a study titled “The State of Pastors” conducted by Barna Group and Pepperdine University between 1992 and 2017:
· The median age of all protestant Pastors in America increased from 44 to 54.
· The number of Pastors age 40 and under dropped by fifty percent.
· The number of Pastors over the age of 55 doubled.
· The number of Pastors age 65 and older nearly tripled.
These stats point to the inevitable transition, over the next ten years, of 480,000 experienced Pastors out of the pulpits of the churches they are currently leading. Ninety percent of them (roughly 430,000) will occur in churches with no succession plan in place. These numbers are staggering by themselves, but also consider that a large church (defined as 1,000-plus in attendance) takes 12 to 24 months to replace a Pastor, resulting in numeric attrition, financial shortfalls, and leadership departures. Complicating matters more, this coming exodus will include many Pastors who pioneered the modern-day megachurch—visionary leaders who won’t easily be replaced.