Earlier this year on my blog I started a series of posts called Your Church Will Die in which I outlined the natural life-cycle of a church. I’ve shared the concept with several individuals and groups which has clarified and expanded my thinking on this idea of natural progression of growth in a local church congregation. What I’d like to do today is share what I’m thinking and get your feedback.
First let me define my terms. When I say YOUR CHURCH I’m not implying that the church belongs to anyone but God, or that the Church universal will die. I am referring to the local faith community you lead or belong to. My premise is that your church, the local body of believers you are attached to, has a natural life-cycle that ends in some form of death.
As I outlined in Your Church Will Die Part 3 there are seven (I’ve added one) identifiable stages in a church’s life-cycle:
Birth: This is where the church begins. Some are plants, some are splits and some are spontaneous uprisings.
Child: The early years of a church plant when the congregation and leaders are discovering who they are and who they will become.
Adult: The new has worn off and the church is becoming fully formed community.
Parent: The church reproduces by hiving off a new church, launching a campus or sending out a church planter.
Grandparent: The church begins investing significant resources into church plants beyond their own region.
Senior citizen: The congregation has aged and is no longer attracting or deploying young leaders. The focus turns to what will happen when the congregation can no longer support itself.
Death: The church either ceases to exist, becomes something entirely different, or is absorbed by another church.
At each stage a church is engaged in a core activity to ensure health and growth.
At this stage the church plant is simply trying to become self-sustaining. Each week the question is “Will we be here next week?” Attendance growth is crucial at this stage because the larger the baby the more likely she will be viable.
As an adult the church should be developing a clearly defined pathway for discipleship (linear or non-linear), a structure for community beyond the weekend service, and a strategic plan for local and global evangelism and transformation.
The key activity for a parent is healthy reproduction. Is the church regularly giving birth and providing support to ensure the survival and maturity of her children?
The key activity for a grandparent church is to leverage her experience and resources to encourage, resource and strengthen younger churches. Grandparent churches often find ways to cooperate with other churches either in an informal or formal way to continue to plant new churches both domestically and internationally.
As a church begins to decline in attendance and giving the focus turns either to survival (returning to the Child phase) or legacy (What will be our long-term contribution to the Kingdom?)
We have different measures of health at each stage of life. When we were babies the doctor measured our height and weight to see if we were growing in a healthy manner. The doctor, however, is no longer excited when I add 5 pounds a month; at some point the measurements of health change. So how do we measure at each stage of a church’s life-cycle?
|Child and Adult||Numerical growth
The key areas to measure are attendance, giving, small group participation, and serving both in the local congregation and in the community. The goal is to be growing in each of these areas.
What fruit is the church reproducing? Are new leaders being developed at every level? Is the church planting new congregations? Are leaders being sent out to lead in other contexts?
|Grandparent and Senior Citizen||Orchard
This is where the real fun is. Rather than focusing solely on local attendance and giving (which will always be A measure of health) the mature leader begins to count the orchard. What is the sum of all the congregations the church has directly planted around the world?
If we begin with the end in mind, the ultimate goal of every church planter will be a healthy orchard.
So what do you think? Is this a helpful paradigm? What would you change? What would you throw out all together?