It's very hard to follow a pastor who founded the church, or whose tenure really marked a church, as I commented the other day. Hard, but not impossible.
In last Sunday's sermon at Redeemer (a free download), Tim Keller mentioned Dick Lucas, pastor at St Helen's Bishopsgate in London. Lucas became pastor of the historic church in 1961, with only a few dozen people in the congregation. Under his leadership, the church thrived and grew.
In 1992 and 1993, St Helen's was badly damaged by two IRA bombs. Lucas saw an opportunity to rebuild to accommodate larger crowds. As a result, he received some nasty letters from people who told him that the church would shrink once he left. Lucas disagreed. London had changed, he said, and so had the church. It would continue to thrive even after Lucas retired.
Lucas retired in 1998. He was right: the church continues to grow.
This gives hope to churches that wonder if they can outlive a pastor who's really shaped a church. I'd love to learn more about how this transition took place, given how often transitions don't succeed.