Humorist Will Rogers said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Rogers wasn’t a pastor but he must have known something about local church ministry. Your first 60 days at a new church can make or break your future. Do well in the first two months and the future will be easier. Do poorly the first 60 days, and you may not survive the first 60 days! No pressure, right?
So how do you handle the pressure of relocating your family, assimilating to a new community and leading a new church?
Here are four tips that will help you to succeed:
Think Communication. The people of the church don’t know you, and it’s on you to change that. You must earn trust. Start building relationships on day one. Learn names! If possible, secure pictures of the members or become familiar with them through social media. People are pleasantly surprised if you call them by name early on.
Know that you will be scrutinized under the magnifying glass. It’s important to be authentic; be sure to have integrity in everything you do. Earn the respect of the congregation.
Be there. When it comes to connecting with people, go over and above. While it’s true that you don’t want to create unrealistic expectations, it is important for you to be available for the people and for them to bond with you.
Great communication skills out of the gate will serve you well as you build toward the future.
Think Culture. What is the church’s values? What is their mission and vision? What disappointments have they endured and what defeats have they experienced? If a former pastor has failed, you will need to deal with suspicion. Local church history is very important – know it and respect it. Identify key leaders, both positional leaders and influential and make a connection with them.
Respect your predecessors; never criticize the guy you follow! Be aware that he or she probably has loyal friends in the church – you do not want to alienate them! Get used to being compared to those who came before you. In time, you will be solidly seen as the leader.
God brought you to the church to lead. However, you must earn the right to lead. Knowing the church’s culture will expedite that process.
Think Community. You are a guest here. Just because you are the pastor does not mean the church or community will automatically accept you. It is your responsibility to figure out the vibe of the area. Study demographics. What are the key issues people are facing? How is the economy? Who are the major employers and industries?
Honor local traditions. Educate yourself on recent tragedies. Embrace the environment – be sincerely glad that you are there! Don’t talk about “home” as though you are only a short-term visitor in the area. People are insulted if they get the impression that you would be happier elsewhere.
Cheer for local sports teams. Socialize and show up at community events to introduce yourself. Your future will be much easier if you have made yourself at home in your new environment.
Think Colleagues. Before your new assignment begins, secure prayer support; this can be fellow pastors or church leaders. Enlist people you trust and ask them to cover you.
Fellow pastors in your new area will be invaluable to you, both as sources of information and for relationships. Reach out to them, but don’t expect to be received right away. They have probably seen a lot of eager leaders come and go.
Be humble. You’re the new kid on the block so take the initiative to invite another pastor to coffee. Try to connect with leaders in the community, in both religious and non-religious circles. Eventually, you will be recognized as a spiritual leader in that community.
There is so much to do during your first few months on the job! It can be overwhelming. But hang in there…the people you are leading are well worth your investment of time and energy and prayer. Your first 60 days can set the stage for an amazing future!