Gene Appel

Leading Change & Finding Post Pandemic Clarity

About The Episode


“People aren’t looking for solutions to problems they don’t understand. I would have spent a lot more time in my younger years selling the problem, rather than selling the solution that people weren’t in the market for.” Since 2008 Gene Appel has been leading Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, CA. Prior to his long tenure and catalytic leadership at Eastside, he made two successful transitions into the Lead Pastor role. To say he’s an expert in transitioning well is an understatement. In this episode, Gene shares the 6 things he set out to do in the first 100 days at Eastside, how important a united front really is in your new position, and the three stages that come before you should expect the harvest. Lastly, Gene shares with listeners the one metric Eastside is using to measure success post-pandemic and why it’s so important. 

Welcome to Episode 057 of the Leaders in Living Rooms Podcast with Sean Morgan. 

Insights From Gene

Three Stages That Come Before You Experience the Harvest

  • Outside hires typically have a fresh set of eyes and new perspective. You also see low hanging fruit.
  • You don’t have to win every battle. Start doing everything that you can in your own strength and power, just do it better. 
  • What I’ve learned about leading through change is to think about it like a farmer planting seed, there are 4 stages: 
    • Prepare the soil – get it ready to receive something new.
    • Plant the seed – what will you grow? 
    • Cultivate, water, fertilize, pull the weeds…
    • Experience the harvest! 
  • The hard work is done in Stage 1 and 3 – laying the groundwork, cultivating, watering, pulling the weeds. You don’t just go from Stage 2 to Stage 4.

Celebrating Early Wins & Honoring the Past

  • Best practices to celebrate early wins, but also recognize that we might have to disassemble something that someone else built in order to get that win. 
  • Use language that builds something new on the values of the churches’ past. 
  • You can go further, faster, if you take the time to bring your staff, key leaders, and opinion leaders in the church and get them all on the same page. Why are we here? What’s our purpose? 
  • When you’re leading through change, make sure your leadership is united. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of work before you go public, but when you present as a united front, it makes all the difference in leading into the next season. 
  • “It’s not how many people embrace the change that determines whether it succeeds or not, it’s who embraces the change.” 
  • “People aren’t looking for solutions to problems they don’t understand.” Meaning, I would have spent a lot more time in my younger years selling the problem, rather than selling the solution because people aren’t in the market for a solution if they don’t understand the problem.

How Much Change, How Fast?

  • Every transition leader must evaluate the existing readiness of the leaders and the church. 
  • The bigger the change, the more time it’s going to take. But it doesn’t mean you can’t start changing things from day one. But you do need to be wise on how big and how fast you can implement those changes. 
  • Six things Gene set out to do in the first 100 days at Eastside: 
    • Get to know the staff well. Do we have the right people on the right seats of the bus? 
    • Get to know key leaders and influencers of the church. 
    • Start a strategic planning process – not a plan, a process. 
    • Make some improvements to the building. 
    • Have a great Christmas for an early win. 
    • Preach well because that was something I could control. 
  • You have to make advance decisions on your calendar, or those decisions will get made for you. I create a weekly template for my calendar – with margin built in. And I have time devoted in my calendar to the areas I need to focus on.

Motivating, Aligning, Leading Church Staff

  • The best predictor of future leadership behavior and success is the past. Has this person grown a ministry of any kind? Have they led other team members and staff? Their leadership style has likely already been uncovered – will that work at your church, in your culture? 
  • My opinion is, in order to lead a church to a new place, you can’t do it with all the existing people. 
  • Maybe look for some ways early on that you can test staff with different challenges. See who activates, and who doesn’t. Learn what kind of spirit they bring. 
  • Reorganize your staff to accomplish the new strategic plan, not keep them doing what they’ve always done. 
  • When you have a few strategic hires, they might make your good people, great people. They raise the bar.

Post Pandemic Clarity: First Time Guests

  • Things felt out of balance after the pandemic. We never missed a day in our online ministry during the pandemic. But we missed 10 months of our on campus ministry. So we’ve decided that what needs our attention and vision right now is our on campus ministry. 
  • Two factors of church growth that we can learn from the early church in the book of Acts:
    • Unmistakable power of the holy spirit
    • They grew through webs of relationships – the early church grew by reaching networks of people at a time, not by one person at a time. Primarily households. 
  • If we want to see baptisms pick up again, if we want to see community groups thriving again, if we want to see people using their giftings to serve again – we’ll focus on just one thing, first time guests. The only metric we have measured this last year is first time guests. How do we grow through webs of relationships? 
  • What gets celebrated gets repeated. 
  • What we used to measure as “wins” aren’t really applicable anymore, at least at this time.

Episode Links

How To Change a Church Without Killing It (Many Years Ago) by Gene Appel

Leading Change by John P. Kotter

If you’re a new lead pastor stepping into a transition, we want you in our Fall 2022 cohort. Visit to learn more.

Who Is Gene Appel?

Gene Appel, senior pastor of Eastside Christian Church, a multi-site church based in Anaheim, CA, began his ministry as a 20-year old intern at Eastside. Gene returned in 2008 to lead Eastside into its next dynamic chapter. Since that time, Eastside has experienced rapid growth, consistently being named among the 100 fastest growing churches in America. Following in the footsteps of his late father, a pastor and Christian leader, Gene sensed God’s call on his life to ministry at an early age. He is a graduate of Lincoln Christian University and has done additional graduate work at Hope International University, who conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Divinity. Recognized by many as a gifted leader with a passion for following Christ and a sensitivity for hurting people, Gene has coached church leaders from around the world on how to lead churches through healthy change. He is the author of several books and also was an award winning television commentator on CBS2 in Chicago. Gene and his wife Barbara are the parents of 3 married children – Jeremy, Alayna and Jenna, and have three grandsons. Gene’s hobbies include boating, fishing, and water skiing.

Eastside Christian Church:

Instagram: @geneappel
Twitter: @geneappel
Facebook: @geneappel


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Quotes From Episode

  • “It’s not how many people embrace the change that determines whether it succeeds or not, it’s who embraces the change.” 
  • “What gets celebrated gets repeated.”
  • “People aren’t looking for solutions to problems they don’t understand.”

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About the Host

Sean Morgan is a coach and speaker with a national reputation as a catalyst of fresh vision. His passion is to help ministries navigate obstacles and turn them into opportunities.

Throughout his career, Sean has pioneered initiatives impacting thousands of leaders across the country. He started out serving as Executive Pastor and CFO at New Life Church in northern California.

As host, Sean gives you access to amazing conversations, hard-won wisdom, and poignant insights from world-class leaders in intimate “living room” settings.

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Leaders in Living Rooms
Craft & Character

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