Find the right leader for each stage.  As your church goes through each life cycle, your pastor will need to possess different skills to be most effective. 

An emerging church needs a catalyzer - a person who has the ability to bring something into being that did not formerly exist. 

A growing church needs an organizer - someone who has the ability to take a disorderly organization and bring together its jumble of pieces into an orderly form that maximizes its resources. 

A consolidating church needs an operator - a person who likes to manage a stable congregation by making small incremental changes that maintain the basic systems. 

A declining church needs a reorganizer - someone who has strong organization skills but can also keep the long-term members happy while building a new vision and agenda for the future. 

A dying church needs a super reorganizer - a person who can bring about radical changes that result in the congregation's rebirth.

Pay close attention to feedback.  If your church is growing, that's a signal that the current investment of ministry capital is paying dividends.  But if your church is not growing, that's a signal that the ministry capital is losing power and new capital needs to be discovered, developed, and put into place. 

Pay attention to these five core areas your church's ministry capital: Spiritual resources (the church's doctrine, values, and beliefs; the prayer life of its people; and the congregation's faith in God's mission and vision for the church), directional resources (the quality and experience of the pastor and leadership team; and the commitment of the church members to investing their time, talent, and treasure in the church's ministry), relational resources (the unity, fellowship, and community experienced by the corporate body in groups of various sizes), structural resources (how flexibly people in the church can work together), and physical resources (the value of facilities and property, as well as the church's visibility and accessibility in its current location.

Move beyond plateaus.  A church will only grow to a certain level and then plateau until more changes push it up to a new level.  At each plateau your church reaches, consider making transitions like these: adding staff, delegating ministry and providing leadership training, mobilizing laypeople, expanding programming, adding another worship service, adding classes, expanding facilities, changing the pastor's role, developing new ministries, and reminding people of your church's vision while motivating them to continue to support it.

Keep a spiritual focus.  Help the people in your church remain authentically connected to God throughout the sometimes turbulent process of change by: praying often, staying focused on the big picture of what God is doing in your church, and remembering that ultimately it's God who causes a church to grow.

Adapted from Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won't Get You There, copyright 2009 by Gary L. McIntosh.  Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich.,
Gary L. McIntosh is president of the Church Growth Network and professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology. He leads seminars and has written several books, including Biblical Church Growth and Beyond the First Visit.

Original publication date: December 3, 2009