How to Recycle Your “Organization Life Cycle”


This is the beginning of a learning journey about your organization (church, company, or business), the natural life cycle organizations typically experience, and how we can recycle before it’s too late.

Let’s get started…

What is an Organizational Life Cycle? 

“Organizational Life Cycles” have always been a hot business (and church) topic.

And for a good reason. Like people, organizations have life cycles. We constantly see new organizations begin while others end. We watch companies experience chaos and growth and find others in cruise control. And some organizations seem dedicated to ignoring the signs of decline, customer change, and culture shifts.

Think about how this happens in the church. I live in a middle- to upper-class, growing community in north Atlanta. Our reality is like a magnet for would-be church planters. A few “new church” signs appear along the interstate exits every month. 

At the same time, many churches in our community are shrinking, declining, and closing. It feels like what business consultants would call the typical organizational life cycle.

Research life cycles, and you’ll find dozens of models that flow linearly like so:
  • Birth, youth-developing, stability and reputation, and maturity.
  • Initiation, innovation, and institutionalization.
  • Existence, survival, success, renewal, decline
  • Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Saturation, Recession

They basically use different words to express the same organizational experience. The organization begins, grows, matures, declines, and then dies. Only some organizations experience the entire cycle, though. Some are DOA (Dead On Arrival). These entrepreneurs or church planters work hard but never seem to get their organization or church off the ground.

And then there are those organizations who somehow thwart the cycle, experiencing seasons of growth and maturation without declining and dying.

This is the experience we all want to experience. For this learning journey, we’ll call these “recycled organizations.” These recyclers somehow, someway, do something significant to ward off the normative path.

To discover their secret, we should begin with a fundamental cycle question: What causes the cycle to persist?

What Is An “Organization?” 

To borrow from the “organizational life cycle” terminology, organizations don’t come before the need to organize.

Every organization was once only an idea or concept. An entrepreneur or innovator creates something of value. It could be a product, service, experience, or combination. The idea is developed, evolved, and sold. As the concept becomes a reality and demand grows, scale is required. This necessary scaling creates a need to organize to better orchestrate. Orchestration is the work of organizations. It’s what they are designed to do. At least until there’s no need for scale and growth.

I’ve written a lot about leadership versus management and innovation battling orchestration. Here’s one article: Four Realities that Hold Leaders Back from Moving Forward

Organizations appear to have life cycles, but it’s the engine behind the organization that drives, or creates, the cycle.

The engine is the secret to organizational success.

So what’s the engine? 

Your Organizational Engine

It’s not your mission. And it’s not your vision. Those are directive, but they don’t provide directions. Pointing toward what you want to do doesn’t ensure it happens. Your engine moves your mission forward, ensures your vision comes to fruition, and dictates your organization’s structure, scale, and necessity.

Your engine is your strategy.

Your strategy creates your success and allows for your failure. At each point along the “organizational life cycle,” we find helpful and harmful strategies at work.

We’ll talk a lot more about this soon, but if you want a preview: 6 Questions to Determine if Your Strategy is Old or Obsolete

When we observe and study those organizations able to recycle their life cycle, we find their secret is a willingness to embrace a restart. That’s what recycling is, right? I’m not a scientist, but from what I understand, a recycled can is cleaned, and its ingredients are reused for a new or similar purpose. When you recycle a can, you let go of the product for a reformation of sorts. It’s the same with organizations.

To recycle your organization, you must let go of what has been to embrace what is and can become.

The other option is to allow the natural progression of the organizational life cycle to carry you to decline and eventual death.

Where We’re Going

Over the next week or two, we will look at 5 specific phases of organizational life and evaluate how strategy, systems, models, and methods can push the cycle forward or provide a much-needed recycling. Regardless of where you feel you are on the cycle or how well things seem to be going, this concept is important to master. We all need to recognize warning signs and respond before being put on organizational life support. 

If you’re a marketplace leader, I encourage you to follow along. Perhaps even pass this conversation on to your executive team or staff for future discussion.

If you’re a pastor or church leader, I specifically ask that you share this with your team, board, and key insiders. Those who sit at your decision table need to discuss this concept. I want businesses to thrive, but their mission is not God’s plan for humanity. The local church matters too much to decline and die. We can recycle your church if we know what to look for and how to respond.

Before The Next Post…

If you feel like your church or organization is on the verge of permanent decline and don’t want to wait for the remaining posts:

  1. I encourage you to read more about my Church Accelerator Process.
  2. If you’re ready, I’m launching my next round of Masterclass Experiences on April 12. SPACE IS EXTREMELY LIMITED to ensure we make our time together personal and productive. Sign up today to reserve your spot.

Thanks, friends. Until next time.


Rethinking Your Church Model Masterclass

NEXT SESSION DATES: 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST on April 12, April 19, April 26, May 3, May 10, and May 17

The Rethinking Our Church Model Masterclass Group Experience helps leaders and pastors discover the unique challenges facing churches today and design a hybrid church discipleship model to reach the community and grow the congregation. 

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