Most churches and organizations plan for succession in their leadership pipeline. However, many only focus on senior leadership roles. Odds are strong that succession in all levels of your leadership pipeline occurs more often than you realize.
Has a volunteer or leader in your church ever:
- Taken a job in another state?
- Had a baby and stepped away from serving for a time?
- Been promoted into a role with more responsibility?
- Retired from a position?
If you answered yes to any of the above, your church already experienced succession.
While there are many types of succession plans, most fall into four categories.
- Unexpected Succession
- Departure-Defined Succession
- Temporary Succession
- Senior Leadership Succession
Unexpected Succession Plans
Unexpected succession occurs when someone vacates their position unexpectedly. We often consider this type the “if so-and-so gets hit by a bus” plan. When a church says they have a succession plan, unexpected succession is usually what they mean. Typically this plan is filed away and only addresses what happens upon the death or sudden departure of a key leader to ensure that an organization continues functioning.
The unlikelihood of tragedies makes this plan easy to dismiss. Unexpected succession plans should cover the unexpected departure of any leader or volunteer and for whatever reason. Whether it’s a two-hour or two-week notice, it’s still urgent to replace that leader in short order. People get new jobs, face medical emergencies, or just up and quit! If we see succession as reproduction and not replacement, then we will be ready for emergencies when they arise.
Departure-Defined Succession Plans
Departure-defined succession occurs when someone plans to leave a position within a somewhat set timeline. Some examples include retirement and internal or external job transitions as well as roles that have set terms, like Sunday School teachers or small group leaders who commit for a semester or a year.
Because of the set timeline, most churches and organizations find success in departure-defined succession. The goal is to build predefined leadership competencies and confidence in a successor so that the church’s dependency upon the skills, charisma, and relationships of the former leader are fully addressed or greatly reduced. The best scenario for a seamless transition is when there is a full leadership pipeline in place that provides a strong bench of leaders for succession at every level.
Temporary Succession Plans
Temporary succession occurs when someone steps out of a role for a defined timeline. Some examples include maternity or medical leave, caring for an ailing family member, sabbaticals, and even special assignments or strategic initiatives for the organization. Temporary succession plans focus on covering the responsibilities for the role during the person’s leave of absence, not replacing them.
Senior Leadership Succession Plans
Senior leadership succession occurs when a high-level leader leaves, either expectedly or unexpectedly. This type of succession plan is rarely stand-alone but will overlap with unexpected or defined-departure plans, depending on the circumstances of the leader’s transition. If done well, senior leadership succession plans are thought out and support the overall strategy of the church to cause minimal disruption to ministry during the transition.
Creating Succession at Every Level
When pulled together, these types will encompass an all-inclusive succession plan to address most succession situations. Your church or organization’s specific needs will determine what you implement. If you know how your church will respond to each type of succession plan discussed, you likely have an effective leadership pipeline that reproduces volunteers and leaders. If not, you need to devote time and attention to the problem of succession at every level.