Friday, December 01, 2006

Article # 2 - Rural Church Growth

Change Brings Death - Understanding Life-cycles

“Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it” is a quote my parents use to tell me growing up. I believe this quote applies to many churches. Churches talk about wanting to grow and make changes, but most church don’t understand or want what they are asking for. When you ask for change you are speeding up the death process in a church. Let me explain.

Churches and vision have a life-cycle. For example, is there any person that expects to live forever and never experience death? No, every person knows that they will probably live 70 – 90 years. That is all the time that you have to make a difference and then death comes. You may have never realized that churches and vision work on life-cycles.

Most rural churches were founded between 1920 and 1960. At that time the church was new and there were many young people involved in the church. The church was relevant to the young members and it grew. Then as the young people aged to become middle-aged, so the church aged. The church wasn’t so relevant to the young anymore, but continued to be relevant to the middle-aged who had families and money. Then as the middle-aged people became older the church aged again. But this time the church wasn’t relevant to the young anymore and all of the families had left. Older people in a rural church love the church because the church aged with them and kept them as it’s focus. Then as older people realize that death isn’t to far away for them, they also realize the church that has aged with them is headed for the same fate. I call this process of aging with what was the foundational young members of the church a life-cycle. Normally, at the end of a life-cycle fear for survival dominates the mission of the church.

The problem is the church has lived out it’s life-cycle. The rural church has only two options at this point. The first is to let the church die along with the members of the church. We have to remember that our individual churches aren’t the completion of God’s Kingdom. There is nothing unchristian about a church dying or closing. Rejoice for the dying church because it has lived it’s life-cycle and served it purpose for that generation.

The second option is to birth a new life-cycle. Birthing a new life-cycle is the work of God giving a group of people a brand new vision to reach young people in their community. To begin a new life-cycle in a church, the old life-cycle is fundamentally put to death. People seeking to birth a new life-cycle realize that the mission, vision, and methods of the church will be completely different than what it was. I heard of a church that every time they changed a program, the church had a funeral service for the existing program. They would rejoice about how God had worked through that existing program in it's prime. Then they symbolically buried it. Everyone had to let it die. Here is a warning: some people think that their church can have two life-cycles going at once but just like you can’t be 40 and 70 at the same time, so a church can only have one life-cycle at a time.

How do you choose what you are going to do as a church? You must decide what Jesus’ Will is for your individual church. His Will may be for the church to close at the end of it’s current life-cycle. If so, proclaim it and tell your church, “Guys, we have five or ten good years left. Let’s make a difference and go out with a bang.”

You may sense that Jesus’ Will is for your church to birth a new life-cycle. This is where you begin talking about change and you tell your church, “Guys, Jesus has given us a new vision and mission. We are no longer going to be the church we were. We are going to go through the pain to do what it takes to birth this new life-cycle.”

One thing I should share with you, if your church chooses to stay with the current life-cycle until death. God will rise up new churches with new life-cycles in your area. They will do what you’re not able to do and there will be people from your church who leave to join the new life-cycle churches. Also if you choose to birth a new life-cycle you will lose most of the old life-cycle people. What I’m saying is that with both decisions you will lose people and this is the reason that the decision can’t be made on the bases of survival, but mission. You must determine where the church is in it’s life-cycle and commit to doing what Jesus wants. Whether Jesus’ Will for your church is dying or giving birth, do it for His glory.


Blogger Kevin Stilley said...

A very wise post. Thank you.


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