Coming Into a New Church, Pt. 2

PHOTO COURTESY OF Richard Stephenson

PHOTO COURTESY OF Richard Stephenson

In this mini-series, we’re talking about how to successfully transition from one church to another. Last time, I set up an all-to-common scenario of a young guy who finds himself in a successful, growing church and is now suddenly in demand from other churches. He goes, tries to duplicate that “success” only to find he was really just in the right place at the right time last time around. That’s one possibility. But I think this advice is useful for anyone who is transitioning into a new staff situation. Much of this I have learned over 25+ years of ministry, both technical and not (I was a student ministry guy before becoming the tech guy). This wisdom was passed on to me by older, wiser guys and hopefully, I was smart enough to follow it.

Make No Big Changes for Six Months

This phrase was drilled into me during my six years in student ministry. As the average tenure of a youth pastor was (and I think still is) about 18 months, there is a tremendous desire to get in and make a big impact quickly. The same is true of tech guys. By nature, many of us are problem solvers and fixers. So we see things that are broken and immediately want to fix them. My advice to you is slow down. Leadership change is very stressful for a team, don’t make it more so by throwing out a bunch of changes right away. If you have critical equipment that is broken, fix it. But don’t completely revamp the entire structure your first month.

Get to Know the People First

You really need to get to know the people you will be working with before you start changing things up. Find out their strengths, weaknesses and what they would like to see changed. And when I say, “the people,” I mean the staff, leadership and your team. Begin to find out what the pain points are, and start formulating ways to alleviate them. But don’t mistake your new job as a way to showcase your mad skills. You are there to serve the body of that church. Make sure you serve them.

Check Your Ego at the Door

This is a corollary to the previous point. There are fewer ways more effective in alienating people than to constantly tell them how great you are and what an amazing team/band/stage/facility/job you had at your last church. Be humble. Be willing to listen to your new team. Who knows, you may even learn something new! As we learned last time, “Just because it worked, doesn’t mean you’re always right.” 

Learn the Culture

Every church is unique. What works for one may not work for another. Of course, there are some best practices that are fairly transferrable, but you often have to customize what you are doing for each congregation. That goes for everything from style of mix to how to schedule the team. Some churches have no problem finding willing and talented volunteers. Others have a terrible time with that. Make sure you know the culture of your new church before you go trying to turn it into your old church. 

In the last 15 years, I’ve transitioned into five different churches. In each case, I tried to follow my own advice. In each case, I was able to win the hearts and minds of the staff and my teams, I made many positive changes and left the churches in better shape than I found them. That’s not arrogance talking, that’s just what happened. But here’s the key; none of the those churches was the same, so I adapted my methods for each. Significant changes were made in each case, but hopefully in a way that left everyone feeling pretty good about it. 

So don’t be that guy—that guy who comes in, makes big changes and blows everybody up just because you got lucky once. Take your time, get to know the people and culture and make the changes that are appropriate for that setting. Everyone will be better off in the end if you do.

Roland

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