Lifecycle of a Community
Lifecycle of a Community
Your Community is a living organism, is it declining or growing?
- A frail building held together by cobwebs sits lonely and forgotten on a hilltop.
- An aged and weary sandstone fence surrounds a modern unit block.
- Ancient cathedrals meant for people, now a work of art and bustling tourist attraction.
So what happened?
I’ve a sneaking suspicion that just like a body ages, there are some tell tale signs that can show a community on the decline into death. Just like the human body, it may be sudden, but other times it’s a slow and gradual process.
Six indicators that your community is on the decline
The human body gets stiff and sore, movement is slowed as bones become arthritic. As a body of believers, is your community free flowing or rigid and stiff?
Is your community open to new ideas and suggestions? The new Christian’s vision validated and empowered? Or is your community living in ‘safe zone’ doing what it always has done, religiously going through the motions regardless of lack of ‘fruit’.
The human body’s ability to reproduce declines; fertility diminishes. Is your community nurturing and growing new believers?
As a womb needs to have the right parameters for growth, so does the culture of our community. Our community needs to be warm, nurturing and free from judgement for the non-believer.
Hot tip here-Put the most hospitable people of your community on your front line! Our Outreach Arms need to be full of gracious love for those who don’t know about Jesus: Something akin to the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross-love absorbing the blows.
As we age, our vision becomes blurry and unfocused. Does your community have a vision for the future?
A community can focus on their own comforts, become consumer driven and start to implode. What’s your vision for the future? Does it include finding out the gifts of your members and provide a place for them to express their gifts? There is gold in them their pews! It may be surrounded by a lot of muck, but when we look for the gold in people, it actually changes us as well!
The human body becomes frail and loses muscle; it’s less able to support the frame. Are your members leaving? And for the members left, are they struggling to bear the load of supporting the programs?
It’s hard when people start leaving and your infrastructure needs massive financial and physical support to sustain it. Those that stay start to wane and tire-creating an environment that’s full of tension.
The human mind begins to deteriorate; dementia sets in. Does your community talk about the distant past successes, forgetting that God wants to move here and now?
When we lose sight of God we can focus on the dilemma rather than the divine.
The human body suffers hearing loss. Do you listen to the cry of the people?
We can stop hearing God and His prophetic voice that comes through a myriad of people, which warns us of impending doom. It’s uncomfortable to hear criticism, and it’s tempting to ignore them and listen to the flattering words of people who charm. But it’s truth that sets people free. Sometimes it comes disguised as a ‘take-down’, be ready to sift through the negativity to find what is true.
So what’s the alternative? What does a growing community look like?
So too, a community of believers that is growing has its highs and lows.
Three indicators that your community is growing
A newborn brings role and routine changes. Who’s going to look after the little one?
When your community has fresh Christians in the midst, they will need someone to walk with them, teaching them the ways of Jesus.
1. Mess. Newborns can’t go to the toilet by themselves, they need help with nappy changes!
New believers don’t really know the ways of God, and they are going to make mistakes. Be there for them, help them, show them the right way. How ridiculous to discipline a newborn for messing their nappy-we should be treating people the same way.
However as babies grow into children they become aware of right and wrong, then we can train and discipline them. As new believers start to mature in their faith, more is expected of them-treating them like a baby when they are maturing can stunt their growth.
2. Exhaustion: Feeding, nursing, nappies, all of this takes its toll on the body-it’s exhausting, but in a good way.
A growing community will be bursting from it’s seams, rooms too small, not enough parking, need more people to step up into leadership roles. These are good problems to have. In this time it could be tempting to fix the problem quickly without thinking through the long-term implications. Don’t settle for second best.
3. Joy-It’s infectious when your baby smiles for the first time. Celebrating your child’s achievements and milestones brings great joy to the family.
When we create a space where believers share their stories and testimonies it brings a cohesion that strengthens the community: people sharing their story begin to be known and that’s a step closer to belonging.
So how does a community go from spiralling decline into upward growth?
Maybe you feel that there is no hope for your community; you’d rather sit on a cactus than put up with divisions, dusty pews and comatose congregants. But no matter how discouraged you are, your community couldn’t get ‘more deader’ than Ezekiel’s community in the Valley of Dry bones of Ezekiel 37.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”
As if bones aren’t dry enough, God tells us they were very dry; emphasizing His power over death. Ezekiel’s community is a cemetery, literally, and was asked whether there could be any life in it. I love Ezekiel’s response, right from the get-go, despite the glaring obvious circumstance he answers God, “You alone know.” He doesn’t put limits on God. There is hope yet!
Imagine if Ezekiel said, “No can do”. I reckon God would pull up stumps and find someone else who was willing to have a crack.
But Ezekiel followed through with the small hope he had. Acting in faith and believing God, the flickering ember of hope within him ignited to become absolute reality.
As God breathed His Spirit the dry bones came to life. If he can do that with scattered skeletons, imagine what He could do with a body that has flesh all ready to go? Like those in your congregation.
Jesus says it like this;
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11
And the Holy Spirit is the breath that gives life. If your community needs life, ask God, and keep on asking- oh and don’t be surprised if God makes changes in you first.