Succession vs Replacement Planning

Ben at the pond.

My son loves to fish. Last summer was a fun summer for him. He caught some great fish.  He and his friends even landed a huge snapping turtle! The thing is, Ben has a somewhat unique fishing method. His primary fishing hole is at a pond near our home that has a bridge spanning the middle. He and his friends simply “pick their fish” while looking down over the bridge, and then focus on that catch. They’ve been pretty successful too!

I was talking with a leader the other day about succession planning for the local church. I told him there’s a big difference between Succession Planning and Replacement Planning. It’s a crude illustration, but I found myself sharing about my son’s fishing methods.

I likened Succession Planning to what my son does at that bridge on the pond. Pick your fish, then focus on that fish until you’ve successfully hooked and brought it in.

Replacement Planning is going to be a lot more like the traditional fishing methods most of us amateur fisherman use. Bait, cast, catch a bunch of green stuff. Try again, set the hook, pull in something small and ineffective, try again and again and again, until we catch something close to what we’re looking or hoping for. 

Every pastor wants to find the right person to replace him when it’s time to pass the baton. The problem is, most don’t think to look for that person until it’s too late. Sometimes I’ll receive a call from a pastor who is ready to resign or move on. They ask me, “Can you help me develop a succession plan?” After a few questions I have occasionally answered with, “No. But I’ll help you work on a replacement plan.” 

Succession is about finding one or more candidates for pastoral leadership and then mentoring them until one has shown himself ready for leadership. By then, it’s usually obvious to the senior leadership of the church, if not the church itself, that the new lead pastor is in the house. The transition often goes very smoothly for everyone.

Replacement is about finding one or more candidates who hopefully fit the bill, and putting them in the saddle – with a prayer that they were the right one. Too often, it turns out they aren’t. By the time you find that out, it’s too late and the church is often sidetracked for months or even years dealing with the repercussions.

Here are a few more differences between succession and replacement.

Succession Planning Replacement Planning
Is a process. Is an event.
Begins 2-3 years before transition. Begins 3-6 months before transition.
Is proactive. Is reactive.
Prepares the congregation for change. Surprises the congregation with change.
Yields expected results. Yields mixed results.
Values are embedded into the new leader before succession happens. Values are discovered in the new leader after replacement happens.
The new leader holds a high degree of trust by the congregation. The new leader holds a mixed degree of trust by the congregation.

You get the idea. It’s wise to begin developing a succession plan for your church sooner than later. You can begin this process at any time and build it into your overall leadership strategy. It doesn’t matter if the Lead Pastor is 35 years old or 65 years old, it’s worth starting now.

Which plan will your church implement when it’s time to find a new leader?

The Formula for United Change

united-changeRecently I was talking to one of my mentors, Mike Cavanaugh, and we were discussing the overwhelmingly successful transition our church experienced when he resigned as the founding and senior pastor for more than 20 years and handed it off to a young eagle, Joshua Finley. During that year of transition, our church of about 800 fully embraced every step of the transition. When we finally got together to vote in Pastor Josh, we were mildly shocked to receive a unanimous vote. Now, if you’ve been around the church world for any length of time, you’ll know that’s a veritable miracle all by itself.

During our discussion, Pastor Mike shared with me a formula that I’ve heard for a few years and which he has consistently used as a guiding principle whenever he has had to initiate change with his congregation. It’s a formula that will help facilitate united change.

Here’s the formula: Communication + Time = United Change

That’s it. Lots of communication, combined with lots of time, maximizes your chances for united change. Check out this excerpt from a book I read recently by Tim Stevens, called Vision: Lost and Found. He outlines how his church implemented a vision for a huge change, note how this formula so perfectly fits their strategy.

I started by identifying four groups that we believed we had to have represented if our vision process was going to be complete and inclusive.

Influencers – This included our entire staff and every volunteer leader in the church….

Participants – Additionally, we wanted to hear from all the volunteers and those in small groups, Bible studies, etc….

Attendees – We then wanted to catch everyone else who attended the weekend service….

Community – And, if possible, we wanted to hear from people in the community who did not attend our church….

I then recommended breaking our process into four distinct phases:

Listening – it would take us a few months, but we wanted to make sure we had enough time to hear from everyone who wanted to participate. This required enough focus so people knew we were serious when we asked the questions.

Drafting – It was going to be daunting, but we wanted to consolidate the dreams and visions of thousands of people and write an initial vision document that capture the heart of the {whole} church.

Finalizing – Then, we would have a few cycles where we would send the written draft back out to gain feedback. This would help us refine the next version so it was more concise and clear.

Communicating – And finally, we would agree on a final vision that would become our guiding document for years to come. We would then begin to communicate that vision to everyone who would listen.

