Conference invests in pastors, local churches through On Boarding

9/17/2018

By Kara Witherow, Editor

Transition is tough, whether it’s getting a new appointment and moving to a new town and church or receiving a new pastor. Getting a jump start to help further the process can be an invaluable tool for all involved.

The South Georgia Conference has embraced On Boarding, a corporate technique for getting a fast start in executive leadership through early, candid dialogue, assisted by an outside consultant. A corporate strategy that’s been adapted for ministry settings by Claire Bowen, a human resources specialist and Statesboro native, On Boarding is a simple process for clergy beginning a new appointment to boost their ministry and leadership in their new church.

The Conference has two trained, certified facilitators, Allison Lindsey and Rev. Jay Hanson, and since June, nearly 30 pastors and local churches have utilized them and experienced the On Boarding process.

“The process is very interactive and engaging for staff and/or laity and they really enjoy it,” said Lindsey, associate director of Connectional Ministries and a certified On Boarding facilitator. “It honors the collective wisdom of church leadership and gives the pastor a jump start on the knowledge and passion that the staff and laity have for their church. Everyone has the opportunity to start on the same page with the On Boarding experience and begin to work together for their church and the community.”

Within two weeks of his arrival at Glennville United Methodist Church this past June, Rev. Jim Morrow, the church’s leadership, and much of the congregation went through the On Boarding process.

While Rev. Morrow had already met many congregants and had several conversations and meetings, he felt that On Boarding would lead to deeper and more intentional times of learning.

His priorities for On Boarding were building trust, allowing for open dialogue, and setting the tone for future communication. The experience of On Boarding helped facilitate those because they brought people together with a neutral facilitator, Lindsey, who led them through questions about their hopes and dreams, wants and needs, landmines and sensitive areas, deepest longings for the church, and more.

The conversations that flowed out of the sessions were rich, meaningful, and deep, Rev. Morrow said, and, by being open and vulnerable during the experience, church leaders and members built deeper relationships with each other. 

“The biggest thing that we have now because of On Boarding is that we are more open and trusting with each other than I would expect three months in,” he said. “There’s still work and learning to do, for sure, but it usually takes a long, long time to get where we are now.”

On Boarding is effective, he says, because it’s intentional and it brings people together for a common purpose, as partners who want to be successful together.

“(On Boarding) names the fact that we’re in transition, it names the fact that I need your help, it names the fact that we need to learn together. It’s intentional instead of accidental. That’s so important,” Rev. Morrow said. “If you’re in transition, please make plans to do this. It will benefit your life together in ministry more than you can imagine. It’s an amazing way to begin.”

Rev. Jonathan Fuller’s new appointment at Warwick United Methodist Church started well, but he knew that On Boarding would be a beneficial, informative process for him and the church leadership to go through.

“We all felt like we were off to a great start, but this really solidified it and helped us navigate our path forward,” he said of On Boarding. “It was very beneficial. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were on the same page.”

Irv Butler, a member of Warwick UMC’s trustees committee, has participated in On Boarding at the corporate level but this was his first experience with a church. Having a large percentage of the church’s leadership meeting together with the new senior pastor was great, he said.

“The sooner you do this process the more it puts everyone at ease,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to meet and get to know people early on, and I thought the process was very good. I would recommend it to any church.”

Rev. Fuller believes that every clergy with a new appointment should go through the On Boarding experience with their new congregation’s leadership.

“It sets you up for success,” he said. “If you want your pastor and your leadership to gel, it’s imperative. For the Church to be effective in making disciples it’s imperative to get off on the right foot. It was an invaluable resource for us. We were in a great situation in the beginning, but having this On Boarding session was so useful, and I’m glad we did it. I’m still having people stop me and tell me how glad they are that we did it and how they will do it again when there’s another transition, though we hope that’s not for a long while! We all see the purpose behind it.”

The South Georgia Conference, through the Office of Connectional Ministries, offers flexible ways for churches of all sizes to utilize On Boarding when receiving a new pastor. For more information, contact Allison Lindsey at allison@sgaumc.com or 912-393-5524.