Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Gary L. McIntosh's's new book, Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There, (Baker Books, 2009).

Has your church stopped growing or even started declining?  You can turn the situation around and experience fruitful ministry again.  But what got your church where it is now won't be enough to get it to where you want it to be.  Taking your church to the next level of growth requires making improvements at each stage in your church's life.

Here's how you can take your church to the next level of growth:

Expect change.  Realize that your church will never stay the same and plan for the changes it will inevitably experience.  As a church grows and ages, its people change, it sees conflicts build, and its programs peak in effectiveness.  But if you work to diminish destructive forces and stay focused on your church's mission while renewing its ministry, you can keep it healthy and vibrant.

Aim for continual improvements.  Since ministry goes through cycles of ups and downs, success in ministry is never an ending but just a point in a cycle that continues year after year.  So keep making improvements over time to achieve long-term excellence.  Remember that a church's durability comes from: the values that guide the creation of its program and ministry, the development of processes designed to encourage the behavior that reflects those values, and leaders who function as architects of the entire process.

Move forward as...

...an emerging church.  If your church is fairly new, you need to ask: "Who are we?".  Establish practices that will help your church start out as healthy as possible.  Make sure that your church has a central driving mission and a vision that empowers your congregation to move into the future well.

...a growing church.  If your church is currently growing quickly, you need to ask: "Where should we invest our resources?".  Work to make sure that competing agendas between the original members and new members don't derail your church's growth.  Seek to unify all church members around a common future vision and plans for using the church's resources to fulfill that vision.

...a consolidating church.  If your church is consolidating from a smaller church into a larger one, you need to ask: "Where do we go from here?".  Develop intentional processes to connect with and recruit newcomers so they don't get lost in your church's organization.  Hire additional staff members.  Consider enlarging your church's building, parking area, and grounds, or moving to a larger location.

...a declining church.  If your church is losing members, you need to ask: "How do we stop the decline?".  Call the congregation back to your church's original mission and develop a new vision for the future.  Be willing to suffer the pain of canceling programs and diverting money to new projects.

...a dying church.  If your church is in danger of closing its doors forever, you need to ask: "How can we turn this mess around?".   Establish a new definition and commitment to mission.  Change the congregation's attitude so the laypeople and leaders look to the future with hope and excitement.  Change the way you use the church's financial resources.  Rework your church's organization to allow for faster decision making, new program development, and greater flexibility.  Embrace new ministry approaches, resources, and materials.