NL Moore & Associates welcomes this two-part blog post by Keith Drury, Associate Professor Emeritus at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. It is excerpted and edited with permission from an original single post, which can be found on his website Check it out!

As stated in part one of this two-part post, the reality of succession is on the horizon of every church and pastor. As this generation of boomer pastors inch toward their own succession timeframe, the necessity of planning and preparation are certain. The good news is there are an abundance of resources available to help pastors as well as denominational leaders.

Since so many boomers are thinking about succession, we can expect new ideas and fresh models to emerge. Here are just a few new models boomers are already exploring:

Emerging Models of Boomer Succession Planning

  1. The equip-the-board model. This model focuses on equipping the board to make wise decisions regarding the transition and selection of the next pastor. It is something like the strategic planning process. In this model the board goes through an extended process of defining the future direction of the church and what they need in a new pastor. Many large churches with strong pastors tend to have weak boards, so this can be a challenge. It requires the board with clarity about the future, but flexibility to recognize the incoming pastor will to have input into the vision for the ministry.
  1. The regular guest-preacher. If a church does not have an obvious internal successor, an increasing number of larger churches will rotate speakers in who are not officially candidates, but to expose their people to possible candidates. This occurs not just once a year but every month or so for a few years prior to transition. This model gives the church, the senior pastor and the potential candidates a chance for exposure and exploration over an elongated period.
  1. The pastor-elect model. This model attempts to eliminate the problems associated with the one-to-two year “leader in training” approach. As pastor-elect, the church works through the succession and selection process, hires the new pastor and issues a contract (so there is clarity regarding the position as a successor), but is not installed immediately. Instead the new pastor works under the departing pastor for 6 to 12 months. The hope is that the transitional overlap will provide stability for the congregation and assurance for the incoming leader regarding the timeline for transition.
  1. The pastor emeritus-advisor model. This model flips the plan above by electing the new pastor with full authority to lead, but allowing the departing lead pastor to stay in an official advisor role for a year or two. The departing pastor moves into a “pastor emeritus” status, much like a retiring college president might move into a chancellor role. It provides stability for the congregation, allows the departing pastor to maintain his connection to the church community, but still empowers the new leader to have the final say regarding future direction and decisions.

In the next decade the leadership of most mega churches will change hands. The challenge is great and the risk is high. When a large church leadership changes, attendance and giving are at risk. Loyalty in the mega church context tends to be connected to the quality of the last sermon series while in smaller churches people tend to stay the course because of relationships.

Denominations have a big stake in the succession conversation, too. During the reign of the boomer pastors, the proportion of the US population attending church declined. However, those who attend church have flocked to bigger and bigger churches. In the Wesleyan denomination of more than 1,600 churches, which is my own denomination, 29 percent of the entire denomination attends 25 local churches. And almost 20 percent attend just ten churches. So, local churches are not alone in caring deeply about pastoral succession. Denominations have too much at stake in the overall attendance figures and the gigantic loans they’ve backed up for these churches not to take an active role in the conversation.

Boomer succession planning is a critical conversation for the church today. Undoubtedly other models will emerge as boomers continue to move toward a succession timeline. It is time to rise to the challenge and engage the conversation.

NL Moore & Associates offers a full range of succession planning services. Please reach out for information or if we can help your church plan for the successful transition of your pastor.