During a visit to Ohio a week or so ago the pastor of the church I was working with spoke on the Sunday morning about apostolic ministry and the life of the church. In the midst of his excellent teaching he mentioned the stages in the life of the local church. His reference was a church growth expect of years past by the name of Lyle Schaller. I have been giving some thought to these stages as well as the full teaching by the pastor who is also an apostle.
The following are not Dr. Schaller’s stages but they are the stages of the life of a church as I understand them – close to his but slightly different and named differently I am sure.
So, how to Know the Life Cycle of Your Church
And, do you know the life cycle of the church that you are a part of?
Church health and church growth (or lack of it) is an interesting area to study. Even more interesting to apply and be on the front lines of the life and growth of a local church.
The church is not an organization; it is a spiritual organism. It has a life somewhat like that of a human being. There is a life cycle that every local church goes through. This is not an original idea that I came up with. However, as I have studied what others had to say about the growth and life of a church, I am discovering that many Christians ignore the life cycle of their fellowship.
Some congregations will cease to exist this year. Some fellowships will not live for another five years. Why is this the case? To understand the Life Cycle of a Church here are a few points that may help you out as you examine your fellowship.
The best place to start in understanding your local church is to understand the timeline of your church. When was your Church born? How long has it been around? Do you have any statistical information on attendance, membership, conversion rates, loss of members, finances, etc..? This information will be necessary to have a clear understanding of the “life of a congregation.”
Life Cycle of Churches
1. Birth Stage
When was your congregation started? Why was your congregation started? Was your church a “split” from another church? Was your church a mission? Was your church a new church? Understanding why your church was started will give you a great idea as to what made up the character and DNA of your fellowship.
2. Growth Stage
This is a time in the life of the church when changes and expansion are taking place. What have been the growth patterns of your fellowship? Have you been growing numerically? Have you been growing spiritually? Have you been growing as a missionary church? Have your visions and your goals for your fellowship shown a definite purpose? Are you growing at all?
This is when things seem to settle down for the church. This is the stage where a congregation has lost their desire for new visions and goals. Everyone seems happy with the way things are. This is the starting point for church decline.
This is the stage where a church finds themselves in trouble. In a declining congregation attendance begins to decrease, the vision has been lost, and surviving is what it is all about.
This is a time in the life of the church when “keeping your head above water” is a well-known phrase. How much longer will it be before the fellowship turns the light switch off for the very last time? Or, puts the “for sale” sign up on the front lawn?
This congregation is dead, and they don’t even know it. They have become spiritual zombies. Even if a strong pastor with great vision and an energetic personality comes along, it is vertically impossible to bring this fellowship up and out of their grave.
7. Decision Stage
At this point you have to make a decision. De we bury the church? After all, if the horse is dead, dismount. Or, do we start with a fresh vision and a new dream and replant the church?
More on replanting next time…
It is not impossible for the Lord to do great and amazing things in any fellowship. After all, the scripture teaches us that the Lord Jesus gives sight to the blind, heals the leper and gives life to the dead.
The key for a church to have a vibrant life is when Jesus is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is driving the church to a healthy future.
What is the life cycle of your fellowship?