The S-curve (1) – why your church might be like Ayers Rock

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12/11/2012 by Chris Green

The ‘S’ curve. So many things seem to follow this shape that it’s easy to think it’s entirely and irresistibly natural. Mathematicians call it a Sigmoid curve – a horizontal line lifts up, and then gently falls.
In the next few blog posts I want to think about some aspects of it for gospel ministry, so to clear the decks, see if you recognise this pattern of your church, or of one single aspect of it:
  1. Did it begin with some effort but enormous enthusiasm (lift off)?
  2. Did it then begin a regular climb?
  3. And then did it level off into a ‘sustainable’ or ‘mature’  altitude?
NOTE – if you Google anything on this you’ll find that many writers assume that the graph ascend, tops out and then slowly declines – like a ball being thrown in the air.  But my Australian friends say a better shape might be Ayer’s Rock, or Uluru – up, and then levelling out for quite some time.  
4. And then finally, did it begin to decline, or decay?
(hands up if you found something that fitted the pattern.  And hands up if you thought everything in your church fitted that pattern…)
  • What were the characteristics of each of those phases?
  • And to the extent that such things are measurable, what numbers do you put on each of those phases? And what meanings?
For instance, if we were discussing the growth of a local church, we might feel that reaching stability is natural and even healthy – at least, as long as we are not hitting the decay.  But if it described the spiritual enthusiasm of a Christian then everything after phase 2 should be resisted at all costs. What’s the difference?
In the next few posts, I want to look at whether it is ever good to buck that pattern, and how we do it, and at which point – or whether it is inevitable, and if it is inevitable, what we do with that.
Try running that S shape in detail against a couple of new ministries that your church as started in the last three years – what necessary events happened in the year before, so that the S-curve began? Where are you now on the S-curve?  And if you think you’ve broken the pattern of levelling off or decline, what has contributed to that?


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