With these four groups and four phases as our guiding template, we began a process that would result in bringing energy and momentum back to the church like we hadn’t felt in years.

How might this formula, and Tim Steven’s strategic plan, serve you in the new initiatives you are working on this year?

Michael Jordan & Craig Groeschel on Failure

Isn’t it interesting that so many of us have an intense fear of failure, and shy away from situations where we might fail, while others embrace failure, learn, and end up doing something great!

Watch these two great clips on failure and be inspired to try, fail, learn, adjust and try again!

If you can’t see this video, try clicking this link.
If you can’t see this video, try clicking this link.

A Healthy Tolerance for Failure

Let’s face it, nobody wants to fail. It is contrary to the very point of doing anything. We don’t start a project, ministry, or new initiative with a full expectation of failing. There is always at least a small hope that our efforts will result in success.

Despite our intense desire to NOT fail, leaders also understand that failure is inevitable. Well, that’s not entirely true . Failure is only going to happen when people try something new. This is where our problem kicks in as church leaders. WE FEAR FAILURE. We tell ourselves that we don’t have the time, money, or emotional reserve to put up with failure. Or we are afraid that failure will show everyone around us that we aren’t qualified to lead. We might even ‘hear’ the words of our critics echoing in our minds when we think of trying something new and daring.

I ran across this quote a while back while reading The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.

“Tolerance for failure is a very specific part of the excellent company culture – and that lesson comes directly from the top. Champions have to make lots of tries and consequently suffer some failures or the organization won’t learn.” Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., In Search of Excellence.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not recommending you bet the farm (or church) on a risky idea. I’m suggesting that you may be stuck in fear and have therefore chosen to set risk aside altogether.

So how about it? Do you encourage calculated risks and graciously allow for failure with your team?

Perhaps better questions to ask are, When was the last time someone in your ministry tried something and failed? and, What was the last ‘risky idea’ that you or a team member implemented?
Image from gunnar3000 on

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do Something Different

This past Sunday our church did something unique. It got people talking, created some buzz, added value to the message, and created a memory for our congregation. It was something different.

We held a ‘No-Show’ Sunday. We removed all of the volunteers from the schedule and replaced them with cardboard silhouettes. We trimmed down the service to almost nothing. No projection, videos, lights, or worship team. Our worship leader led from a guitar. The words to the songs were in the  bulletin – which people picked up themselves because there were no greeters or ushers. Everyone left right after the service because there was no cafe. Staff and key elders ran the preschool – there was no programming for gradeschoolers. I could go on, but you get the idea. Our series title is ‘Me to We’ – we’re talking about partnering together in ministry through service in the church. It was awesome.

When was the last time you did something unique, different and memorable?

I ran across this video clip at today. It’s about a store called ‘The Limited’ that did something different. What could you do in your church or community this winter that people would always remember (in a good way)?

Can’t see this video? Click this link.

Strategic Quitting

{Note: This entry is a compiled re-post of two older posts on Transforming Leader.}

Seth Godin wrote a very short and easy to read book named, “The Dip” a few years ago that has changed my language forever. In fact, I find myself using the simple illustrations found in this book quite regularly. What I find particularly helpful is the super simple concept surrounding WHEN you should consider ‘quitting’ and when you should persevere and keep going.

Ironically, we often get these things mixed up. We keep doing some things when we should really STOP doing them and we give up on new ideas and ventures too quickly rather than push through ‘the dip’ to the other side.

Seth talks about the three different ‘curves’ that will help you decide when to quit and when not to. A while back I recorded this short teaching about these three curves. Take a moment today and listen in below.

Applying ‘The Dip’ to your ministry & life.

If you can’t see/hear this audio player, try clicking here.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Rhythm of Failure

Craig Groeschel

Do you remember when you learned how to ride a bike? How about your first few times trying to tread water? What can you learn today from that experience? Perhaps it’s time for you to go back to the basics all over again. You still remember how to ride a bike, but I wonder if you’ve forgotten how to learn how to ride a bike?

This is my fear for many pastors and church leaders. They’ve forgotten about the rhythm of failure. Failure is critical if you want to learn to do anything new. There’s a rhythm within failure that equips and stimulates new ideas and growth.

It goes something like this:

  • You try.
  • You fail.
  • You learn.
  • You adjust.

This morning I watched this 10 minute clip from Craig Groeschel. I was encouraged. I needed to hear what he had to say about failure. Among other things, he shares four things we need to take risks and embrace failure in the church.

I think you need to watch it too. Why not stop what you’re doing right now, put this on full screen, turn up the volume, and give yourself a quick leadership lesson. Perhaps you’ll want to forward this video on to the other leaders in your church as well. You won’t regret it.

