Reversing the Early Signs of Decline

Reversing the Early Signs of Decline

Similar to the other phases on the right side of the life cycle of a church, the Maintenance Phase is hard to confirm and even harder to accept. In fact, our most recent data shows 60% of churches who took the team version of the Unstuck Church Assessment (which eliminates personal bias) were in Maintenance Phase, compared to just 20% of churches when the pastor took the individual assessment (which calculates the result based on his or her opinion-based responses).

That means as many as 40% of churches are in Maintenance Phase without realizing it. That should concern us.

maintenance phase

Once your church has identified with the Maintenance Phase, you probably have one question: how do we get out?

Getting out of Maintenance Phase can be incredibly challenging—but it’s also the first necessary move towards Sustained Health. Here are two steps you can take to begin to move your way back to church health:

1. Renew the Vision

First, a disclaimer – mission statements and vision statements are not the same thing. The mission is a short statement (usually 12 words or less) that rarely changes. The vision, however, is a bit longer and tends to map out a church’s plan for the next 3-5 years. Because of this, it needs to be updated and refreshed.

Unfortunately, most churches don’t take a second look at their vision because they don’t realize they need to. It’s easy to assume that an attendance plateau or a little bit of decline is not a big deal, and short-term at best. Oftentimes, giving  even remains strong as churches enter the Maintenance Phase, something Tony Morgan describes as “The Giving Lag” in his book, The Unstuck Church. Without close attention, you could be in Maintenance Phase and totally miss it.

If you want to return to health before the real pain sets in, begin with renewing your vision and establishing a clear picture of your church’s future.

2. Curtail the Complexity Creep

An unclear and outdated vision often leads to complexity in the church. Unfortunately, complexity is a surefire way to ensure your church stays in the Maintenance Phase or drifts into Preservation. Without a clear strategy to execute your established vision, complexity creeps in, takes root, and drags your church down.

Of course, adding a new program to your church schedule in an attempt to fill unmet needs is much simpler than redefining your strategy and asking tough questions. Strategy requires vision, time, commitment, and may offend some people in your church. Programs usually don’t. Over-programming simply guarantees your church members stay busy and your staff stays drained.

If you find yourself bogged down by programs and stuck in Maintenance Phase, a clear strategy is what your church is longing for.


Most importantly, strategy and vision are simply a means to one goal: that more people would encounter and grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. This is why churches exist, and why it breaks our heart to see churches stuck in places that are less than healthy. To learn more about Maintenance Phase, the church life cycle, and getting your church unstuck, check out Tony Morgan’s most recent book, The Unstuck Church:

GET THE BOOK

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By |2018-02-22T14:58:46+00:00February 21st, 2018|Leadership|1 Comment

About the Author:

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Jordan is our Marketing and Communications Intern. She is currently a senior at Indiana Wesleyan University studying Business Administration and Intercultural Studies. Jordan is passionate about effective communication in the church and seeing churches reach their communities for Jesus. In her free time, she enjoys reading, running, and cooking.

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