Three Tips for Onboarding a New Pastor

The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 140

It’s an exciting time for a new pastor and a church when a changing of the guard is in motion. With all the greatest trust in the Lord to direct these relationships, humanity is still flawed, so mistakes are made or red flags overlooked.  That can be the case for either party involved.

On the church side, finding a new pastor is a challenging process, and usually a time-consuming one too. In most cases, the rule of thumb for the length of time it takes to replace a pastor is one month for every year the previous pastor was there. That can really add up.

For the new pastor, the wait may have been long. There is great anticipation to get started in wherever it was felt the Lord was leading.  Unfortunately, the average length of service for a pastor has been decreasing for quite some time now.  Studies in recent years put the term anywhere from about four years all the way down to just 18 months. That’s not good. But what can be done?

There are many ways to help ensure that the right match is made on the front end, and the health of the church is a major factor. But today, we’re looking at three ways in which the onboarding process of a new pastor can help ensure a long tenure.

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1. Focus the first 6-Months on Relational Development

Projects are great, and both the church and new pastor will be excited to get started, but not focusing on strategy is still a strategy.  Work on relationships first, before taking on positive changes to the systems and culture of the church. Getting to know people can be overwhelming, so the new pastor should prioritize key relationships.  Staff and board members, followed by committee members and influential members of the congregation are a good order to begin building relationships.

Of course, there will be shop-talk, and there are still real tasks to get done, but a staff and leadership retreat is a great way to get out of the daily distractions and work more on relationships.  There is no shortcut to learning about one another.  It just takes time. Put in the effort on the front end to avoid conflict later when misunderstandings could sideline important initiatives.

2. Find a Universally Loved Quick Win

Save a couple of those things that the committee has said “We really should ______ before the new pastor gets here.”  After his arrival, finish the last easy decisions and then celebrate together. Some things don’t need a lot of discussion, like switching to better coffee or adding donuts in the lobby. Let the new pastor be a hero for a day.

3. Slowly Ramp-up Responsibility

Hopefully the church has a clear job description for the new pastor, so he knows what he’s walking into. It would be better to not drop everything on him as soon as he arrives, though.  Plan out the onboarding process to allow for a ramp up to the full workload. This allows the new person to hopefully master tasks before adding more. It allows for that relationship building time that we talked about in tip #1 above.

In many cases, there has been a gap in between the departure of the previous pastor and the start of the new one.  Various people have probably been taking care of all the duties. Make sure they know that the work they have been doing won’t end immediately on the Monday the new pastor starts.

Too often, pastors are looked at as hired hands instead of organizational leaders, friends, or even human in extreme cases.  Welcome them well, give them time to adjust, and get to know them. Care for them as they learn how to care for you, and help them be the pastor of the church for many years.

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A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.

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