3 Mistakes Churches Make In Seasons Of Transition
Seasons of transition are difficult, all the time and every time. Even in the best of circumstances, transition can add stress or take a toll on a church, its leaders, its staff, or its ministry.
While every transition is different and should be treated uniquely, below are three things you should avoid when your church is going through a season of transition.
1. Don’t acknowledge the loss.
Most church transitions involve some kind of loss - loss of a leader, loss of staff members, change of vision, etc. It seems like a given, but it’s important to remember that loss is hard on everyone, especially your congregation. It’s easy to make a staffing change announcement and then quickly move on (because, honestly, it’s a little uncomfortable to discuss, especially if you had to fire a person or if the person leaving did so unexpectedly and/or under unfortunate circumstances). But your congregation hasn’t had the opportunity to process this information as long as you have. Remember that even the worst staff member impacted someone’s life, and that deserves a level of recognition in your communication with your staff or congregation.
Be gracious and clearly communicate that though transition is hard, people (even your ex-staff members) are valued and appreciated. A friend once told me that staff changes are only awkward if you let them be, and I’ve found that to be very true. As a church leader, do your best to be open, approachable, and comfortable throughout the transition, and the way your church receives it will mirror that, leaving your congregation in a much healthier place.
2. Flippantly choose an Interim Pastor.
Church life moves quickly and never stops. So if you’re experiencing an unexpected staff change, the logical first step is to find someone to do the work while you’re finding a long-term staffing solution. The definition of interim is, "In or for the intervening time period; provisional or temporary." So that means the Interim Pastor just needs to be capable of getting the job done, right?
Well, sort of. While your Interim Pastor doesn’t need to check all of your wish list boxes, the bar probably needs to be set higher than you think. With every transition, someone in your congregation is going to be unhappy, regardless of whether or not they are justified in that unhappiness.
With this in mind, it’s important to select an interim that will do the job well, but won’t disturb an already fragile situation. Be cognizant of the state of your congregation, and select a person who will thrive and help others thrive in your present reality, despite their temporary status. You never know, they could surprise you and end up being exactly what you never knew you needed for the long-term.
3. Keep doing it all.
Generally speaking, staff transitions make people feel uneasy. So the natural response is to try to make everything continue as normal, in hopes of easing everyone's concerns and communicating that everything is going to be okay. To a certain extent, that’s a great idea. But the key to navigating a season of transition is to be very self-aware. Be aware of where your congregation is and what they need. Be aware of how much is too much, and what you can or cannot continue doing with excellence.
Especially when the position you’ve lost is a top-level position, you just cannot do it all. It’s better to do 80% of the work excellently than to do 100% of the work at a sub-par level. This will actually do the opposite of what you want and will make the gap left by your staff member seem even larger. Assess your organization without the person and outsource or combine some things if necessary (for example, if you lost your Middle School Pastor, combine the Middle School and High School events until the new staff member has been hired).
Seasons of transition are typically not fun, but they usually leave all parties better off in the long run. So if you’re in a difficult season of transition, be encouraged. Fix your eyes on the unseen, and trust that God will direct your path. He is always faithful.
Have you led your church through a season of transition? What other mistakes should people avoid as they lead their churches through staff transitions?
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