Succeeding in the Succession

In 2003, I received a visit from church growth expert Lyle Schaller. He was in San Antonio on a consulting assignment and wanted to stop by for a visit. I was enthused. I had read Schaller’s books for years. “Who knows,” I thought to myself, “Schaller may want my advice.” At that point, I had served as senior minister of Oak Hills Church for 15 years. The congregation was healthy, vibrant and enjoying a good season. I assumed he wanted some tips.

Wrong assumption. His first question was this: “What is your succession plan?”

Succession plan? I had no intention of leaving. I had no intention of dying. Mr. Schaller reminded me that I was in charge of neither. He went on to describe the lack of succession plans as the number one problem in churches. He related disaster after disaster, same woeful song, second verse. A minister guides a church to health but then destines the church to demise for lack of a succession plan.

“What happens to the church if you get hit by a truck tomorrow?”

Not a fun question. So I decided not to think about it. Fast forward four years. I was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2007. The conversation with Schaller surfaced in my thoughts. And I realized: our church had no plan for succession. So, we got to work. I pitched a plan to our elders. I would remain as teaching minister if I could find a new senior minister. We would split the preaching and transition the leadership responsibilities.

Five years ago this month Randy and Rozanne Frazee moved to town. Not only has the church survived the transition, we have thrived. We have grown from a church of three campuses to six. Our attendance has never been higher. Our giving is off the charts. Nearly 400 people have been baptized already this year. And, best of all, our congregation is in the good hands of a younger, smarter, and highly effective senior minister.

I get to preach six months out of the year. My heart is completely healed. And Denalyn and I are privileged to watch this church, the love of our lives, flourish.

I blog about this for two reasons. First to plant a victory flag and give thanks to God. And second, to ask this question to any senior minister who might be reading, “What is your succession plan?”

(Bob Russell’s book Transition Plan is the best go-to tool I know of on this subject.)

© Max Lucado, 2013