The church grew in 2017, despite being warned attendance possibly could drop 15 percent under a new pastor.
By Andy Rector
Tyler McKenzie says he was “raw” when he was hired as teaching pastor at Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2012. In April 2016, McKenzie became lead pastor.
Former lead minister Bob Cherry, who helped start Northeast in 1977, saw something in McKenzie during the initial interview process. And Cherry doesn’t mince words about McKenzie’s subsequent promotion: “Tyler is the right guy” for the lead pastor role.
A year before McKenzie joined the Northeast staff, Cherry began planning for his retirement. He knew the transition to a new pastor would be a delicate process.
When a three-year strategic plan commenced in 2015, McKenzie knew he would succeed Cherry. Together, the two of them, along with the elders, documented all aspects of the move: focal points, detailed strategies, and a timeline. The church leaders all knew their roles. The plan was presented to the church that year, with the transition falling in the middle of this timeline.
The transition was “planned out, prayed out, and strategized out,” McKenzie said. “A timeline and several developmental meetings created a pathway so we could hit the next benchmark. It helped us cover issues [such as] Bob handing off leadership roles, staff culture issues, communication to the congregation, and skills for me to acquire.”
Cherry says the relationship between the incoming minister and outgoing minister is key. “We talked church, life, and preaching.”
“I didn’t know a lot of what I was doing,” McKenzie said, “but Bob saw to it I slowly took over the leadership roles. By the time of the transition, I was preaching more than Bob.”
How else did McKenzie prepare himself to lead a large congregation like Northeast?
“I tried to listen to Bob and the elders,” McKenzie said. “I asked tons of questions and tried to have a teachable spirit. I didn’t see some of my blind spots. Bob and the elders helped me see what I did well and what I needed more experience in.”
By the time of the transition, McKenzie felt more comfortable in the leadership role. “I led an elders retreat that first year; planned the sermon series for the next year. Bob coached me, let me make mistakes. That was so vital because I got to lead in a safety net. When the transition finally happened and Bob left for a few months, it wasn’t like ripping off a bandage. Bob prepared me as much as possible so I wasn’t completely crushed.”
Having a carefully planned transition helped keep the church focused on the mission statement: “Go and tell, go and grow, go and do.” The church grew in 2017, despite being warned attendance possibly could drop 15 percent under a new pastor. “Why are we growing?” McKenzie asks. “Is it missional? Attractional? I believe it’s unity. That’s a growth tactic according to Jesus.”
Andy Rector is a writer and graphic designer from Louisville, Kentucky.