Deep Roots and the 9 Year Cycle

God is always speaking, and if you are paying attention, sometimes you will hear something.

Yesterday in Tucson, Arizona, a woman began telling me about her garden and how difficult it was to grow your own fruits and vegetables in the desert. She told me how it has taken years for her to train the roots of her trees to go down deep so they can withstand the harshness of the Arizona climate. Honestly, while she was speaking, I was thinking to myself, “Why is this woman telling me all this?” In the night I was up and began thinking about this conversation, and remembered words God had given us years ago about Belonging House. We were going to send down deep roots.

From the outside, a tree that is sending down deep roots often looks dormant. Slow growing trees like wysteria and some fruit trees may take 7, 10, or even 15 years before they bear fruit. These trees can hold up in places were the situation may not be ideal. On the other end of the spectrum are “hot house” flowers and plants. These plants grow quickly, and can be very pretty. I once worked for a florist, and discovered that some plants, like pointsettias, will almost immediately die if they get a blast of cold natural air. And I have seen this happen many times.

The same is true for business or ministry. An older business man once explained to me that businesses and investments that grow quickly often collapse as quickly as they grew.

I often reference an interview I saw with John Paul Jackson where he describes the “9 year cycle” that most Christian ministries go through. These entrepreneurial organizations have three years of growth in which they use public relations and advertising to reach an audience, and they begin to become successful. Once these ministries reach their greatest potential, they plateau. This plateau period usually lasts about 3 three years. At the end of this period I have noticed several things. First, the support team who caught the original vision gets burned out. Often the vision of the charismatic leader was built on the backs of some wonderful servants–and these servants were never allowed to rise up and be released. Second, the “gimmick” of the ministry doesn’t work. The gimmick might be the catch phrase that a speaker uses, the particular program, idea, or product you were promoting. It just doesn’t have the impact it once did. It might be tired, or people have moved on. And it begins to get harder and harder to pump up the leaky tire of self-promotion. In other words, that initial revelation that launched the ministry wasn’t followed up by ongoing growth and depth. The end of the plateau is the decline.

John Paul Jackson described this process as three years up, three years of plateau, and three years down. I have seen the “three years down” last anywhere from a very quick collapse caused by a scandal to a long slow death of as much as 25 years. But the average is three years. The signs of decline include seeing key members of a leadership team leave the organization, and leave badly. They will not be replaced. Another sign is an “air of desperation” in the organization’s communication–increased appeals for money as the budget shrinks, increased numbers of emails and mailings promoting events, and a willingness to compromise the original vision and mission of the ministry. And sometimes if the decline lasts a long time, there will be a “time-warpy” quality as the few hangers-on try to recapture the glory of what had been a genuine work of God.

The only way to avoid the cycle is to send down deep roots, listen to God, and do what He tells you.

I share all this because Belonging House is coming on it’s 10 year anniversary. In the past decade there have been at least 4 other ministries that have made our growth a little more difficult, and the leaders of those ministries all at different times let me know that I was doing it all wrong. I needed to get out there and start selling, I needed to raise more money, charge more for speaking, and even relocate to another part of the country. God didn’t tell us to do any of those things, so we kept our slow, small, low-budget, painful course. We have had 10 years of very slow growth. But it has been growth. Those other ministries–well, all of them except one are showing serious signs of decline. The one that is still growing has reinvented itself and changed it’s mission.

In January our team began to notice something different. Something has shifted–we are bearing fruit. A lot of fruit in terms of relationships, ministry doors opening, and testimonies of transformed lives. It took nine and a half years of training those roots and now we are experiencing the beginning of harvest. God has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.

If you are tempted to make it happen fast, step back and ask God what you should do. The slow road is the best for long term success.

Leave a Reply