Things I Learnt About Transitioning Church Leadership Through the Transition of Nowra City Church


All Churches go through the transition of leadership where the old Senior Pastor leaves and a new Senior Pastor steps into the role. After 26 years on staff of three different churches and having been a credentialed minister within the CRC, ACC (AOG at the time) and INC (formerly COC), and having served a decade on the National Executive of INC, I have seen some really bad transitions, some mediocre transitions and more rarely, some outstanding ones. After 15 years of being the Senior Pastor of Nowra City Church, I felt it was time for a new season for my leadership, a new season for Global Care, which is the position I stepped into, and a new season for Nowra City Church. I was committed to it being a successful and smooth transition.

I had been influenced by Jim Collin’s book Good to Great. He challenged the standard thinking that if an organisation crumbles after the existing leader leaves, then that shows what a great leader he must have been….Collins said that the companies that go from good to great are led by leaders who set the next leader up so that the organisation goes from strength to strength post transition.

No one wins if post transition Nowra CIty Church struggles….except if my ego is warped in some way.

My objective in this process was to set up Nowra City Church to be as healthy as it can be, to make space for the new Pastor, and to do all I can to ensure he has every opportunity for success.

I was quoted a statistic that said that up to 30% of a church will leaving during a transition. That’s alarming. It is early days but Nowra City Church is now 2 months into the new Pastor’s tenure and nearly 4 months since I announced my resignation and to my knowledge not one person has left the church. This is an outstanding result.

Here are some of the points of the process that I embarked on that I believe assisted the successful transition.

  1. Cover the entire process in passionate prayer.
  2. The right communication cascade is vital. Telling the right people in the right order at the right time is essential.
  3. Assume there are going to be leaks so the communication cascade has to be conducted across a fairly short space of time.
  4. As the communication cascade is underway, allow lots of questions.
  5. Give people time to process the announcement. Don’t rush the change. But at the same time, don’t draw out the process too long. A good leader will know where this balance rests. For us at Nowra City Church the time between public announcement and final Sunday, was 8 weeks. I think this was perfect timing.
  6. Believe wholeheartedly that the transition is God ordained.
  7. Understand and give place for the emotions. Leaving a church after any length of time is very difficult on the emotions of the outgoing Senior Pastor. These need to be personally acknowledged and talked out with mentors/coaches and spouses. For me this was probably harder than I anticipated it would be.
  8. Having said the above about the emotions, there is no place in a transition process to make decision that emanate out of the emotions. When I was transitioning I refused to allow my emotions to speak into decisions that I was making and made sure that all decisions were purely through a leadership lens with a healthy transition being the ultimate goal.
  9. Have a pitch that is easily communicated to explain why you are leaving. People want to know why you are moving out from being their Pastor. For me I was stepping into a Social Justice role so people got that. I also said that after 15 years in the role it was time for someone with “fresh energy and fresh vision” to take on the church and take it to new levels.
  10. Draw up a transition document. I made up a document that listed anything that was quantifiable. Some things I included were: Average attendances this year and last year, Membership this year and last year, Average tithes and offerings this year and last year, Average building fund offerings this year and last year, Total church debt, invoices and age of invoices. I then had this document signed off on by the church Eldership and Finance Executive before sending it to the State and National Offices and then using in during a conversation with the incoming Senior Pastor.
  11. Be as open as you can to the new leader. Give him access to whatever he needs access to. Talk candidly and honestly.
  12. Honour the new Pastor and his family even before they have arrived.
  13. Commit to never speak negatively about the new Pastor and the decision and changes he makes. I made a face to face commitment that I will be the new Pastor’s biggest fan. I also made a commitment that he will never hear me speak negatively about his leadership.
  14. Give the new Pastor space. Its his church now. Pray for the church, Pray for him.

Hope that helps.

Ps Peter

Categories: Church related

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4 replies

  1. Amazing! Totally respect your article ☺

  2. as some1 who has been thro 5 new transitions this 1 has been by far the easiest, thorough, uncomplicated transtion possible 🙂 I Praise God for it because those few other’s were disasterious 😦 I do believe a lot of ”emotions” & ”ego’s” played a part. Plus the fact that in 1 of them the senior leadership was not forth-coming in all that was happenings & both senior minister fell in a bad way that effected the ”whole” church …thus many left 😦 It was horrid to be a part of each 1 as it effected me (& my family) in a terrible way ..most of which my family bar me don’t walk with the Lord any longer ………people get hurt when ”senior” management don’t take ”all” your points in to account & impliment them ! More Pastors need to red this & do as you have done & we’d see many more churches transition a lot easier & Godlier .. Amen !!

  3. Ps Peter Pilt please… not stalking you; just keen to have this resolved.

    Unfortunately I have obviously offended you again an again – when all I was actually trying to do was apologise and help you understand ) and once again I am sorry because it was not my intention to hurt.

    If I had never bought it to your attention – that I had been deeply offended by some of your posts then you would never have known right ? …

    Communicating by social media can bring such misunderstanding –

    Hopefully I am learning; guess there’s some things that you should just take to leave it there.
    Right? yep too right..

    Peter I would like you to forgive me,
    I’m not sure hitting the ignore button or cutting people off from our lives because we don’t like something they have said is Godly?

    An regardless of the challenges your posts may bring, I have mostly enjoyed following your greater successes, and journey toward home with Jesus.

    I want to live a life of love and forgiveness not just toward others but also toward myself.

    Best blessings to you & yrs.

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