The concept of a church's lifecycle is an important element in the field of church revitalization study. Personally, I feel that this element of research needs to be highly valued and appreciated. When it comes to understanding a church in relation to its revitalization need and potential, understanding where a church is in its lifecycle is helpful in suggesting options and courses of action for the church.
In his 2016 research on the subject of church revitalization, Jeffery Chappell relates the following concerning the "church Lifecycle."
Aubrey Malphurs, a leading scholar of strategic planning in both the church ministry and secular business arena, identifies the life cycle of the church in the following diagram:
Malphurs explains the dynamics of this life cycle as it pertains to the church when he writes:
As it relates to the church, the S-curve represents essentially its life-cycle pattern. Like people, churches have a life cycle. In general, a church is born and over time it grows. Eventually it reaches a plateau, and if nothing is done to move it off that plateau, it begins to decline. If nothing interrupts the decline, it will die. Each stage represents a growth challenge for the church. Growing, plateaued, and declining churches all face growth challenges. Some are alike, but most are unique to the church’s particular situation and where it is on the S-curve. The message or lesson of the sigmoid curve is that all good things (and even some bad things) end. In a world of constant, turbulent change, many relationships and most organizations do not last. The pattern is that they wax and eventually wane. Even brand-new institutions and organizations such as a church will, in time, plateau and then die. No matter what institution it is, organizational “dry rot” sets in. The institution becomes brittle, ceases to function, and expires.
Malphur's observation is unfortunately true, and the sigmoid curve offers a dynamic illustration of the life cycle he is referring to. In fact, Malphurs identifies that this trend has been in existence since the first-century church, recognizing the “life cycle” or death of what was once strong, indicating that dynamic ministries are not a new issue. In fact, he almost dismisses the issue as a norm for all organizations.
However, what he fails to recognize in his discussion is that the church is not bound by worldly principles. Christ is not a Savior whereby death is an acceptable outcome. In fact, the whole premise of the gospel is life where death abounds because of grace where sin abounds (Rom 5:20). There are numerous examples in scripture, such as Ezekiel 37:1– 10, wherein God raises His dead people by breathing life back into them. God has proven Himself to be the God of life at the expense of His Son.
Chappell, Jeffery. 2016. Review of DEAD BONES RISING: A STRATEGIC PLAN for REVITALIZING DECLINING CHURCHES by CREATING SMALL GROUPS. Thesis, Liberty University School of Divinity, 8-10.