Human beings are not the only ones who proceed through a life cycle. Every organisation has one.
One day in my mail, I received a poster to advertise an event soon to occur in another church. I was struck by the irony of the fact that it contained details announcing the “celebration” of the closure of this certain church. It caused me to realise that any church is ever only a generation away from closing. I placed the brochure inside the cupboard of my office to remind me, whenever I opened the cupboard, that every church/organisation is either on a life cycle or a death cycle. (See brochure at end of article)
In fact, I was stirred by the research of Sir John Gubb in his small book entitled, The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, that empires have a life cycle. After studying the history of the human race over the last 4.000 years, he discovered that in each empire that existed, a common lifecycle was observed. Of the 10 or so empires that had existed in the last 4,000 years, each went through a common life cycle containing identical stages in their rise and fall over a period of around 250 years.
Gubb’s life cycle of empires begins with the Pioneer Age and is followed by the Conquest Age, the Commerce Age, the Affluence Age, the Intellect Age where decline sets in, and ends with the Decadence Age or Death Age.
Sir John Gubb summarised, “Decadence is a moral and spiritual disease resulting from too long a period of wealth and power, producing cynicism, decline in religion, pessimism and frivolity. The citizens of such a nation will no longer make an effort to save themselves, because they are not convinced that anything in life is worth saving.”
Over 200 years ago, Scottish judge and historian Alexander Tytler developed a theory about the Life Cycle of Democracy. He wrote that Democracy begins with Bondage and progresses through Spiritual Faith, Courage, Liberty, Abundance, Selfishness, Complacency, Apathy, Dependence and returns to Bondage in the form of dictatorship. Tytler’s life cycle is not too dissimilar to Gubb’s life cycle. Human nature that drives life cycles, never changes.
Australian Journalist Rex Jory recently wrote an article based on Alexander Tytler’s Life Cycle of Democracy, entitled, “Our Democratic Decay” in which he suggests that, “Australia now sits somewhere between apathy and dependence. And that’s one step above bondage and dictatorship…..It would be too dramatic, too premature, to predict the collapse of individual freedom and democracy in Australia. But the warning signs are quietly emerging…..the trend in this (2022 Federal) election indicates Australia is trapped in a whirlpool of selfishness, complacency, apathy and dependence. We ignore these warnings at our own peril.” Adelaide Advertiser 16th May 2022
In 1971, the then president of America, Richard Nixon wrote,
“I think of what happened to Greece and Rome, and you see what is left – only the pillars. What has happened, of course, is that the great civilisations of the past, as they have become wealthy, as they have lost their will to live, to improve, they then have become subject to decadence that eventually destroys the civilisation. The U.S. is now reaching that period. America needs to find the moral and spiritual strength to shape the emerging post Vietnam era.”
A GENERAL TIME-LINE (for almost anything)
- Visionary pioneering leadership
- Shared purpose and vision
- High level of energy and commitment to the cause
- Courageous steps of faith
- Willingness to overcome obstacles and opposition
- Culture and values are established
- Much is done with few resources
- Outward looking
- Missional culture
- Unity of purpose
- Equipping the people
- Multiplying leaders
- Willingness to pay a price
- Organised and disciplined
- Steady expansion
- Organisation established
- Gradual loss of momentum and purpose
- Becoming comfortable and inward looking
- Leaders give way to managers and administrators
- Change in culture
- From innovation to organisation
- From penetrating the community to protecting the assets
- From doers of the word to hearers of the word (intellectualism)
- Failure to pass the vision on to the next generation and mentor emerging leaders
- The product on which the organisation was founded is superceded by a better model by a competitor
- The community in which the organisation is situated slowly changes and no longer can identify with the culture of the organisation
- Loss of sense of duty
- From mission to maintenance and entertainment
- Leaders no longer model the life of the mission
- Rewards for length of service and not for advancing the cause
- Overly organised and controlled leading to loss of initiative and enterprise
- Foundational values compromised and membership becomes tokenistic
- Volunteerism and self-sacrifice diminishes. Paid workers employed
- Inability to recognise the decline taking place
- Retiring leaders are not being replaced
- DEATH (Option A)
- Celebrating the past and talking about the good old days
- Resistance to change (We have always done it this way)
- No longer self-supporting financially (Financed by the investments of previous generations or the headquarters of the organisation or government handouts)
- The original purpose and vision is compromised to try and save the organisation.
- Despair hastens decline
- Collapse of morality and character
- No longer can save themselves because nothing is worth saving
- Closure and celebration
- Weakened from within leads to conquest from without
- “Great civilisations are not murdered, they commit suicide.” (Historian, Arnold Toynbee)
NEW LIFE CYCLE (Option B)
“All the great civilisations reach a moment when they are out of touch with the inspiration that made them. And there is a critical transition moment when they either go towards renewal or down to decline.” Os Guinness
Go back to stages (1) BIRTH (RE-BIRTH) and (2) GROWTH
All churches are locked into a death cycle or a life cycle. Most churches that die, do so while there are still a large number of people living close by that don’t attend a church or are aware of the good news that the church has to share. Any church can break the death cycle by developing a new mission strategy that expects people to be converted and prepares, prays, plans and equips its people for that to occur. The people move from an attitude (change of mind) of survival to revival.
“The key to spiritual revival is the presence of the Holy Spirit and the openness of God’s people to the working of the Holy Spirit.” George Barna
“Rebirth is more than improvement; it is a journey from death to life and it is only achieved by returning to the Word, the Spirit and the Mission. It is a work of God. The valley of dry bones teaches us there is no life without the Spirit of God and no direction without the Mission of God.” Steve Addison
REBIRTH REQUIRES A LEADER WHO :-
- is a gifted leader and not a caretaker, manager, administrator or people pleaser
- hears from God
- casts a vision
- builds a team
- is secure in his/her identity
- sees the people as emerging leaders and not followers
- is continually growing
- is emotionally intelligent
- is courageous and takes faith steps
- welcomes change
- is a strategic thinker
- is a gifted motivational teacher
- practices (models) what he/she preaches
- maintains a standard of excellence
- sees the world through the eyes of an outsider
- is a person of integrity
- has a supportive partner
- has a gifted mentor
Carl George in his book How To Break Growth Barriers writes,
“The first two signs of a growing church is a leader who is using God given gifts to lead the church into growth and a well mobilised laity. Leaders need to do the right things rather than doing things right. The most important issue in empowerment is a holy imagination of what God can lead a person to become.”
One final thought. Carl George asks, “Do you truly believe God will enlarge the scope of your church’s harvest? Whether or not you think He can, you’re right.”
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
- Where is your organisation in the life cycle?
- What has caused you to come to this conclusion?
- What action steps will you take as you respond to the assessment of your organisation’s life cycle?
- Where are you personally in your own life cycle?
- What action steps will you take as you move into the next season of your own life cycle?