You may have encountered institutional memory loss when a workplace leader retires, resigns or dies. (Or you may be one of those people whose history and personal expertise are critical to the well-being of your organization—dependably bridging the past, present and future.) In these cases, the major question emerges: “Who will carry forward the essential character of this business?”
This phenomenon also holds true in your congregation. Similar outcomes hang in the balance: The congregation might suffer if/when a number of memory-holders and long-time leaders are no longer around.
This loss isn’t inevitable, though. Because of their years of volunteering, relationships, training or knowledge, current leaders may be keys to how well the congregation faces its future. How well they find and nurture other individuals who will take up the congregation’s legacy—skills, knowledge and attitudes—and become formal and informal leaders themselves.
A good place to start? Finding answers to related questions: How diverse—age, gender, experience levels, skills—is the pool of your volunteers? How does your church identify individuals with leadership qualities or potential? (Leaders emerge from among followers.) Which leadership roles can be shared with developing leaders—e.g., newer or younger members? How can the church honor the gifts of those who are barely visible in the congregation’s life? How do you learn together about the history of this community of faith? Perhaps most important: How well do you know each other?
When institutional wisdom is part of institutional memory, leadership carryover also includes honoring the insights of present leaders while at the same time taking advantage of the acumen and entrepreneurial spirit that may also thrive, perhaps quietly so, in the minds of other members.
Working together, your congregation can fashion hopeful, practical answers to the enduring question, “Who will keep this congregation going?”
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