Friday, May 26, 2006

Four Phases of Organizational Decline

I read this in Driscoll's book, but it originally came from Rich DeVos.

Four Phases of Organizational Decline (141)
  1. Creative, the dream stage
  2. Management, the reality stage
  3. Defensive justification, the failure stage
  4. Blaming, the death stage

The comfort zone is the place a church commonly falls into once they have learned how to survive. This is the state of most American churches, with between 60 and 80 percent of all churches in America either plateaued or declining in membership and/or attendance. In the comfort zone, often there is no longer a visible immediate crisis since the bills are paid, most of the big jobs are being done by someone, leaders are officially in place, a permanent facility has been secured, and the people in the church have generally grown to know and love one another. At this stage, the propensity is for the church to settle in, accept its size, and slip into a mode of maintenance. At some point, people will move away or die, others will get bored, and slowly the church will begin a cycle of decline unless it intentionally reinvents itself missionally to continue to grow by taking risks in an effort to reach lost people for Jesus (141).

I noticed that each time we were in a creative phase, our church attracted more entrepreneurial types of skilled leaders who were excited about the opportunity to try something new and make a difference in our city. This indicates that chaos and crisis can be leveraged to a church’s benefit (142).

The hope for every church is that they work through their management issues, thereby enabling them to return to the creative phase, where they dream up a new project and enthusiastically undertake it and raise a whole new set of management issues to overcome. Therefore, the goal of the management phase is not to get the church organized or under control. Rather, the management phase is needed to eliminate the inefficiencies and barriers that are keeping the church from refocusing back on the creative phase and creating a whole new set of problems to manage (142).

In the defensive justification phase, something has gone terribly wrong and has failed at the management phase. Or the church succeeded at the management stage but never returned to the creative phase and got stuck with a bunch of well-organized managers running the church but no creative and visionary new ideas to move the church forward. Because the church is in a defensive posture, people start to leave the church, and the best and brightest people are no longer attracted to the church because it has lost sight of any risky mission that calls people to rise up in faith (143).

I feared that deconstructing and essentially restarting the church would kill us. I had found it a bit easier to take a risky gamble when we had nothing, but now we had something to lose (144).

What comforted me most as I was prayerfully thinking through our next season was a lengthy study through the New Testament in which I searched for what God promises to do for the church. As I studied, I learned that God promises to grow his church, select elders, save people, bless the teaching of his Word, gift people with exactly the abilities the church needs, and providentially make up for human mistakes if people are repentant of their sins. By the end of my studies, I was confident that our future would be fine because the heavy lifting would continue to be done by Jesus and that we just needed to trust him with obedience and keep going (144-145).

Maturity is the point at which the senior leaders again call the church to the mission that Jesus has called them to accomplish. As a church reaches maturity, it in some ways returns to a relaunching phase, in which the church organizes itself for growth but in a very thoughtful and wise way, seeking to maximize all their resources to achieve their goals (167).

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