We are looking at the scary reality that your church, if it follows the pattern of practically every other church on the planet, will die. (Thank you to those who have pointed out that your church hasn’t died…yet.)
Before we get too depressed, however, let’s take another look at the life stages of a healthy church.
Stage 1: Birth
This is where the excitement is. Whether a church launches large, forms from a small group, or splits off from another church (not the ideal, but it happens), the beginning is crucial. This is where the DNA and future trajectory of the church is set. The cool thing is that today there are a plethora (you get five points every time you use plethora in a sentence today) of resources for leaders who want to birth a church.
Stage 2: Child
This is the make or break period for most churches. Will the new congregation be able to support itself? Will they be able to make an impact in their community? Will the excitement of the birth carry on, or will the church quickly stagnate? Unfortunately, many churches never make it past this stage.
Stage 3: Adult
Now the church has an identity and some stability. There is a core of people that the leaders know they can count on, and there is a financial base so that every week’s offering isn’t do or die. Ministry moves beyond a Sunday service into daily Kingdom expressions, and the congregation begins to reach out beyond its own neighborhood to spread the Gospel message around the world. The bad news is that this is the stage where many (most?) churches stay. Forever. Until they die.
Step 4: Parent
Just like all healthy, mature organisms, healthy, mature churches reproduce. Reproduction comes in many forms; some churches give off part of the congregation and form a new church, some churches train church planters and deploy them to other communities to start churches, and some churches open new campuses in different parts of their community. Regardless of the form, it is vital for the health of the church as a whole that mature congregations reproduce. God wants your church to reproduce.
Step 5: Grandparent
There comes a time in the life of a church that it is difficult to reproduce. The congregation has stopped growing, and there are very few new young leaders. The church has reached the grandparent stage. How can a church act like a grandparent? We’ll dive into that in a future post. Until then here’s a picture of my granddaughter. She is stunningly cute:
Stage 6: Death
Eventually, a church will die. The money runs out, the last member dies, or the creditors take over. All that is left is the empty building where life transformation used to happen.
There is an amazing trend, however, happening across America in which churches are recognizing that they are at the end of their lifecycle. Attendance is dwindling, and the end is in sight, but rather than selling the building or simply shutting their doors, churches are being reborn as entirely new congregations. They are handing the keys over to another church or church plant. They then get a front row seat to the new thing God is doing in their community. They literally experience the resurrection of a new body.
I want to spend some time unpacking some of these stages and what they could practically mean for the church you lead or attend. (Thank you to everyone who has pointed out its God’s church not your church. I was kind of hoping that was implied, but I shouldn’t assume.)
In the mean time, how have you seen churches successfully embrace their lifestage?