What Does History Say it Takes to Get A Movement Moving?

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Humans, Churches and Movements all have a life cycle. Churches and humans have roughly the same number of years in them (80-100 max). Movements also have a life cycle but can last far longer than a human/church lifecycle. In his book, “The Rise and Fall of Movements,” Steve Addison offers this chart on the life cycle of movements that I found helpful.

After spending a lot of time and energy studying movements throughout church history, Addison concludes that every movement faces this predictable path. Many movements today find themselves in the decline phase of the journey. This is the season where it is possible to experience rebirth with a renewed vision and focus.

Here is what he says can be done and has been done in the past to rebirth a declining movement:

1 – Face God’s discipline

“God’s discipline extends to individual believers, to churches, to organizations, and to movements that stray from his purposes. That’s why rebranding or restructuring or marketing or strategic planning or spending more money cannot breathe life into a declining movement.” (p.144)

2 – Pursue deep change

“Rebirth involves a return to Identity. To survive, every living thing is both constantly changing and constantly remaining the same. If an organism doesn’t do both, it ceases to exist. Living organisms are continually seeking self-renewal by referring back to their essential Identity and adapting to their environment. Likewise, movements must adapt to their changing environment while remaining true to their identity.” (p.145)

3 – Realign everything

“Realignment means aligning everything to do with the characteristics of dynamic movements. Simple but hard. Movements are led by Pioneering Leaders who can go into unreached fields, connect, share the gospel, make disciples, form new churches and multiply leaders. But how to you grow Pioneering Leaders when your existing methods only produce Pastor-teachers? Don’t being with a denominational or church-wide restructuring. Don’t begin by blaming the leaders you have. Cast vision widely for making disciples. Start training anyone who is willing to learn just enough to get started. Develop the people you see God using. Create a leadership pathway for future Pioneering Leaders.” (p.149)

God can breathe new life into his people. We have to be open to be led, humble ourselves, repent of our sins, and follow God’s lead on this. I am still very hopeful. I hope you are as well.

3 Responses

  1. Matt,
    Amen! One generation of faith does not transfer to the next. Each generation has to have their own faith. An individual church/congregation does not have a faith. The individuals do. A congregation is not saved, individuals are.

    When churches/congregations become an organization, they die. They are dead. Churches need to be organisms. Living, breathing, functioning, growing organisms.

    Keep challenging us to grow.


    1. Thank you Alan! I agree on the institutionalization leading to death…that is a valid point. Very hard to NOT do! It takes intentional, brave leadership to stay on course. But most of our leaders are actually managers.

  2. True, unfortunately, that it is more common for people in leadership positions to be managers rather the leaders they need to be.

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