Methods: Planning consistently happens in three areas, personal, ministry and organization and on three levels, strategic, tactical and operational

Why It Is Important For Church Leaders To Understand The Adaptive Cycle

Most church leaders are familiar with the church life cycle diagram and find it helpful to chart where their church is on that cycle. An equally helpful cycle illustration is called the Adaptive Cycle. The Adaptive Cycle is a model of God designed natural patterns of change found in ecosystems, social systems, businesses, civilizations, organizations, and even churches. It consists of four phases where the system acts in a distinct way to structure, grow, collapse, and reorganize itself. Now is a particularly apt time to look at this model due to the changes most churches have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Is The Adaptive Cycle?

The Adaptive Cycle is a powerful way to understand, predict, track and effectively engage the natural growth and evolutionary stages of an individual, system, relationship, organization, or even a society. It also assists you in understanding the forces of change and how to be resilient in the face of change.

The four phases of the Adaptive Cycle are (1) growth, (2) conservation, (3) collapse/release and (4) reorganization/renewal. They are typically illustrated by a lazy-eight figure or Mobius loop (see the Figure below) that shows how the four phases are joined and interact. It demonstrates the slow and often longer phase of growth and accumulation of resources in a system or organization. Eventually, too much rigid and fixed structures and accumulation of resources cause it to release or collapse which prompts reorganization and renewal. The transition from release/collapse to reorganization/renewal is often fast moving and relatively short. In this phase the opportunity for innovation, redesign, reorganization and renewal is abnormally high, due to the release of rigid structures, established patterns and the redistribution of resources throughout the organization. This is what has happened in many churches over the last two or so years of COVID.

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After years of being in the conservation phase, 2020-2022 have been years of collapse, release and reorganization for both church leaders and their churches. It has been tough, scary, challenging and yet unbelievably exciting at the same time. Many of us let go of relationships, job descriptions, alliances, patterns, projects and perspectives that no longer served us well. Our churches have done the same, letting go of programs, budgets, processes, structures, ministries, facilities and partnerships that no longer effectively help fulfill the mission of the church. Churches are now emerging from traveling through the release and reorganization phases and are anticipating the renewal and growth bends of the Adaptive Cycle.

God didn’t design or intend for the life of civilizations, individuals, churches and organizations to be flat line experiences, but rather full of ups and downs, twists and turns and the riding of waves of change and transformation. These are exciting yet challenging days to be in church leadership. Continue to follow our weekly blog as we provide you with the leadership and management skills, knowledge and resources to navigate this next phase of the Adaptive Cycle.



Posted on August 2, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5