You Can’t Fix What You Can’t Name – Organizational Life Cycle Edition


In the previous post, we discussed the reality of organizational life cycles. You should read the first post in prep for this conversation. 

It seems organizations, like people, mature through a life cycle.

Comparing organizations to people is somewhat trite but also accurate in most respects.

Like people, organizations begin as an idea, product, service, or concept. If viable, ideas and products form and need to grow — or scale. Scaling is only possible through organizing, which creates “organizations.” The systems, processes, and best practices implemented, measured, and monitored by the organization allow the company (or church, etc.) to grow.

Eventually, though, like people, the organization stagnates. Remember when you listened to current music? And then you stopped. Or when you stayed relatively current with fashion trends until the skinny jeans were too much.

This is what happens to organizations. In the previous post, we discussed how our strategy, approach, models, or methods fuel our organizational engine. The problem is strategies are built for current realities. Models are made for moments. If the music or fashion scene stayed the same, you’d always be hip and in style. But they don’t. The world, culture, communities, and customer preferences change.

Like your 90s playlist and pleated khakis, your current strategy may be perfectly positioned for a previous reality.

Here’s where the metaphor can divert, though. People mature, decline, and eventually die. Happens to the best of us. For most organizations, the same is true. Most, and I mean MOST, organizations follow this same cycle. But there are rare exceptions. These exceptions extend their life and even find a version of immortality by recycling their life cycle.

How Do You Recycle Your Organizational Life Cycle? 

If you hope to recycle, you’ve got to understand your current cycle. 

In the previous post, I listed a few versions of organizational life cycles. They all look something like this:

  1. Creation
  2. Orchestration
  3. Maturation
  4. Preservation
  5. Deterioration
  6. Expiration

Let’s define each phase. As we do, I’d like you to consider where your church, business, or organization currently exists.

Creation Phase

During the “birthing” phase, there is no organization. Just an idea and plenty of passion. As the mission and concept solidify, the entrepreneur forms some version of a strategy to add intentionally. In a church, this is the pre-planting and initial opening stage. The mission and vision are formed. Values may be determined. But it’s mostly chaos. But something is developing. 

Orchestration Phase

With the idea gaining ground, it’s time to organize more. This is when processes and procedures are designed and adopted. The growth phase can take years or even decades to complete. Growth allows the business to define and refine its approach, product mix, and service offering. 

The Growth Phase is an innovative season for the organization. The original idea forms into a superior product, service, or experience as plans, systems, methods, and strategies are added. Basically, intention is added to the mission. 

Growth provides revenue and complexity. It allows for the perfection of systems and strategies. Finally, growth is when the organization forms, as the need for orchestration appears. The concept is a real company, like a marketplace or ministry Pinnochio. 

Maturation Phase

Not to suggest that growth is now in the rearview mirror, but the full implementation of systems and strategies allows the organization to mature. In this phase, growth doesn’t necessarily end immediately, but most mature organizations tend to see growth subtly slow and eventually plateau.

The Maturity Phase is where we begin seeing cracks in the organizational foundation. Until this point, the fractures in the system were caused by growth and innovation. Now, the problems are driven by the strategy rather than a need for a strategy.

Mature organizations often move from serving the mission to serving the model. In maturity, the organization that formed during growth is now organized to execute what is, not what could or should be. Old strategies would be sufficient in present realities if the world remained stagnant. But nothing is fixed. Customer preferences and taste change. Culture changes. Opinions change. Nothing stays the same.

Preservation Phase

This phase is known by many different names, but I love the connotation of “preservation.”

In Preservation, organizations focus upon holding on to what is (was) over what could or should become. 

Organizations of scale eventually develop a reputation. During maturation, the organization begins to exist for the sake of the strategy, not the mission. The organization officially leaves maturation for reputation when keeping the “way we do it around here” matters more than why we do it. After all, we have a reputation for doing it this way.

The downward slide of the organization attempting to maintain its reputation is easily perceivable. It seems everyone outside the organization can see it coming a mile away. Unfortunately, the leadership continues to romanticize the heyday of the past to the detriment of the present and future.

Church Leader: If you sense you’re in this phase, this may be helpful: Have You Ever Considered Why You Do Church the Way You Do Church?

Deterioration and Expiration Phase

Whichever model you follow, the final phases are bleak. Recovery is an afterthought by this point in the cycle. The strategy and approach are so ingrained and antiquated that even suggested changes are shot down, and the suggester vilified.

Luckily, vilification rarely happens because most strategic thinkers and leaders from within the organization have left. In many cases, their exit propels the organization into the final stage of death. An organization lacking leaders yet still full of managers perpetuates and accelerates the problem. Remember, the issue is serving the model over the mission. The organization of the original idea is why managers were necessary in the Growth Phase. Growth must be nurtured and manicured through strategies, systems, models, and plans. Leaders usually create these plans, but managers orchestrate the systems. When leaders within the organization begin to leave, the balance of creation and orchestration swings wildly out of balance. The “this is how we do it around here” directive becomes the unmovable and irrevocable law.

The end is near. Hospice has arrived. 

Where Are You On The Cycle? 

To ensure a recycle is possible, we begin by discovering our current reality.

So where are you on the cycle? Which phase are you experiencing?

In our next post, we’ll discuss how new strategies can influence each phase of the cycle. I hope you’ll join me for this conversation. And if you know anyone who needs to think about their organization, please pass the link along.

Talk again soon, 



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. 

The Funding Funnel that Funds Your Church is a practical, proven, step-by-step system that turns generosity into a discipleship outcome, not your missional objective.

I created the Leadership Toolbox Masterclass for leaders who want to grow holistically in their roles. Each of the six skills in this course is required for ongoing personal and organizational success.