If I cut some flowers for the table, I wonder how long they will last. I’m also wondering how long my aging Buick will last. Even buildings have a useful life. When they are new everyone admires them and toward the end of their existence, everyone wonders when the wrecking ball will be called in. But what about organizations such as churches. Do they have a lifecycle too? Dr. McIntosh explains that indeed they do. He develops the topic as a conversation between friends. His name for the first chapter that describes this lifecycle is St. John’s Syndrome.
Succeeding chapters develop descriptive and diagnostic explanations of each stage of the church’s life. The simplified theoretical growth curve over the decades or centuries of a church organization’s existence resembles a flattened bell curve. The name for the first stages is emerging church, an unfortunate naming choice as it has nothing to do with emergent church theology but rather simply names the beginning stage of the church’s existence, the time when excitement is high and growth is usually rapid. The remaining stage names are much more self-explanatory; growing church, consolidating church, declining church, and dying church. Succeeding chapters careful illustrate each stage. The extremely useful characteristics list (pp. 82-84) and the questionnaire (pp. 84-86) invite the reader to analyze their own church to see what stage it is in. It makes for an excellent board retreat evaluation tool and discussion starter.
But the goal of the book is not simply to engage is some fatalistic labeling of the church aging process but to engage it constructively. McIntosh shows that the church lifecycle can experience renewal that essentially kickstarts a new lifecycle on top of the old one. So the curve ideally looks like a succession curves — the first half of the bell curve stacked on top of each other as growth stages reoccur. This enables the continued growth of the church.
The last several chapters talk about what is needed in leaders and in different size churches to make the crucial turn-around happen. “During the first two stages of a church’s life cycle, the positive feedback loop is energized because emphasis is placed on mission, vision, evangelism, assimilation of newcomers, and the creation of need meeting ministries. Contextually appropriate ministries are developed that connect with people, and the structure of the church is fluid and flexible, guided by leaders who are driven by a sense of mission (pp. 106,107).” This quote explains what Dr. McIntosh means by ministry capital. He warns that churches and leaders must not be stuck do the same things but be aware when they need to develop new ministry capital.
I highly recommend this book for all pastors and church leaders. It will help us to understand ministry better and to plan more knowledgeably for the future of our churches.