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Succession planning: churches learn from Apple

Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th and P St NW. (Kevin Clark/THE WASHINGTON POST)

On the other hand, in the church world, succession planning is seldom discussed. As a result, institutions that preach getting ready for the after life to its members often are thrown into chaos when a leader dies because of the lack of planning and preparation.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning ensures that control of an organization will be handed over to the successor without interrupting operations. A change in leadership can be the death, resignation, sudden illness, or termination of a leader. In the context of a church, succession planning is critical because often, in spite of the fact that any tax-exempt organization must be governed by a Board of Directors, the figurehead of any church is the pastor.

Why is it necessary?

Generally, the pastor is the most visible person, and often the reason one may choose to join a particular church. For example, the pastor of a large church with numerous community programs and a significant amount of property suddenly dies and there is no clear succession plan.Who would be the new leader? How would the new leader be chosen? Would he or she be equipped to manage such an institution or have easy access to the necessary paperwork?

When a church has not addressed these issues in advance of a vacancy at the top position, there can be an inability to pay the church’s expenses (including staff salaries), a rise in church factions and, unfortunately, expensive litigation as the church looks to the court to answer the open questions. These issues can be averted by a properly prepared succession plan.

How is it done?

Generally, a competent attorney with experience representing churches prepares a succession plan. To ensure a smooth transition, it would not be enough to simply have a succession plan, but it is critical to ensure that church leaders are aware of and prepared to move forward with the plan.

It has often been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. In large part, the church has managed to avoid the latter, but the former has had its hand in the debacle of too many ministries.

Erika E. Cole, Esq. is a lawyer out of Maryland, go to for more information on this topic.

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