Today’s post is a guest post from my friend, Tony Morgan.
Tony is founder and chief strategic officer of The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action
Tony writes about leadership regularly at tonymorganlive.com. For more on all seven phases of the church life cycle, Tony dives deep in his book The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, available from Thomas Nelson.
Interruptions jolt us. They upset the equilibrium. They force a reaction. Interruptions challenge us to pause and assess what’s happening, then build a plan to respond. Ultimately, interruptions provoke us to act.
As I discussed with Carey on Episode 140 of his podcast, without interruption every church has the potential to go through a very similar life cycle. It looks something like this:
Some churches and ministries never go through all phases.
Sometimes things go straight from launch to life support.
I believe God desires that our churches reach and live in that peak of Sustained Health where life change is occurring, healthy growth is happening, and the church is fulfilling its purpose and vision.
Interestingly, I’ve found that when churches get stuck, it’s often on either side of the peak, in Strategic Growth on the left side of the life cycle or in the Maintenance phase on the right side.
Leaders can allow their churches to stay there a long time without realizing what’s happening.
How do you know which side you’re on?
Getting Stuck in Strategic Growth
For those that get stuck on the left side, it’s often that a church is not able to sustain its growth pace without establishing clear strategies and systems. In this phase, there needs to be a shift from personalities to teams.
The entrepreneurial bent that fueled growth from launch to now won’t carry the church the rest of the way up to the peak. Momentum is not enough.
If you’re stuck in the Strategic Growth phase…
- You need to once again clarify your mission, vision and strategy.
- You need to structure your team to reflect the strategy.
Getting Stuck in Maintenance
For those that get stuck on the right side, what’s crazy is that on the surface, everything about the church can still appear very healthy.
No ministry slips into a Maintenance season intentionally, but this is the path every church drifts toward if intentional steps aren’t taken to avoid it.
Growth is likely still happening, though at a slower pace. The church may be financially healthier than it has ever been.
That said, there will be red flags a leader should recognize. The ministries begin to focus more on the people who are already connected to the church than the people they are trying to reach.
The focus scale tips toward sustaining systems and structure rather than remaining on the vision. Methods begin to supersede mission.
The way the church engages ministry becomes more important than why the church engages ministry.
If you’re stuck in the Maintenance phase…
- Re-focus: You need to prioritize reaching new people again.
- Honestly evaluate your activity: Eliminate complexity by de-programming.
Get Answers To Your Toughest Pastoral Succession Questions
5 years from now, what would it feel like to look back and know…
- That you asked the right questions before and it prepared you for what came after?
- That you made tough but necessary decisions to prepare for a brighter future?
- That you were confident each step of the way?
You can hit the ground running in your ministry and skip the years of trial-and-error (and failures) that so many pastors face during a transition.
Are We Really Stuck?
People with the leadership gift tend to see current reality and the need for a preferred future before others do. If you have a sense you’re stuck, but most people in your church don’t recognize it, that’s normal. Leverage your gift by helping the church understand where it is today, and why it’s more painful in the long run to stay there than to move forward.
My team at The Unstuck Group created a free online tool to help you evaluate where your church is in the life cycle today and give you some clear next steps to keep moving towards Sustained Health.
Take the Unstuck Church Assessment on your own, or invite your leadership team to participate with you. It will take you about 10-15 minutes and it has the potential to bring clarity to your team about where things are and where they are headed.
Lastly, if you find your church is stuck, own it. That could provide an interruption you can leverage to lead healthy change in your church.