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Leadership Succession Done Right: How The Crossing Church Revamped Their Culture

Leadership Succession Done Right: How The Crossing Church Revamped Their Culture



The Crossing Church in Costa Mesa, California was launched in September 1988 with Tim Celek as the founding pastor. The church grew and thrived over the years. In 2010, Tim was participating in a mentoring group with other pastors. The leader of the group had recently completed his succession from a large church. As Tim saw his mentor go through the process, he started to evaluate his own leadership and intentionally started learning more about succession. He considered when and how to prepare the church leadership, staff, and congregation for their next steps.

By 2016, the groundwork for succession had been laid and The Crossing Church hired Andrew Brownback as Senior Associate Pastor. The plan was for the two leaders to work together for two years, and then complete the succession process on the 30th anniversary of the church in 2018.

Tim Celek continues to be a champion of the church. He never wavered in his belief that the best days for The Crossing Church were ahead. He was committed to handing off the church to the next generation of leadership. He also had the insight and courage to know that during the transition, it was important to assess the health of the staff team. The Crossing Church utilized Best Christian Workplaces’ Employee Engagement Survey starting in early 2018, before the final transition. The scores on that first survey were in the “toxic” range.

Focus on Improvement

In full transparency, Andrew shared the results with the whole staff and committed to working on improving the culture. He knew it would take some time to move toward a healthier workplace, and he was honest about the effort involved.

As the leadership team and staff came together to implement changes, they used the robust action planning tools that Best Christian Workplaces offers as part of their service to Ministry Partners. To keep a unified focus on the culture of the church and the work environment, Andrew and the leadership team integrated the workplace health action plan into the overall strategic plan for the church.

From day 1, The Crossing Church has been focused on reaching people who are unchurched. For many who became part of the church community, this was their first experience with church and following Jesus. Keeping this vision in the forefront during the transition, and combining the vision of the church with uplifting the staff experience created positive synergy.

The senior leaders of the church wanted the staff to know that Best Christian Workplaces wasn’t just a vendor they used for survey work, but a trusted partner on their journey toward flourishing. In 2019, Tara VanderSande, Senior Engagement and Talent Consultant with Best Christian Workplaces came onsite for a staff training. As the senior leaders worked on building trust with the staff, the staff were also willing to grow in their trust of leadership. Tara observed, “Trust is a bridge that is built from both sides. As the senior leaders are putting bricks into the bridge, the staff are also participating by giving the benefit of the doubt to leaders and being open to positive change.”

While underlying trust was important in the process of moving toward a healthy workplace, the church took a number of practical steps to equip the staff to manage their areas of responsibility, including working with volunteers. Training included how to set expectations, how to create a growth path for people, and how to connect individual roles to the vision of the church.

In the first few years of the transition, the church also had financial constraints. Rewarding Compensation is one of the FLOURISH factors identified by Best Christian Workplaces, but for many churches, compensation is a hard area in which to compete. Andrew was honest about the limitations of the church budget and also informed the staff about the value of their overall benefits package. Best Christian Workplaces provided connection to other churches and Andrew took the initiative to network with other leaders to learn from their best practices in this and other areas.

The Fruit of Flourishing

The Crossing Church has now used the Employee Engagement Survey for 6 years. After two years of focused effort, they moved from unhealthy to a Certified Best Christian Workplace. Then in 2022, they achieved a Flourishing designation.

A flourishing culture doesn’t just happen, it is the result of committed leadership and coordinated actions by the whole team. Recently, Andrew Brownback reflected on the importance of the commitment to a healthy culture:

If you want to improve your culture, the senior leadership team needs to be 100 percent on board and involved. This is especially true of the lead pastor. You cannot delegate staff culture. You can empower other leaders to help, but ultimately the senior leader has to be the champion of staff culture.

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An important aspect of their growth as a thriving workplace is celebrating their culture and keeping the link between each staff role and overall health at the forefront. When asked what advice he would offer other organizations on the journey toward flourishing, Andrew shared: “Utilize your staff meeting to celebrate the kind of culture you want to be.  Early on there was a disconnect between our mission as a church and staff understanding of how their roles contribute to our overall mission. Now we spend time celebrating stories of life change at EVERY SINGLE staff meeting. The more we celebrate the type of culture we want to be, the more ingrained it becomes for people.” 

With the integration of a flourishing workplace and a clear focus on the mission of the church, the church community is growing both numerically and spiritually. From 2022 to 2023 they saw a 14 percent growth in attendance, and then another 31 percent growth in the last year. They are making a positive impact on their community with the love of Jesus.

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Take the Next Step Toward a Healthy Workplace Culture

A leadership transition is a great time to assess workplace health through an Employee Engagement Survey. This information from the survey can provide a baseline and roadmap for the next leadership team to make positive forward movement.

Ready to get started? Request a sample report here.




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