Actually, it’s quite unlikely that anyone will actually tell you that, at least not in a timely manner. In truth, we don’t usually realize that we’ve plateaued in our careers, our personal growth, our marriages, or in the ministries we lead until signs of the more dreaded “decline” are in evidence.
To plateau is to “reach a state of little or no change after a time of activity or progress.” It’s when growth has stopped and isn’t going to restart on its own—a moment we typically don’t discern until we’ve been stuck for a while. For example, think about when you realized that you had stopped growing taller. For me, that was around 69 inches and it happened when I was 19, but something inside me was convinced I would still grow a bit more. After all, I had added 9 inches in the previous two years so there was every reason for me to believe (and hope) that greater “heights” were ahead. Even now, at 57, I’m hoping…but 38 years of evidence is starting to convince me that I’ve plateaued. (Yes, that’s what denial sounds like—and I’ve heard from others that some decline may be yet ahead).
When you’re leading any type of organization, including a church, signs of plateau aren’t easily discerned. We have our own forms of denial that block our view of reality—thoughts like next Sunday will surely be better…next month’s sales report will likely reveal what this month’s report didn’t… next season’s team will be better if we all just try a bit harder… But that’s not how a plateau works.
Having worked with churches and organizations for a lot of years, I’ve often wished we could discern plateau more quickly. If we just knew sooner that we needed to do something like refresh vision, develop new strategies, target new horizons, or awaken our values. Sadly, such knowledge doesn’t come in good timing, choosing to wait until the cement of a plateau has hardened around our feet.
Likely the biggest culprit in this ability to see we’re stuck is DENIAL. We want to think we are still in growth mode, not that the vision which once propelled us has now lost its steam. We want to believe that our renewed commitment to do what we’ve always known to do has some new results just waiting to emerge. After all, our current wisdom brought us this far. Finding new wisdom isn’t easy and chasing new direction can be risky—especially if we don’t have to…yet. So we hope for that better day to rise from the midst of our current day, and only when the days actually start getting worse do we confront the pain of seeing that something must change.
Recently I’ve been reflecting on plateaued organizations and on the indicators that might help a diligent leader to discover such a current condition. Though we don’t want to think we’re at that place, there are some organizational indicators that offer us the “heads up” we need to get started on solutions. These are the realities of plateaued organizations that many leaders and teams just get used to, not realizing the greater warning lights they’re trying to trigger.
A number of years ago, a comedian rocketed to career fame by suggesting that if certain elements were present in your life, “redneck” might be a label you’re wearing. Well, a list of signs that you or your organization might be plateaued won’t be as funny (or career-defining for me). But maybe that list could help you see what you’re not seeing or give you reason to face what you might be denying.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing these indicators of plateau. At the moment there’s nearly a dozen of them, and they’ll relate regardless of the organization you lead. Most days, my vantage point comes from the world of the local church, but anything you lead, large or small, must confront the evidences of plateau. I am convinced that knowing these signs will help you gain both a better understanding of how organizations and churches work and what it looks like when things aren’t really working as well as we want to believe.