..maybe you should do something scarier..


I’m a fan of Seth Godin. His life message is about doing something new and different; getting out of the status quo; getting off the couch and making a lasting difference. Powerful and motivating. His message is to the world, not to Christians specifically. He can be blunt and painfully honest at times, but what he has to say is critical to our role as church leaders (not managers).

In the church world I believe it is extremely important that we ask ourselves what we should be doing differently. What isn’t working? What new ideas should we tackle? How can we better facilitate the message of the Gospel? For instance, a while back I had an informal conversation with Pastor Joshua Finley and Pastor Seth Goodson at Elim Gospel Church about discipleship for the new believer. It was a refreshing conversation for me, simply because we were willing to stretch our thinking beyond what we’ve always seen and heard in the church world.

Check out this 11 1/2 minute video interview with Seth and be challenged and inspired. Here are two quotes I jotted down while listening: “..maybe you should do something scarier..”, “.. mega-church is a factory..”.

Exclusive interview with Seth Godin from GiANT Impact on Vimeo.

Ready for the Rain (Ugandan Water Project)

Have you sensed in your heart that there is much more to the ministry God has for your life than you are actually seeing today? Is there perhaps, an internal tension that is hard to describe or put your finger on which you walk out each day. The tension comes from believing there is more of God’s purposes that could/should be operating in your life than you experience week in and week out at the church you help lead. Do you know what I mean?

If so, then I would like to suggest that the tension you are experiencing may very well be Holy Spirit inspired. There is very possibly more to the calling on your life than you see represented in your ministry each day. Let me share with you a very profound key to unlocking that potential in ministry. Here it is:

Build Towards Your Faith-Inspired Future Right Now.

Functioning Water Tank at local school in Kkalwe 

I suppose there are better ways of saying that – but there it is. Let me explain with a powerful, yet simple, illustration. In May of 2007 the Ugandan Water Project was birthed through a man in our church named James Harrington. The Ugandan Water Project is a humanitarian effort that places rainwater collection tanks on community buildings throughout the East African nation of Uganda. The concept and design is very simple. These large tanks are placed near buildings with metal roofs. When it rains in Uganda the rain runs off the roofs, into a gutter system that drains the collected water into the tank. This simple method is saving entire villages that were wracked with sickness and suffering due to unsanitary conditions. (To learn more, check out their website at As you might expect, it takes a period of weeks to several months to raise the appropriate funds, order and ship the materials, and install the system. Even then, after the tank is ready to go, the village will likely have to wait longer until the rains have filled the tank to the appropriate capacity to serve that village.

Here’s my point. James Harrington and his team don’t wait until it rains to start building towards their desired future in Uganda. Of course, that wouldn’t make any sense. No, they spend every day building towards their faith-inspired desired future. In fact, they NEVER see the end result until they’ve completed building the water tanks. It rains every year in the country of Uganda. The resource each village needs has always been readily available – they just need a way to capture that blessing.

I hope you’ve made the connection by now. To be clear, let me close the loop on how this applies to you. A growing church will not wait until they see fruit before they build towards their faith-inspired future. A growing church MUST have a steadfast commitment to build now for something that is not happening yet. This attitude should permeate every level of your ministry.

What do you believe God wants to do at your church one day? What vision has he placed in your heart that you dream will someday happen? You know it’s been raining. You know the blessing of God is available to you. You believe you and your church has something (Someone) that can transform the lives of those in your community.

Your first step is the toughest. It happens in your heart and in your head. It’s the step of choosing to plan and build towards the vision God has given you right now, rather than simply staying where you are. It means you’ll start acting like you’ve already arrived before you really have. It means you’re building towards a goal that many around you won’t understand. Reminds me of that guy in Genesis who also had a God-ordained vision to prepare for rain. It’s a good thing he didn’t wait until the last minute!

Thursday Quote: Shutting Down Low Performing Ministries

Will Mancini

My Thursday quote this week is from Will Mancini’s blog entitled, “3 Strategic Alternatives to Shutting Down a Low Performing Ministry“. If you’ve been following the thread of this week’s series about ‘The Sacred Cow‘ then you’ll also discover this article particularly helpful.

Here’s a teaser from Will’s post:

“Is it time to close a program in your church? Many leaders will tell you, “When the horse is dead, dismount.” But this classic advice rolls of the tongue much easier than it plays in real life.

As a leader in ministry you have no doubt faced ministries that just ought to go. Like sour milk, they live past their shelf-life. But for various reasons, you just can’t do it. Maybe there is still a group of precious saints being served by the program. Or maybe the decision-making culture of the church just requires more time to process.”

Want to read more? Check it out RIGHT HERE.


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