March 12, 2024Blog

Now Is the Time to Talk Succession

Every other article that pops up on social media related to churches these days seems to reference succession planning in one way or another. This is likely because at least a quarter of Protestant pastors in the United States are retiring in the next five years according to a Barna study conducted in 2022. See And although succession is a hot topic for churches, we recommend that all faith-based organizations put an emergency plan and succession policy in place no matter how close to retirement their senior leaders might be. We have seen too many situations in which a senior leader departs unexpectedly, and the organization is not ready, which causes panic, inefficiency, and an inability to care for key constituents of the organization. So, if you have not given much thought to your own succession plan or that of a senior leader in your organization, what are some of the key items boards and leaders need to consider?

  • What’s the emergency plan? If the unexpected happens and the organization’s senior leader is suddenly no longer able to fulfill his/her duties, who will step in? Who will make key decisions? Is appropriate funding in place? How will the change be communicated to the staff, the congregation, the donors and key contributors? What are the unique complexities that will make this transition difficult?
  • Whose job is it to think about succession? Has a succession committee been identified? Has a singular person been assigned to be sure the organization stays on top of this important topic?
  • What do the organization’s governing documents say about succession, if anything? Is there anything in these documents or the organization’s policies that will need to be changed to allow a smooth transition?
  • What is the timeline for a transition? Is it 10 years? 5 years? Do you have a date or year in mind? What should the organization be doing as the transition date gets closer?
  • What are the current leader’s expectations upon retirement? Is there a retirement plan in place? If not, what has the board authorized? What does the retiring leader expect in terms of compensation and celebration?
  • How are the organization’s various constituents going to react to the transition of the organization to a new leader? What do you anticipate? Who will have the most difficulty?
  • How do the finances look now? What will they look like in 5 years? 10 years? Do the board and executive leadership team have a good handle on the organization’s financial picture? How might a significant leadership transition impact the organization’s finances?
  • What does the next leader of this organization need to embody to carry the organization’s mission into the future? What skills are needed? What character traits would be required? How much experience should a candidate have? Do you have a solid job description in place? Are there internal candidates? Who will help you identify potential candidates?
  • When the organization hires a new leader, what processes and practices can you have in place to help his/her transition into the new role?

Failing to plan is planning to fail, as Benjamin Franklin once said. Don’t wait until there is an emergency and you need to make important decisions in a crisis. Reach out and we can help you work through these considerations and the critical business and legal implications of each.

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