Life Cycles

Life Cycles

Author: Rev. Dr. Doug Gerdts
October 09, 2020

I just spent most of the previous two weeks attending an interim ministry training. It's the second of three parts toward certification as a Transitional Pastor and required six days of eight hours of Zoom engagement. (As a side note, I now have profound empathy for students, teachers, and parents who spend the better part of their waking hours staring at a screen!)

The topic of this section was "The Work of the Congregation" and was chock-full of helpful activities and studies (most are very fun!) for congregations to do in preparation of calling their next installed Senior Pastor. 

One of the areas on which we spent considerable time was studying the life cycle of a congregation.

Let's back up just a tad.

Perhaps my favorite outdoor activity is fly fishing. A close friend introduced me to the sport about 15 years ago, and I try to fish a few times each year (this one being the exception). Outside of learning to cast, tie on flies, and "read" the stream, one must learn about the life cycles of various bugs. I fish primarily in the Catskills and southern Quebec where a primary source of food for trout is the Caddisfly; hence, my fly box is full of flies tied to mimic the various stages of a Caddisfly's life. 

Trout are finicky and opportunistic and so presenting the fly in the accurate stage of life is crucial, among plenty of other variables. Knowing the stages of the bug's life cycle makes actually catching trout more probable. (I'm often reminded that they call the sport "fishing" and not "catching"!)

We all learned about the variety of life cycles of living things in introductory biology courses, but what I learned in my recent training is that churches have life cycles as well. One of the more important aspects of an interim time is assisting the church in determining where it is in the cycle.

The key components, as the graphic depicts, are Vision, Relationships, Ministry (Program), and Structure (or Management). At the beginning of a church's life, vision is the primary driving force. Some collection of people gather and share a dream of a worshipping community and consequently gather more people until a critical mass of relationships is achieved and folks start to actually do ministry and worship. As those initial founders fade away, the next generation recognizes the need for polity and permanence which leads to a focus on structure and management. As the congregation ages, the initial vision dissipates, relationships become less important, yielding to established ministries and increasingly virile structure. At the end of a church's life, that's all that remains: structure. 

I'm curious — where do you think First Presbyterian is in its life cycle and why? 

It's an important phase to recognize — especially if we're to fulfill our mission to be "fishers of people!"



First Presbyterian Church


20 King's Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ 08033
(856) 429-1960