I’ve had a lot of conversations with church leaders and this is the most common theme for every 100 churches.
Over the last five and a half years, I’ve had the chance to have conversations with over 2,000 church leaders, denominational leaders, networks and more.
I love numbers (I’m fortunate that Tony does, too). If I’m honest, I see the world through an Excel spreadsheet—data just makes sense to me.
Here’s the data I’ve discovered to be the most common theme among churches, regardless of denomination, size or location—
For every 100 churches—
The first 20 have some health—
they might be growing and/or have a strong leader pushing them in the right direction towards continued growth and multiplication.
All churches have things they need to work on, but this group at least has the cards in play for what’s coming in this next season.
These 40 churches are in the mired middle—
they could go one way or another. Through the research of The Unstuck Group, we know that the majority of the churches we’ve worked with fall into the Maintenance phase of the life cycle, the beginning of the downward trend.
In fact, we see over 85% of churches sitting on the wrong side of the life cycle. I’ve worked with a lot of these churches onsite. In our two days together, I am typically left with a quick impression whether they will pivot into a new life cycle, or run the same plays and continue towards Life Support.
The last 40 are simply dying—
it’s sad, but true. There’s a variety of reasons for this. Oftentimes, their heels dug in, unwilling to change what’s clearly not working, assuming other external factors are the problem.
Many don’t know they’re dying as a church and others know but aren’t willing to do anything about it.
I could say more but that doesn’t help us.
As a leader over these 100 churches, what is one to do?
One denominational leader told me,
“Mark, I’ve been chasing fires and drama for seven years (the bottom 40%) and I’ve decided to change my plan, I’m going to invest in health.”
What a powerful move. It’s been amazing to see some of the fruit from his decision.
He hand-picked eight initial churches (out of 55) we worked with, developed a peer group within these churches and worked to develop vision, plans and press into best practices as a group.
That same district has continued to work through their churches with a planning process and clear initiatives, identifying what healthy churches look like and building new habits.
So how can we best approach these 3 groups?
For the Healthier 20%: INVEST.
These are the churches most likely to produce new leaders, new locations, church plants and growth in their church.
Develop strategies with this group to partner, vision and dream what God might do and allocate at least 50% (or more) of your resources to these churches. You will see the greatest return on ministry from this effort.
For the Middle 40%: INFORM.
Make sure this group knows best practices—it’s key they have access to great content.
In many cases, these are “moving cars.” They are active, they want to get traction but they simply don’t know what they don’t know. They need to be pointed in the right direction.
Some of these can and will pivot to greater health and growth. The leaders are humble and are seeking wisdom. The ingredients are there but they need help with some of the basics.
Invest in those willing to take steps towards health and growth.
Continue to inform and educate those who are muddling along. This crew needs encouragement and to know that you are for them.
Allocate 20-40% of your resources to this group.
For the Dying 40%: INVITE.
They are the parked cars—it’s hard to do much with them. In some cases, the leader is the lid and simply won’t change. In other cases, a few lay leaders are holding the church hostage and it’s dysfunctional.
Regardless, invite them into the game. You might find an emerging leader that has the courage to make a bold move and do the remarkable—pivot a dying church.
I have hope for all churches- maybe to a fault; however, a bold, obedient leader is needed to bring a church back to its mission—reaching people for Jesus.
Allocate 10% or less to this group.
The reality of your breakdown can shift by 10-15% for each of these categories—this serves as a guideline.
And truthfully, this might look different for you than it does others. We’ve experienced a network of churches struggling to come up with eight healthy churches out of 105—but that is why we do what we do—to help churches get unstuck.