The Stages of Growth and Crisis
The Stages of Growth and Crisis
Ted Haggard, The Life-Giving Church
Times of growth and plateaus for assimilation of growth are healthy patterns. Not understanding the pattern of growth and crisis can lead to panic and overreaction that can cause undue worry and lead to a downward spiral. When growth slows down a bit usually the Holy Spirit is giving us opportunities to strengthen the inner workings of our church, to develop new leaders within the congregation, and to open some new small groups. There will be times to grow and times to get to know those who are already there. Healthy church growth percentages range from between 10 to 20 percent. Churches who grow less than this each year have problems. Churches that grow more than this will also experience problems. Understanding the natural stages of growth and crisis that virtually every church goes through will help individuals and churches maintain a life-giving attitude that will encourage healthy church growth.
Stage One Growth: Creativity
We love this stage. During this stage we receive inspiration to plant a church, start a ministry within the church, or come up with fresh ideas. Creativity is something that should never stop, even when you are many years into the initial vision. The Holy Spirit is always giving fresh, new ideas, and we must remain open to His influence. Going to conferences, reading new books, and extended times of prayer and fasting help keep you creative.
Stage One Crisis: Leadership
In this stage we must select right leadership. This is the key to future growth and productivity. Churches often go through this stage too quickly and appoint elders, deacons, trustees, and associates before they have fully considered the candidates. At this stage, the church needs to form a leadership team of friends who are interested in getting the ministry to people, not people who are overly interested in titles and salaries.
Stage Two Growth: Direction
At this stage you begin to discover your strengths, opportunities, and develop a clear understanding of where you are headed. When the direction of the church is clearly articulated, people who wouldn’t otherwise be added to the church (because of problems with enthusiasm or leadership) will join and contribute to the vision.
Stage Two Crisis: Autonomy
As direction comes, your staff and church will grow. This will transform the church from a small group that can easily communicate with each other about everything to a large group of individuals who need to check with each other about some issues. At this stage they will learn what roles they play, what roles you play, and what they have been empowered to do. This stage takes place for several reason, one being the value of time. This crisis becomes an opportunity to clearly define what you can and cannot do in your own area of ministry.
Stage Three Growth: Delegation
Churches are free to grow when the mystery of delegation is mastered by the church and its staff. This stage is exciting because it liberates people and helps them do what they are actually called to do in order and chain-of-command. Here, people learn what they can do without asking and what they need to ask about. They have tasks to fulfill, and they clearly understand what those tasks are and what is required to complete them. Clearly defined delegation increases the efficiency of teamwork. If this stage is misunderstood, it can embarrass people who do something with good intentions but learn they weren’t supposed to do it. Sometimes people intentionally overstep boundaries, which moves into the crisis of stage three: control.
Stage Three Crisis: Control
Even when people overstep boundaries on purpose, usually the best thing to do is to treat them as if you thought they did it innocently as they make mistakes trying to figure out who has authority over what. Deal with the matter privately and respond to them in a life-giving attitude. Coach them and help them figure out how to do their job appropriately.
Stage Four Growth: Coordination
At this stage growth begins to take place because people start to coordinate with each other across departmental boundaries. At this stage they come together to exchange ideas, borrow from one another’s resources, and join forces to make a great impact on the kingdom of God. Coordination becomes crucial because of the competition for limited resources such as space, the church van, meeting times, etc. There are inevitable conflicts that must be worked through. At this stage people must learn to serve one another, understand each other’s needs, and to count it a blessing that so much space and resources are needed.
Stage Four Crisis: Red Tape
Getting people to work together always leads to red tape. Forms are created and systems are put into place to insure proper communication, coordination, and accountability are secured. How do we figure out who gets the van when? Who has the right to reserve a room? Can anyone trump someone else’s decision? Since resources are limited, how do we make sure that no one is left out? The red tape crisis can lead to a war. In order for people to work together at this stage, we must understand the differences between those with personalities who despise red tape and those who write the manuals of red tape. We must understand that our primary job is to make sure that people are taken care of. The purpose of written policies is to make sure things run smoothly in meeting people’s needs. If we do not design systems well at this point, our church will plateau because it is either disorganized or so cumbersome to work within that it turns people off. When policies get in the way of meeting people’s needs, then we can violate the policy manual. It is a judgment call we may have to defend later, but we can learn how to make good judgment calls. The life-giving church must learn how to cut red tape in order to meet the needs of people.
Stage Five Growth: Collaboration
Once various people and departments learn to coordinate their systems, they can take the next logical step and begin to collaborate---they can begin to use each other’s resources to make the whole church stronger. For instance the worship team and the youth department may begin to plug into one another’s work for mutual benefit.
Stage Five Crisis: Identity
Once the different groups begin to work well together, they can run into a dangerous place there individuals begin to think they can leave (or not work as hard) because the system is running well. But every member is important and it is essential that every person realize his or her value and the vital importance of their role on the “team.” In our culture today, the team mentality has been replaced by rampant individualism. When this happens in a church, it can be the beginning of serious trouble. Individuals can experience success and fail to see the importance of the team in achieving their success. This can lead to individuals developing inflated images of their singular importance as they abandon the team mentality and begin to function as a one man team or launch out as free agents.
Stage Six Growth: Multiplication
This stage is when the church is multiplying itself. It is growing by itself. We are not under pressure to grow because it is taking place naturally. At this point we must remember that every new member needs to go through the process of crisis and growth. It usually takes about two years. We say at our church, “Your first day on the job lasts two years.” Every department needs to go through this process to one degree or another as it grows and develops.
Staying healthy through these stages
One of the key principles to get through these stages successfully is by recognizing them for what they are. Especially in times of crisis we tend to point the finger at people and blame them for what looks like real trouble. We even have derogatory names for people in each of these stages: If they are in the control stage, we say they have a “Jezebel spirit.” If they are caught in the red tape stage, we say, “You just don’t have the vision You need to hear from the Lord.” But that is not the case at all. People just need training. They need to be coached. Our job is not to explain their problems to them but to assist them in living life well. At New Life we go over these stages every year in staff meetings so that everyone can find where they are on the chart. It helps put everyone on the same page even if everyone is at different places. It helps them understand that growth and crisis are natural and that they just need to stay steady through the various changes.