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One of my strategic partners, William Vanderbloemen, the founder of Vanderbloemen Search Group caught up with me recently to talk about succession planning. William has been using corporate search techniques and his knowledge of church operations in order to connect churches with great senior leaders. I think you’ll enjoy and be challenged by this conversation.

TONY: What is succession planning?

WILLIAM: Succession planning is a simple term with a complex solution. It’s creating a plan for what happens once you need a new leader. And all organizations face that.

In the corporate world, which in my estimation is ahead of the church world on this issue, succession planning is a requirement for nearly all publicly traded companies. Facing a season where you don’t know who’s in charge is just too risky.

At our firm, probably the most frequent call we get right now is from churches that need help making a transition from a long-time Pastor to the next generation. And with the number of baby boomers that are heading toward retirement, I suspect those calls will only increase over the coming decade.

TONY: Why is it necessary for churches?

WILLIAM: The short answer is this: We are all interim pastors.

Unless we are the pastor when our church closes, or we happen to be the pastor when Jesus returns, we are all only in our churches for a temporary stay. And I believe the most critical task for a church leader is to do all he can to secure the long-term future of the church.

TONY: Doesn’t succession planning disregard God’s sovereignty and his calling on a specific pastor?

WILLIAM: I guess I would answer with a question: “Does God want us to plan and implement processes for His church or not?”

We plan when we build God’s house (our campuses). We plan how we will use God’s offerings (our budgets). Identifying the person God has anointed as your next Pastor requires all the prayer AND all the process you can muster.

TONY: What kinds of succession plans are out there?

WILLIAM: One plan everyone needs is an emergency plan. What would happen if your key leader were suddenly unable to be in their position anymore? It’s not only responsible planning, but it eases minds: from the board, to your donors, to any financial institution your church might use. And it’s relatively inexpensive to have someone help you form that plan.

The longer-term plan is a more complex matter. Some churches try to place a potential successor on staff well ahead of time, and others keep a short list of names for consideration. Every church is different. We’ve identified about eight key variables that help us craft a plan for clients. Every time one of those variables is different, the plan is different.

TONY: What can folks do to learn more about succession planning?

WILLIAM: I tell all of our clients to look at what Bob Russell and Dave Stone did at Southeast Church in Louisville. It’s one of the rare cases of smooth transition in a mega church.  Bob’s got a new book, Transition Plan, coming out later this month. It is an excellent resource for the church.

Sooner or later, the time will come to draw up your own plan. I believe an objective set of eyes is needed for the task. At our firm, we are studying under folks who have done this sort of thing for the corporate world for years, and we’re applying our experience in church work to form a process that’s tailor made for each of our clients.

Is your church in need of a succession plan? If so, email me and I’ll put you in touch with William to help you learn more about the process.

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