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Life Stages of the Christian School

Nonprofit organizations, according to Judith Sharkin Simon, go through typically five stages of development. Christian schools are no different. These stages should be of great importance to leaders so they can better recognize the trajectory of their school.

To help us remember the stages, Simon has developed short, two-word titles that set the primary tone or activity an organization faces in that period of its development. Here are the stages with brief descriptions of their challenges and opportunities as taken directly from her book, The 5 Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations. STAGE ONE: Imagine and Inspire This is the vision or idea stage, where the organization is not yet formalized and where imagination and inspiration abound. The primary question at this stage is, “Can this dream be realized?” This stage is characterized by lots of enthusiasm, energy, and creativity, but at this point, the organization is merely a dream of a better world that is inspirational and worth striving for. STAGE TWO: Found and Frame This is the start-up phase of the organization when it receives its official nonprofit status and all the activities of founding and framing an organization occur. The key question at this stage is “How are we going to pull this off?” Just as Stage One, this is a stage that is characterized by excitement and high levels of interest by many people, accompanied by the fear that formalizing the dream may result in the loss of its magic; the act of incorporating that formally established the organization. STAGE THREE: Ground and Grow In this stage, the organization is concerned with building its foundation by grounding its activities and growing the business. The overriding question is “How can we build this to be viable?” Organizations in this stage are focused on establishing systems of accountability; however, the need for growth on multiple fronts may be overwhelming to those running the organization. The Ground and Grow stage can have a mundane feel of “taking care of business,” but it also brings with it many possibilities as new opportunities and challenges evolve. STAGE FOUR: Produce and Sustain This is the mature phase of the organization’s life when production is at its peak and sustaining the organization is a high priority. The primary concern is, “How can the momentum be sustained?” The organization is very stable, yet that same stability may make it stale as concerns for procedure slow creativity and growth. Stage Four is a productive place that, at its peak, feels like an automatic pilot. Staff and Board are doing their work effectively and enthusiastically.

STAGE FIVE: Review and Renew In this stage, the organization is reinventing itself in some way, shape, or form through a process of review and renewal. The primary question is “What do we need to redesign?” It can be a time of large or small, exciting or stressful, but always necessary change. Mature nonprofits revisit one or more aspects of their organization—mission, vision, products, services, structure—sometimes changing them drastically, sometimes only tweaking them, as they rediscover who they are and how they fit with the changing world. The organization may revert to a previous stage depending on how much is changed. For example, if you revamp an organization’s primary mission, it may find itself back in Stage Two, while minor alterations in organizational structure may mean revisiting Stage Four. Decline and Dissolution Sometimes it happens -- an organization is forced or chooses to shut its doors. In this model, Decline and Dissolution are not thought of as inevitable stages, but a route that an organization can choose at any stage of development for a variety of reasons. Eight Assumptions that Drive the Life Stages

  1. Organizations are generally moving forward and the path and pace of the movement are generally predictable.

  2. Organizations are multidimensional and various dimensions interact to create a pattern for a particular life stage.

  3. Five factors influence where an organization is at in its life cycle: age, size, the growth rate of its field, social environment, and its primary leader’s characteristics.

  4. Significant events occur at each stage, and these are necessary to move an organization forward in its development.

  5. There is no predictable endpoint in organizational life.

  6. There are distinct stages of an organization’s life, but the boundaries between the stages are not always obvious.

  7. Each stage can be defined by dominant characteristics.

  8. Each stage is uniquely valuable to the organization's positive development.

So, where are you today as a Christian school? Can you identify yourself in one of the five stages Sharkin Simon mentions above? While many young Christian schools want to shoot out of the gates on fire as the "best brand of Christian schooling ever seen," it is not possible.

No Cutting in Line!

There might be nothing worse than a Christian school that perceives itself as "great" when in fact they are not all the "good" in the eyes of others.

Listen up. There are no shortcuts to excellence. Be methodical, fastidious, and highly focused on calculated improvement and growth. Learn from others, ask questions, seek advice, gather input, and resist any temptation to have a "know-it-all" attitude. That can happen pretty quickly. Even seasoned Christian schools work diligently, year in and year out to better themselves by identifying their missteps and shortcomings. Learn from the best. Find out what they have done to grow, accomplish a great feat, etc., and make plans for how you could do the same thing.

Authored by Clint Holden, M.A.

© by SchoolRIGHT, LLC., unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.​


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