By Lynn Hardaway
If you have ever seen a stagnant body of water, you know some fatally unhealthy dangers exist where water does not drain or flow adequately. Malaria and dengue can develop and be transmitted by mosquitoes, which find a lively breeding ground in stagnant water. You certainly never want to drink from a pool of standing water; it is the perfect incubator for destructive bacteria and parasites.
My friend, Wold Zemedkun, who grew up in a village in Ethiopia, tells of the damaging effects a stagnant water source had on the children and adults in his village. Because of the diseases in the water, children died and men were rendered lethargic by drinking from the “poisoned” pond.
All organizations, especially churches, face times of stagnation, when positive growth seems elusive and the people who are part of the organization can become apathetic and directionless. Routine is the defining word of action during these times of torpor; changes in the status quo are rejected resoundingly, enthusiasm is discouraged and controlled dullness seems to be the goal of the group.
The kind of dangers associated with water-borne diseases found in putrefying pools manifest themselves in church life during seasons of stagnation. Lack of evangelism, disinterest in new disciples and members, inability to affect a course correction during decline, failure to foresee inevitable loss of life; these things will ultimately lead a congregation to a “point of no return,” from which no possibility of survival exists.
The bad news is this: about 80-85% of churches in the United States are either stalled, stuck or stagnant. The good news is this: there is a way out and it is not all that complicated. If you are reading this, you already have the first tool you need to leave the stage of stagnation: there must be a desire to do something about the problem.
I believe all churches have a desire to stop declining, but most will stay stagnant because they are afraid of either a future they cannot see or understand or they fear the reactions of people who are often as stagnant in their walk with God as they are in their church structures and practices, or they fear failure. If fear prevails in your heart as a leader, you will remain where you are, wishing for a way out that does not involve pain or fear. I can tell you emphatically, that way does not exist.
One reporter who witnessed the courage of Allied soldiers in the face of withering and deadly fire on D-Day made this statement: “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the disregard of it.” It takes raw courage to lead a church out of the lethal toxicity of stagnation, but it takes more than courage; it takes knowing what to do next.
In subsequent articles, we will look closely at the Transformational Cycle and discover the way businesses pull out of decline and we will learn the spiritual ingredients needed to step out of stagnation.