I get it, growth can be exhilarating and exciting yet scary at the same time. The further you go, the less you know. And sometimes you end up going too far and now you’re stuck. What do you do then? Turning a church around is not a particularly easy task, but it is possible.
In his book, Predictable Success, Les McKeown explains the seven stages of every organization. He says that every organization, or in this case every church, is always in one of these stages. Let’s go through each stage and discover together how to move your church forward. You’ll need to recognize and be honest with yourself as to what stage you are currently in if you really want to get out of that stage and help your church grow.
Before we begin, it’s essential to know that you can only move one stage at a time. You will never jump right from Stage 1 to Predictable Success, it takes time.
Stage 1 (Early Struggle)
This is typically the first three years of a church plant, or when a new pastor takes over an established church. This stage is usually the most difficult. You’ll need to get yourself into the community, build your culture and establish what kind of church you are. You will begin to aggressively advertise and do whatever is necessary to get people into the building. At this stage, you are establishing your image. People will begin to hear what you are like and word will spread. If you are replanting or taking over an existing church, you may want to wait and work on the culture first, ensuring it is healthy before you invite the outside world in.
At this stage, you’ll want to just keep going.
Stage 2 (Fun):
This stage is when the church begins to grow and you begin to see your greatest success. Everything seems to be going right and as the name specifies, it’s fun! This might be the stage where you become “that church.” The church that is fun, growing, has great music and lights, great speaking, and is friendly. This is where all the establishing work of the first stage comes in. If you replanted or took over an existing church, this is the time where you will want to begin advertising and inviting the community in. Some people will still associate you with the church you used to be or took over, but by this stage, your culture has been re-established and you can start reframing a new image.
At this stage, have fun and keep innovating and trying new things.
Stage 3 (White Water):
This is the stage that the fun eventually leads to. You begin to grow so much that everything begins to get overwhelming. Your people begin complaining about the lack of organization and communication. This is because you don’t have the systems in place to keep momentum. You’ll want to begin implementing systems that give you predictable outcomes. For example, we found that if we follow up with our first-time attendees and over 50% of them respond back, we can maintain an annual growth rate of at least 7%. Those aren’t the only systems you’ll need to implement though. Right now, we are in the process of adding a system called Scrum (http://bit.ly/ScrumBookLink) to aid in team focus, communication, and accountability. Maybe you could implement something like The 4 Disciplines of Execution (http://bit.ly/4DisciplinesofExecution).
At this stage, you are going to want to put systems in place that give you predictable success and that helps you and your team focus so you can keep pushing forward.
Life.Church is a great example of this. They have systems in place where they can plant multiple campuses each year and almost guarantee its success and growth. This is where you want to be, but it’s a balance. You can’t stay there if you don’t change and you can’t stay there if you change too much. Too little systems move you back to the White-Water Stage and things become unclear again, but too many systems can bog you down and you’ll move to the next stage which is where you begin to decline.
The Decline Stages
At this stage, you’re running but not going anywhere and it’s really frustrating. This is where the systems take over and things become overly complicated. Like the Government, you become too bureaucratic and things take too long to implement. You have to jump through too many hoops if you want to push forward. Board-run churches often fit this category. Everything new has to be run by a committee before it can be approved. The problem with committees is that they rarely agree on everything and so some of the best ideas get left undone.
At this stage, you are going to want to find unnecessary systems and remove them. Remove the roadblocks and keep it fast and simple.
Stage 2 (The Big Rut):
If you let things go too far in Stage 1 of decline, you eventually end up here. At this point, things have almost come to a complete standstill and now you’ll find that people are leaving your church. The leaders will begin to focus on and reminisce about the past rather than pushing towards the future. There is an attitude of denial among the leadership as they seem to turn a blind eye to the decline that is obvious to everyone else.
At this stage, you need to do something radical. Aggressive change is needed to shock the church out of this current state and move it back towards Predictable Success.
Stage 3 (Death Rattle):
At this stage, it is almost too late. Take for example some of the massive historical churches in Europe. They have beautiful, ornate buildings that can seat upwards for 10,000 people yet only 20 congregants attend weekly.
At this stage, you have a few options. You will need to either replant or merge with another church that is growing. Essentially, you must restart your church and begin from Stage 1.
So, what stage are you in? What do you need in order to move from where you are to where you want to be?