As I approach the 90-day mark as a vicar, time for a quick post pointing to a couple of resources on that topic.

First is the international bestseller, The First 90 Days, by Michael D. Watkins. I was struck by how different a church is to a business, especially when the minister is the only paid member of staff. But there are points of connection too. Here are a few highlights.

  • ‘Accelerate your learning’ is one of the key messages. Don’t enter a role assuming you know all the answers. First assess the situation, then decide what to do, then plan, then implement (p. 170).
  • Another key message is ‘match strategy to situation’. Leadership can look very different depending on whether you are in a turnaround situation (where everybody knows that change is necessary), or a realignment situation (where change is necessary, but people don’t realise it), or a situation of ‘sustaining success’.
  • Watkins talks a lot about ‘early wins’: how can you build personal credibility from the start?
  • There’s a lot about relationships: ‘Meet one-on-one with each member of your new team as soon as possible’ (p. 175). (That was one of my priorities in my first weeks in post, and I’m very glad I made that choice.)
  • SWOT analysis gets a mention, but Watkins suggests it works better in reverse, as TOWS: threats, opportunities, weaknesses, strengths. ‘The correct approach is to start with the environment and then analyze the organization’ (p. 152).
  • There’s a helpful bit about group decision making: consult-and-decide versus build-consensus. When a decision might be divisive, it is better to use consult-and-decide, but when a decision requires energetic support for implementation, and when team members are experienced and confident, then build-consensus is better (pp. 192-5).
  • There are helpful comments about the personal cost of leadership transitions, and the need for support: ‘It’s common for leaders to go into a valley three to six months after taking a new role’ (p. 224). Self-awareness is important: look out for undefended boundaries, brittleness, isolation, and work avoidance (as in, avoiding making tough calls) (pp. 225-6).

Second, the ‘Covenant’ blog of The Living Church (an American Anglican outfit) hosted three brief blog posts in 2019 on ‘The First 90 Days’, by Neal Michell (1, 2, 3). Here are some of the key lessons.

  • Be sure to start well: build relationships of trust, and keep your spiritual life healthy.
  • Pastor individual people. Meet with individuals, particularly ‘the leaders and influencers of the congregation’. In terms of meeting a larger number of people, one idea is to ‘arrange for a series of small coffee and dessert gatherings in the homes of parishioners with groups of twelve to fifteen’, and tell them about your spiritual journey.
  • Pastor through administration. Help people to be able to trust that you are competent to lead them. Take time to understand the financial and practical challenges the church might be facing. ‘Firm up job descriptions and conduct performance reviews of all staff within the first nine months.’
  • Pastor the congregation. Don’t just pastor individuals. ‘Sermons often apply on a personal level while neglecting the corporate relevance.’ Tell the story of the congregation.

In conclusion,

The new rector should use the first 90 days to establish the new priest as role of a caring pastor of the congregation by spending his or her time listening to as many parishioners as possible. This requires great intentionality on the part of the new rector. By being intentional in these first 90 days the new rector can instill a sense of enthusiasm and develop some early momentum in this crucial time in the life of the congregation.