Friday, May 7, 2010

Going to a New Church...Transition Tips


New Church Transition Plan

Several of my friends are moving to serve new churches this year. I am very excited for some of the opportunities that they have received. While talking with them they have asked for what I think they should do to make a successful transition into their new place of ministry. Here are some of the things I have told them:

1. Pray daily for both the congregation you are leaving and the one where you will be next. Engage your family in that prayer. Ask God for clarity or purpose, an open heart to new people, places, and ideas. Spend as much time listening for the voice of God as you do talking to (or at) God.

2. Do you homework. Before you arrive on the ground in your new community you should have a thorough understanding of the demographics and sociology of the community you will be serving. Start a notebook with information from the local chamber of commerce, they county government offices, the census data, and any other source where you can learn about the community. You should know about the schools, the community culture, and the biggest event in the area. You need to be an expert about your new community.

3. Do your homework. Visit the denomination website and begin compiling records of worship and giving. Go through previous Annual Conference Journals and gather as much information as possible, taking it all with a grain of salt. I like to compile a ten to twenty year trending church that shows the worship attendance and annual giving data on a graph so I can see how the congregation is fairing over time.

4. If possible, take the last week or two before you move as vacation time. Unless it is already on the books and paid for, I do not take vacation until Thanksgiving at a new church. It is absolutely imperative that you arrive fresh, rested, and ready to hit the ground running. Use your lay speakers or those in your district for theses two weeks. Schedule any “good bye” events late in May or early in June so that you can ease away gracefully.

5. Contact the new church representative assigned to assist with the transition and ask for the newest picture director and/or have them take new digital pictures of your congregation and send them to you. Ask them to identify the persons in the photos and tell you something about them. This serves two functions, first, you begin memorizing the faces and names of your new people. Secondly, they occasionally tell you things that you need to know but would not know to ask (like who used to be married to whom, or who used to be on staff but isn’t any longer).

6. When you pack, designate A, B, and C boxes. A boxes are absolute essentials. These are the “unpack now so you can live” boxes. B boxes are essentials but can wait a day or two, C boxes will be unpacked when you get around to it and can wait a week or so if need be. Clearly mark the boxes so that you can tell them where to put each stack.

7. In churches with a lot of shut-ins or seniors, begin a process of visiting by asking your contact for the person who will be your partner for the first several weeks and visit at the same time weekly with that person. I have been at St. Paul for a year and I still visit for four hours every week with my visitation partner. She has become my pastoral right hand and has assisted me in avoiding several pastoral issues. Consistency of time and practice (notice it is a tithe of my “work” time) with a partner shows how much you care about the people and provides you with an accountability structure.

8. Schedule lunches with every key leader between July 1 and September 1, and you buy. Ask them leading questions like, “tell me the story of ________ Church,” or “what are the biggest challenges that we face?” Also, during the lunch, I always ask them to tell me about their personal spiritual journey and ask them to pray for me daily. When I get back home I send them a thank you note for their time and insight.

9. Write the 12 best sermons of your life. Spend at least ten hours a week (now you are up to 14 not including lunches) preparing the best messages about the mission and purpose of a Christian community that you can preach. Like it or not, we are measured by our communication ability. This is not the time to re-hash old material, it is time to customize the message God gives you for the people God gives you to serve. I know, so many of your people will be gone during the summer, but those who are committed will be there and they need to know that you take the proclamation of the Word seriously. A word to those who struggle in this area, a wise preacher once told me, “if you preach badly, preach briefly.” If this is not your primary gift area, spend your time preparing the best twelve-minute, one point, scripturally grounded message you can. One razor sharp, focused point is far better than three fuzzy ones.

10. Set boundaries early and practice spiritual disciplines. Make it clear which twenty-four hours is your Sabbath. While you need to be available for emergencies, you need to model what your want practiced. I present my leaders with a chart like the one below that outlines that I will be available at least twelve units a week. That means I will work ten units (like the typical 40 hour job) and two additional because I expect them to worship one unit and serve one unit a week as well. You have to model what you expect.

11. Be flexible. God is going to present you some amazing opportunities. I make it a point to accept every dinner, dessert, tea, or social invitation I can. Meeting with people in a “non-churched” environment is essential to really get to know and love those whom God has called you to serve.

12. Be invitational. Everywhere you go look to make friends with people who are not connected to Christ or a local church. As the new pastor in the community it is a great opportunity to invite folks to come and see what’s going on. Additionally, your modeling an invitational lifestyle will give you credibility when you begin asking the people in your church to do the same.

The time of transition sets the bar for everything you will do during your time in a new congregation. Let us be those that Wesley envisioned when he wrote, “Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the Kingdom of God upon earth” (Letters, VI, 272).

I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Marty
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