In his landmark book Corporate Lifecycles: How Organizations Grow and Die and What to Do about It, Dr. Ichak Adizes laid out organizations’ life stages on a Bell curve.
According to Adizes, every phase has unique problems that must be solved. That’s normal; if you’re not having problems, you’re dead! But if a problem becomes chronic—or popping up in the wrong lifecycle—that’s serious. I cannot recommend this book enough…and it’s really not hard to translate these lifecycles to church ministry. So with apologies to Adizes, let me reinterpret his lifecycle stages for church leaders: + In the Courtship phase, a leader entertains ideas of churchplanting and imagines what effect they could have in a particular community. They have been infused with a “let’s go change the world” attitude. + In Infancy, the rubber meets the road: dreams and plans are now connected to results. The churchplanter is networking and meeting with ridiculous amounts of people. Systems and processes aren’t important—survival is. The churchplanter is working insane hours and doing everything themselves. Any forward movement is dependent on them. + Go-Go is all about fast growth; numbers are exploding, lives are being transformed, people are excited about the mission. When this is happening, the churchplanter has morphed into the lead pastor and may begin to feel bulletproof and arrogant. Even though everyone on the team is wearing multiple hats, the lead pastor is still making all the decisions. + With the Adolescence stage, the lead pastor may hire an executive pastor but will find it hard to let go of any decision-making. An “old-timers” versus “new people” culture (perhaps surrounding the executive pastor) creates internal conflicts and the vision gets blurry. So much time can be spent dealing with internal issues that the church loses sight of whom it is to serve. + In Prime, the church rediscovers its soul, vision is recovered, and it nurtures the balance between creativity/innovation/flexibility and organizational discipline and self-control. The church has a renewed outward-focus, serving others and Jesus with healthy gusto. New ministries and new churches are birthed that may create more opportunities for other lifecycles and hiving off. + The Stability phase marks a dangerous turn for the church: it’s still healthy but losing some of its edge and energy. New ideas aren’t as easily accepted and excitement about innovation has waned. Financial controls are more pronounced and affecting creativity for future impact. + With Aristocracy comes organizational entitlement. The church no longer talks about why it does certain things or even what it does, but how it does it becomes the focal point. Respectability reigns and the church is relying on its past to move them forward. Image becomes critical. In corporations, acquisition becomes more important than incubation. What that means in churches is that people transfer into the church, but church planting and/or new ministries are lost in the shuffle. + The Recrimination stage is all about blame and finger pointing. The church is declining, elders dig in and protect power, new pastors float in and out, and ministries and staff are reduced because of finances. Backstabbing, gossip and infighting rule the day. + Bureaucracy is the last gasp. Policies and procedures reign. The church may have even died before getting to this stage. The church has lost any prophetic voice and is irrelevant to the community. + And finally, Death. It might have been slow or sudden, but there’s no reason to continue. The church building and assets are sold. Ultimately, chronic problems in any organization will stem from a leadership issue somewhere. In the history of leadership in the Old Testament, the momentum and mission-fulfillment of Israel ebbed and flowed based on a king’s leadership. Their sad history is laid out warts-and-all…and it isn’t pretty.
Here’s The Big Question: Where would you place your church today on that bell curve?
Dave Workman | ELEMENTAL CHURCHES Adapted from Elemental Leaders: Four Essential Every Leader Needs...And Every Church Must Have.