It is a generalised way to look at a church to ascertain some of the typical victories, joys and challenges that they can expect at certain times in their life.
It is like a “lens” or a “window” through which we are better able to visualise where a church might be heading on its journey.
The growth phases are shown by the upwards side of the cycle and the decline phases are shown by the downward side of the curve.
Different churches will take different lengths of time to get to the same point in the life cycle although there is some evidence that worldwide the typical lifespan of a church, if they are left to follow their own path, is about 30 to 40 years. The great news is that churches can choose not to just drift along but intentionally take action to “re-launch” themselves into a growth phase. This happens when a church takes appropriate action to interrupt the tendency to move into decline and eventually death. It is what we often call Church “Revitalisation”.
The common mistake!
Most churches understand that taking action, by re-evaluating ministries and programs is essential for continued growth and vigour. Often churches do not consider the appropriate action for where they presently find themselves on the “Congregational Life Cycle”. This leads to the expenditure of large amounts of energy and resources to follow a road that will not lead them to greater health. Like taking aspirin for pneumonia.
The reason a church should assesses itself using this model is to help ensure that they are using the right methodology for their specific situation. In doing so they are more likely to get the desired result.
The good news and the bad news
The good news is that because of the nature of our God, nothing is impossible. No matter where a church finds itself on the Congregational Life Cycle it can find a new phase of life and health.
The bad news is that the further along the “decline” side of the graph a church is, the more dramatic and drastic the appropriate methods required are. They require greater effort, increased degrees of change, and corresponding levels disruption to the existing ways of operating as a church to get the result required.
A medical analogy
Imagine that churches were like limbs, maybe an arm or a leg, that had sustained an injury.
A scratch would require a Band Aid. A cut might require stitching, but a limb with severe muscle and tissue damage or a broken bone might need reconstructive surgery? Where there is gangrene or total loss of tissue, amputation may be required. Seems logical enough right?
Now image if you used the wrong treatment! Scratches could result in amputation, or you could place a Band Aid on a severed limb
One of the common problems that churches can face is that they misdiagnose themselves and therefore end up putting a lot of energy and resources into a “course of treatment” that is never going to provide the restoration of health and vigour they desire.
In order to help remedy this situation a number things are needed.
- A way to gain a somewhat accurate diagnosis or assessment.
- Clear information as to the appropriate restorative action.
- An understanding of what the treatment will involve.
- Where to go to for such help or medicine.
- A commitment to engage in the treatment.