I first met Steve Addison a decade or so ago when a couple of friends and I were in the early stages of church planting. What struck us most was Steve’s humility and his wise, generous advice to a bunch of rookies starting out. It was a breath of fresh air.
Ten years later, Steve’s latest book The Rise and Fall of Movements: A Roadmap for Leaders, reflects that fresh approach we first experienced.
The Rise and Fall of Movements takes the lifecycle we are familiar with in church leadership – Birth through to Rebirth and overlays it onto missional movements, showing how and why they rise, and just as importantly, how and why they fall.
Steve’s conviction is that the centrifugal force of the gospel of Jesus compels the church to be a movement that, once it stops, solidifies and settles, is in constant danger of falling into the downward trajectory of the life cycle. And it takes a work of God among the people of God to ensure that this is avoided.
Yet it’s no scold. It begins with Steve’s own personal journey and his honest account of how even in his church planting successes decades ago, he came to the realisation how without God’s power this thing could go south pretty quickly! He points to the moment he asked himself if the risk of moving beyond what he was already doing was worth it:
“What do I have left? I have Jesus who died for me and rose from the dead. I have the unconditional love of God for all eternity.” Then I thought, “Ok, if that’s the deal, I’ll take it.”
If you’re familiar with Steve’s first book Movements that Changed the World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel, this is the follow up that explores the all too familiar pattern of crash and burn that has accompanied many a self-proclaimed movement. particularly in evangelical church planting in recent years.
Steve has spent more time than just about anyone in church planting exploring the history and patterns of movements; why they rise, why they fall and what we can learn. And we get the distillation of that well spent time in this book.
Steve’ hard work means the format of the book is simple and it’s a clear read. And it’s grounded in the big Scripture story of Creation to New Creation, following God’s plan to save a people through his Son through the witness of a people.
Movements are propelled by discipleship multiplication, and clearly the church is no exception. Steve is not anti-institutional, indeed many of the examples show how many historical institutions were built that propelled mission. But the warning is also there: What rises into institution, falls through institutionalism. Wesleyanism anyone?
Beginning with the premise that movements are grounded in Identity (Word, Spirit, Mission) and Strategy (Pioneering Leaders, Contagious Relationships, Rapid Mobilisation, Adaptive Methods), Steve explores each stage of the life cycle, where the pressure points are, and how to keep a movement from collapsing in on itself.
It’s refreshing too to see Steve’s solid commitment to a definition of mission as evangel – speaking the good new about Jesus. He decries the “missional fog” in which mission is reduced to sociological and justice terms, that are the fruit of mission, but not the mission itself. Indeed he contends that one of the marks of a movement in decline is that it shifts from proclamation as its primary task.
Steve first explores the characteristics of movements in general and what makes them rise and fall, then the following chapters unpack the stages: Birth, Growth, Maturity, Decline, Decay, Rebirth. We see the pattern in all sorts of movements not merely church. But church movements are not exempt – and that’s Steve’s point – let’s not presume.
Each chapter provides examples from history of leaders dealing with the particular stresses of each stage, how they mobilise their talents to keep the movement moving, and the risks they face which could kill the movement off.
Steve’s central premise that the gospel movement is always pushing outward, and you either go with God’s Spirit and the rising movement it inspires, or you settle down, and fall inevitably comes.
The encouragement is the subtitle: It’s a roadmap for leaders. Unlike so many of the books on missional church over the past two decades, “burn it all down and start again” isn’t on Steve’s agenda. Indeed the final chapters, a case study of the NoPlaceLeft movement, shows how large established churches can aid and abet movements. All they need is the gospel incentive to encourage their people into disciple-making practices. That’s “all” (insert smiling emoji here).
Ten years into our church plant, Steve’s argument is compelling. As a church we are in constant discussion about how to avoid the decline that comes from minding our patch, and failing to see the bigger gospel harvest. It’s easy to “get busy” and to do so even as we reach the top of the life cycle.
Yet it’s less a case of reinventing ourselves, and more a case of refreshing ourselves in the gospel, identifying the nooks and crannies where the gospel needs to get into, and then asking God to help us go there.
One minor query – and I will ask it of Steve when I next see him – is rapid mobilisation as rapid as his book suggests? Movements do grow through rapidity, but my own experience of church planting is that there is some long, slow hard work involved in getting something established that will last. And the past decade has seen rapidity crash and burn as much as it has seen it take off. I am always wary of a body count in church planting.
I think Steve answers this at one level when he talks of how bigger churches can foster movements without disseminating their centres, and I look forward to his impending visit to our now-decade-old church that is itself looking at our next plant. We’re convinced he’s right about the inevitable decline of a movement that looks inwards for its justification and downwards to structure and program for success, instead of outwards to the mission field and upwards to God.
The book finishes where Steve began it:
For as long as you live and serve the Lord, you must never tire of returning to your Identity – the Word, the Spirit, the Mission. Jesus began the movement. He still leads the way.
There’s a job to be done and you have a part to play.
What will you do next?
Yes indeed, what will you do next? Reading this book and exploring where your movement is on the lifecycle, and what to do about that, might be the answer to that question.