Most of us tend to resist change as much as possible. I know I do. For example, I resist changing my eating habits to lose weight. I will ignore it and put it off until I’m having too much trouble buttoning my pants. Then I have an internal conflict. You see, I also resist spending money on clothes. It’s at that point that my desire to not spend money on new pants becomes greater than my desire to not change my eating habits and I finally make the changes I need to lose weight! Basically, it comes down to which kind of pain I prefer – the pain of changing my eating habits or the pain of spending money I don’t want to spend. Or, in other words, I only change when I know I must or else. I think most of us are like that. It certainly seems to be true of Christians when it comes to making changes in the church.
I begin every Church Revitalization Seminar with an overview of the Church Life Cycle because when a church makes an honest assessment of where it is in the life cycle, they often recognize the need to make some necessary changes. A church’s lifecycle consists of three primary stages: Incline, Recline, and Decline. This concept was developed and introduced to the AAC by Dr. Ken Priddy of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and Executive Director of the Go Center.
Incline is the life cycle stage when the church is increasing its ministry capacity, doing more and more ministry better and better over time, yielding both numerical and spiritual growth.
Recline is the life cycle stage when the church’s ministry capacity levels off as the church does, more or less, the same ministry year after year at the same levels of quality and quantity. Numerical growth levels off and the quality of ministry levels off at a place that is acceptable to the existing members, often less than what is needed to bring in and hold newcomers. This is often referred to as “maintenance.”
Decline is the life cycle stage when the church’s ministry capacity decreases. Less and less ministry is done year after year. This stage is marked by dwindling membership and few, if any, lives being transformed by the Gospel.
Once a congregation gets to the Recline stage, if it doesn’t make the changes necessary to get back to Incline, it will inevitably move to the Decline stage. Once in Decline, if it doesn’t make the changes necessary get back to Incline, it will inevitably die – the closing of the church.
Often we find that once church members realize and admit that they are in Recline or Decline and realize they must face either the pain of making changes that lead to health and growth or the pain of closing the church they love, they choose the former and start doing whatever it takes to get back to Incline. And that’s what church revitalization is all about, helping churches in Recline or Decline get back to Incline.
So, an honest self-assessment is what is needed in most congregations. Dealing with reality is always a good place to start.
When you think about your congregation, do you think it is in Incline, Recline, or Decline? Be honest. Instinctively, you probably know. If you think you are in Recline or Decline you could benefit from church revitalization.
If you would like more information about our church revitalization resources like our ReVive! Seminar and Coaching, please reach out to us at the American Anglican Council through our website: www.churchrevive.org or by calling me directly at 904.608.0047.
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching for the American Anglican Council.