There are seven phases of a church’s lifecycle, according to Tony Morgan in his book The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health. These are: launch, momentum growth, strategic growth, sustained health, maintenance, preservation and life support. The book describes the characteristics which help you diagnose which stage your church is in, and it also provides guidance as to what actions you should take to maximise your church’s mission at each stage.

There are a number of other books available advising church planters on the steps they need to take in the early phases of a church’s life, so I suspect that most of the readers of this book will be most interested in the advice applicable to the “sustained health” and “maintenance” phases of a church’s life. I expect that a lot of church leaders who imagine their churches to be in the “sustained health” phase will be upset to discover that they are actually in the “maintenance” phase, but that is where this book is most useful: in helping you to discover what actions you should be taking before it is too late to do so.

The advice provided by the author includes:

  • You should be ruthless about eliminating any division, particularly at the leadership level
  • Foolish churches budget by looking at what came in last year, adding a percentage as a faith portion, and then planning to spend it all; wise churches plan to spend less than they receive, giving them the opportunity to be generous
  • Churches are typically in the maintenance season for months or even years before they realise it
  • Churches in the maintenance phase are often financially healthier than churches experiencing strategic growth, because mature believers give more than unbelievers and new believers
  • When giving is strong but the church has become ineffective at its mission, it is not unusual for them to live in denial
  • The primary barrier to health for an inward-focused church is creating environments designed to reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus

In my view this is a very helpful book, and I highly recommend it. There is a companion assessment tool on the Unstuck Church website which provides further assistance to church leaders in diagnosing the life stage of their church.

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