Most pastors have learned, followed, and practice ecclesiological principles rooted in church growth concepts. This is a MAJOR problem for the 90%+ of church leaders who are leading a church that is stagnated or in decline. Regurgitating church growth models when postured in a church revitalization setting will not only frustrate a church, but it will also paralyze a pastor.

In the church growth philosophy you ask:

  1. What should we do next?
  2. How can we succeed ?
  3. What vision do we embrace next?
  4. How can we build on our momentum?

On the back side of the curve EVERYTHING is different. Entirely different questions must be ask, and they point to an entirely different leadership model if Jesus’ mission for His church is going to be recovered. The questions include:

  1. Why do we exist?
  2. What can we preserve?
  3. What do we need to stop doing?
  4. How will our values lead us through our challenges?

One the front side of the church growth curve you live on past success because it still has an impact. Your organizational knowledge and culture is still intact. Technical expertise with church events and leadership is valued most. Compromise can still work. Win-win scenarios can still be developed. New people, pastors and programs can still move the needle.

On the back side of the curve everything changes. You must address the fear of change, and loss. The fear of loss causes grief and the 5-stages of grief make leading more emotional than rational. You must be an expert at conflict resolution. You must always remember why you exist. You must state your values in fresh ways so they remind you of why you do what you do, but they also must challenge your existing culture. Finally, you must be willing and able to overcome the sabotage of otherwise good people who do not want to experience the loss of thing they have loved.

You will see from the diagram inserted above the three horizontal labels that describe the type of leadership required at each stage in the life cycle of the church. There is visionary leadership on the frontside of the curve. There is managerial leadership at the top of the curve. There is adaptive leadership that is required on the back side of the curve.

The church growth model expressly taught that visionary leadership was leadership. Those who could not muster the gifts of visionary leadership, were considered to manage the vision after the visionary. Thus the title managerial leader became popular. But few have discovered what adaptive leaders is and fewer still what it requires. So consider a few things about Adaptive Leadership (AL).

Adaptive Leadership requires leaders to challenge not reinforce the status quo. AL’s must challenge the existing church culture which will pit them against many if not most member within the church. AL’s preside over the church when loss is the main experience. AL’s must be resilient for 3-7 years to see a church through the necessary change. AL’s must help churches and Christians unlearn something in order to learn new things. AL’s must survive the sabotage many existing church leaders will throw their way. AL’s must be hard on the outside without becoming hardened on the inside. Adaptive leaders must remain calm, remain in relationships, and remain resilient.

There is much more to learn and know if you are in an Adaptive Leadership situation. Leave a comment or connect with our team at (954) 557-0855 to discuss more.

Rob Peters is the founder and president of a non-profit church revitalization ministry called Corpus. You can learn more by visiting the website at