We talk a lot in this blog and on our website about how we help churches in transition or crisis. We outline our three-phase process and how it helps revitalize churches. But in this blog post, instead of us telling you how our work benefits churches, we thought you might like to hear from some of the people we’ve worked with recently in churches around the country. So, we reached out and got some great feedback!
The Diagnostic Analysis is a Key Part of the Process
Even before we send an interim pastor to start working with the church, we always conduct a church health assessment, which we call our Diagnostic Analysis. This assessment is vital in helping us to understand the current state of the church—what they are doing well and what areas could use some improvement.
Joyce Gould of First Baptist Church in Reading, Massachusetts, who served on her church’s pastoral search team, had this to say about the diagnostic analysis portion of our process:
VitalChurch was important in helping us to truly see ourselves and identify our strengths and weaknesses. The church-wide survey and resulting report were difficult to hear—but were instrumental. We had become a very intransigent body of believers—fiercely defending the status quo, even if it no longer served Christ’s purpose for us. [VitalChurch interim pastor] David Brooks’s experience was key in guiding us and leveraging the learning from the survey.”
Kevin Beehner, Executive Pastor at CrossPoint Alliance Church in Lewiston, Idaho, had a similar experience at his church. He says,
About three months after the lead pastor resigned, our elder board made the decision to take the church through a Tier 2 assessment to get a more comprehensive understanding of the church’s health. [VitalChurch interim pastor] Tom Wilkens was brought in to help us digest the survey results and provide the needed leadership to begin adjusting our course to those outcomes and prepare the way for our next lead pastor. Today we are a very different church with a fresh conviction about what it means to be disciples of Jesus and what it means to be a disciple-making church.”
We firmly believe that getting an accurate understanding of the current state of a church before bringing in an interim pastor is a huge reason why our process is so successful.
An Outside Perspective Is Invaluable
Churches in the midst of a crisis or in a time of transition can find it difficult to determine the next steps they should take. Sometimes they’re too busy “putting out fires,” and other times there are just too many competing opinions to be able to see things clearly. Even in churches where its people are earnestly seeking the voice of God, it can be hard to get clarity. In times like these, an outside perspective is vital, as several people noted in their responses.
Karlene Walter from Christ Community Church in East Taunton, Massachusetts said,
…it took an outside group to diagnose, expose, and begin the healing process from the organizational and emotional sickness we were harboring. [Interim pastor Gregg Caruso] helped us learn how to confront and address emotionally unhealthy relational dynamics within the church body.”
Pastor Beehner echoed this sentiment, saying,
We needed a leader that could help us make bold changes. [Interim pastor] Tom Wilkens was able to lead our church through some challenging staffing transitions that would have been very difficult for our existing leadership to do. [He] brought clarity and direction to the church and staff that allowed us to make decisions and adjustments.”
An interim pastor from an outside organization like VitalChurch can be instrumental in helping churches identify their blind spots and can be the outside voice of reason that many churches need to make difficult changes.
It Won’t Be an Easy Process
Whenever we first start talking with a church that is considering bringing on an interim pastor, we make sure they understand that the process we take their church through will not be an easy one. Our interim pastors are not coming to fix all of their problems and make all of the difficult decisions that need to be made alone. The church—its leadership and its congregation—will need to make some hard changes as well.
Joyce Gould commented,
None of us was prepared for the amount of change that would be (and still is) required; changes such as continuous authentic reconciliation, reaching beyond our walls to engage the community, and empowering younger leadership. However, the steady hand of VitalChurch (and particularly David Brooks) helped us to see the benefit of the long-term health of the church and embrace the changes.”
Karlene Walter said it was sometimes an “arduous and painful process,” but that they are now “an emotionally healthier church and have a growing body that is blessed by seeing God work in [their] region.”
Some people in your church may be resistant to change. They may even leave the church, as some of our respondents mentioned. Joyce Gould said, “It’s a brave step to turn to an interim pastor, but it was also very polarizing.”
It’s always difficult to change, especially if your church has been doing things the same way for many years, but all of our respondents indicated that the end result made the challenges more than worth it!
Your Next Lead Pastor Will Thank You
One of our goals in walking with churches through an interim period is to pave the way for the church’s next permanent lead pastor. We want the next pastor to arrive in a church that’s healthy and ready for whatever God has in store for the congregation under his leadership.
Kevin Beehner commented,
Overall I feel the table has been set for our new lead pastor to dive in and begin leading us forward rather than having to discern, process, and make difficult staff adjustments in his first year. Through [our interim pastor’s] leadership we had a whole year to get a jump start on changing our culture rather than waiting for the new lead pastor to come in and begin the process.”
It should be noted that, while each of the churches mentioned above found themselves without lead pastors, the circumstances surrounding their situations were all very different. In one church, their long-standing pastor (of 39 years) had retired after a lengthy illness. In another church, the pastor left abruptly due to conflict with the elder board and staff. In still another, the pastor left under very healthy circumstances—it was revealed to him that he had accomplished everything God had given him to do there and a new leader was needed to guide the church into the future. We say this to let you know that our interim pastors can work in any situation. No two churches are the same, and although we follow the same general process in every church, we will address your church’s unique needs and circumstances.
If you are considering bringing in an interim pastor to help guide your church into its next phase of ministry, we’d love to talk with you. Contact us to find out more about our unique process of church revitalization.