The beginning of the spring season brings with it the season when many pastors and their families are on the move to a new church in a new community. Moving always brings with it a mixture of excitement and anxiety for both the pastoral family and the receiving congregation, but when a pastoral transition is handled well, the excitement will usually far exceed the anxiety!
One of the best ways that a congregation can prepare for the arrival of a new pastor and his or her family is to work at making the transition as smooth as possible. In fact, the better the congregation focuses on providing hospitality for the new people in their midst, the more likely that both pastor and congregation will begin this new season of ministry together with a sense of warmth and connection that can begin generating enthusiasm and momentum for the work ahead.
To that end, here’s a list of seven tips for welcoming the new pastor in every phase of the transition, from the initial announcement of the new pastor through those first months:
1) Communicate excitement.
People in the congregation will have lots of questions about the new pastor and in the absence of good information well-meaning people will try to fill in the blanks. Publish a short bio or, better yet, a spiritual autobiography of the new pastor through all the church’s communication channels so that people can find points of connection, and so that the new pastor doesn’t have to tell the basics of his or her life story and call to ministry over and over again in those first weeks. Include information about the family, their interests, and what they are most excited about in the transition. I recommend that the incoming pastor start a transition blog aimed at keeping people in the new congregation informed about the status of the move. It’s a great way to generate excitement and keep people informed.
2) Get out the paintbrush.
Preparing the new pastor’s office and the church parsonage, if you have one, for move-in are great disciplines that involve others in the process of preparing for a new season of ministry. A fresh coat of paint in the office, updating furniture, or fixing that long-standing plumbing problem in the parsonage communicates to the new pastoral family that you are ready to receive them. Make sure that the office has been fully cleaned out of the predecessor’s stuff (check those desk drawers!) and is ready for immediate move-in on the day the pastor arrives.
3) Work on a transition plan.
Good transitions are the product of good planning, and the best pastoral transitions involve the congregation and the pastor planning the transition together. A good transition plan involves opportunities for the congregation and pastor to learn about each other and reveals places where the pastor can achieve some early wins in his or her tenure. For help with putting together a good transition plan, check out the Your Best Move Transition Package from Seedbed, which provides planning resources and advice for your church’s personnel committee and pastor.
4) Prepare a soft landing.
Moving to a new church and community always involves a period of adjustment and churches would do well to provide space for the family in the midst of transition. While it’s important for the new pastor to begin establishing relationships, visiting the sick, and preparing for leading worship, it’s equally important that he or she have some extra time to help the family adjust to life in a new place. Offer the family space and time to explore the new community together, to get those initial doctor visits in, to check out schools, and to do a host of other tasks that must be done in those first weeks. When the pastor’s family is cared for in this way, it actually makes the pastor’s work much more effective going forward. Encourage time for prayer and reflection in those early weeks and guard the pastor’s time for rest and renewal. Your church will benefit in the long run.
5) Plan for a welcome gathering.
An all-church gathering with food and fun is a great event for welcoming the pastor and family. Make it an informal time for people to simply eat together, tell stories, and celebrate a new start. Have church members wear name tags so that the family can begin learning who’s who (actually, wearing name tags to worship those first few weeks can be even more helpful!).
6) Offer gifts with a purpose.
One of the ways that you can provide both a generous act of hospitality to the new pastoral family and give them an introduction to the community is to shower them with gift cards to local restaurants and businesses. Don’t forget to provide gift cards for the local home improvement stores, which are the most frequently visited places when setting up a new home.
7) Lead with grace.
When a new pastor arrives, it’s easy to begin making snap judgments about him or her or to make comparisons with the previous pastor. Resist the temptation to go with your first impressions. Understand that the new pastor does not yet know your traditions, your values, or your sacred cows; neither do you know your new pastor’s ways of being and doing. It takes a while to learn those things about each other and leading with an attitude of grace enables both the congregation and pastor to create space for that learning to take place. Use the new pastor’s arrival as an opportunity to see your congregation through a fresh set of eyes. Take the initiative to quell the inevitable rumor mill and assume the best from your new pastor. In doing so, you create a climate of trust and authenticity that makes for a good transition.
These are just a few tips that can help you welcome your new pastor and his or her family in a way that gets you started together on the right foot. Receive them as people of peace, offer them your best hospitality, and help them make their best move yet!