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A guide to pastoral transitions: Pt. 2, Day 31 and Beyond

By Eric Seiberling

Pastors have 90 days to prove themselves and create momentum in ministry. Organizational research and interviews have shown new leaders can make or break their success in the first few months in their tenure. A previous article “A guide to pastoral transitions – The First 30 Days” outlines ideas from Michael Watkins, author of "The First 90 Days," to break from a previous appointment, prepare a systematic way to learn about the congregation and community and develop a summary of the current situation.

During the next 60 days, the focus needs to be on translating those insights into action.

Align the organization and focus on what matters most (Day 31 to 60)

The second 30 days need to help drive alignment in the organization and rally the congregation to action. The congregation will not just act simply because the pastor says so.  During this time, focus on sharing the results of the first 30 days, defining quick wins that address immediate opportunities and concerns, building the team to deliver the results and aligning the resources needed to succeed.

  • Present the findings. Create a report to share the key findings from the first 30 days.  These findings should be identified by the entire leadership team, not just the pastor. Share both the grim realities and the exciting opportunities for ministry. Include quotes from the cottage meetings, surveys and discussions to give a “human voice” to the findings. Present them in a way that both focuses on what must change for the church to thrive, and celebrates those aspects of the church which are going well.

  • Pray to discern God’s calling for your church.  The impact of prayer cannot be overestimated. The findings will evoke a number of emotions in individuals: fear, anger, relief, anxiety or maybe sadness. Prayer helps us center on God’s will versus our own preferences and desires. Provide some guiding thoughts for leaders to mediate or focus everyone on appropriate Scripture passages. Refocusing the congregation on God’s unique calling for their church can transform fear, uncertainty and doubt into passion, conviction and commitment.

  • Create conversation to facilitate convergence. Many times, the data will lead to some obvious places for action. Facilitate conversation about the findings and ask different leaders and groups to brainstorm on potential actions for the short-, mid- and long term. Work as a team to group these ideas into core themes and then prioritize them. Next, create a list of short-, mid- and long-term actions. Create a set of goals, deliverables and milestones that create a clear plan to succeed.

  • Focus on quick wins. Help the team define two or three quick wins for the next 30 days. Make sure these quick wins have high priority, high visibility and broad support. Part of a successful transition is making positive changes that are visible to the congregation to drive excitement and positive momentum.

  • Build the team.  Take the time to understand how well teams or committees are operating. Many times you cannot build a team from scratch. Take time to observe people in action for yourself and help coach the team. Consider using personality assessments to help create balanced teams from a temperament standpoint and make sure you have the right gifts on the team to be successful. Remove any inactive members from a team as a signal that action and not “membership” is expected. This may take several months to complete.

  • Focus on the core; delegate when you can. It is easy to become overwhelmed at the amount of work that needs to be done. Focus on the top priorities and delegate where you can. Delegating tasks to individuals can also provide an opportunity to assess their capabilities.

  • Listen to the “difficult people.” Even though they complain and sometimes obstruct change, take time to listen to criticism, but do not be consumed by it.  Understand what is driving their fear, share with them how you are addressing that underlying fear, adjust plans if needed, and then move on.

Deliver quick wins (Day 61 to 90)

To quote Nike, “Just do it.” Now is the time to translate plans into actions and actions into quick wins. It is critically important to deliver results within 90 days that are visible and clearly communicate the future direction of the church.

  • Involve as many people as possible. While the team leading the “quick-win” initiative may be small, find ways to involve as many people from your congregation. If the church is looking to create a household goods pantry, ask the youth group to collect items door-to-door or ask Sunday school classes (from the nursery to the adult classes) to bring in items and compete against one another.

  • Look for evidence of success. Based on your goals, think about what success looks like and then try to capture evidence that things are working. Take pictures of children at a Vacation Bible School. Create a short video of people working at the soup kitchen. Hold an open house after a church cleanup. Find ways to capture people in action and then share that with the congregation.

  • Communicate early and often. Take the time to communicate to the congregation the results of efforts and the impact they can have. Connect with both the “unplugged” and the “digitally plugged-in.” Share pictures, videos, testimonies or anything else that can show results and generate excitement.

  • Celebrate at the end of 90 days. Show off the congregations’s efforts at the end of the 90 days both during the worship service and a celebration reception afterwards. Achieving together creates community. Take the time to celebrate results and focus on what has been achieved in such a short period of time

The Power of Quick Wins (Beyond Day 90)

By the end of the 90 days, you want your congregation and your community to feel that something new and good is happening. Creating these quick wins can create a virtuous cycle. Otherwise you can get caught in a vicious one where fear, uncertainty and doubt can take hold or, worse yet, complacency.

Early wins excite and energize people, build your credibility and quickly create value for your organization. They can bring a congregation together and make a “kingdom difference” in your community. Make the first 90 days count and you can experience many fruitful years of ministry by all.