The Rise & Fall

Posted on February 6, 2019

Our Religious, Education & Not-For-Profit Group has worked with more than 2,500 non-profit organizations across the country over the last 50 years, many of them being churches. As you can imagine, real estate needs can vary greatly from church to church depending on leadership, geographical location, size, etc. Generally, we’re asked to help organizations and churches who are in one of two stages: growth or decline. These two scenarios play out in churches of all shapes and sizes, and we’re able to help in either situation, but why does it happen? Why do some churches grow while others decline? 

With our experience and expertise, we’ve seen what we call the life cycle of a church play out time and again. There are a lot of variables involved, but it can be boiled down to four stages: Vision, Relationships, Ministry, and Structure. These stages are directly connected to and build upon each other. We’re primarily talking in terms of non-profits and churches, but these principles can be applied to most businesses and organizations.

Vision:

It all begins here. In the case of a church, one person or a small group of people feel compelled or called to start something. This isn’t that different from an entrepreneur or inventor who develops a vision of how an idea or discovery can be used to help people or solve a problem. The vision is a conviction so deep that it can’t be ignored—it has to be told to other people and put into motion. 

Relationships:
It all begins here. In the case of a church, one person or a small group of people feel compelled or called to start something. This isn’t that different from an entrepreneur or inventor who develops a vision of how an idea or discovery can be used to help people or solve a problem. The vision is a conviction so deep that it can’t be ignored—it has to be told to other people and put into motion. 

Ministry:
Over time, that core group will expand as more and more people start attending. Once critical mass is reached, there are enough resources to launch ministry programs powered by the assistance of volunteers and dedicated followers. This can be a sweet period of time as people grab on to the vision and do whatever it takes to help make it a reality. This is also when the church outgrows the living room and needs to find (rent) dedicated space to better facilitate all the activities now going on. 

Structure:
Healthy things tend to grow, and once a church gets to a certain size, it may need additional resources to properly accommodate that growth. This can include leadership, staff, educational resources, facilities, and debt. With regard to real estate, the organization has grown to a point that it needs more permanent space. A long-term lease is signed, or a property is purchased, or land is bought on which to build a facility. In our experience, this is the top of the life cycle unless leadership recasts the vision and continues to foster relationships to facilitate continued and increased ministry. 

If the vision is lost, this is the point where the organization starts to fail. Over time, the bonds that drew people together begin deteriorating, relationships erode, less ministry occurs, and the church finds itself on a path of decline. We saw this happen to hundreds of churches during the Great Recession, and over time the church ultimately has to decide what to do with the structure. 

Here are three ways your organization continue to grow and flourish:

Leadership:
The rise and fall of an organization rests heavily upon those responsible for serving, growing, shepherding, and constantly pointing its people to the vision—the “why” of it all. Leaders and leadership teams can inadvertently become more focused on the organization itself rather than the work they set out to do in the first place. This can erode the common vision, the glue that holds the whole thing together. Successful leadership teams consistently revisit the vision and measure whether they’re headed in the right direction. Reliable metrics and frequent check-ins make it possible to quickly course-correct without getting too far 
off track. 

Relevancy:
We’ve seen lots of churches water down or compromise their core beliefs in an attempt to stay relevant to their audience or community. The reality is we live in a rapidly changing world, and we have to pay attention to what’s going on lest we find ourselves irrelevant and ineffective. Relevancy can be affected by technology and communication, but also by cultural shifts. The demographic landscape can change drastically over 10 or 20 years, and organizations need to assess whether they’re equipped to meet changing needs and wants. An organization will never be able to be all things to all people, but being aware of generational and other cultural changes is necessary for sustained relevancy. 

Conviction:
At the end of the day your passion, mission, and values are what matter. If you lose sight of those, you lose your rudder. We’ve seen organizations expend lots of energy to keep up with the Joneses and offer the newest and shiniest thing to attract people. Today, more than ever, people can see right through the gimmicks. Be who you are and be confident in your message. How and where you deliver your message may not connect with everyone, and that’s okay.