What is Natural Church Development?
Natural Church Development is a way of understanding church health and growth that views the church as a living organism. The focus is not on numerical growth, but on improving the health of the church, with the understanding–impressively documented by research–that when a church is sufficiently healthy, numerical growth will follow. These concepts are explained in the book Natural Church Development by Christian A. Schwarz.
The Natural Church Development survey measures the health of a local church in eight areas that have been found to be essential to healthy church growth. Developed by the Institute of Natural Church Development in Germany, this survey grows out of what was probably the most extensive study of church growth ever conducted, involving over 1000 churches in 32 countries on every continent except Antarctica. This study revealed a clear positive correlation between these eight Quality Characteristics and church growth.
Living Stones Associates has used the NCD survey as part of every major consultation we have done since the survey became available in English in 1998. We have found it to be an increasingly valuable tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses in a church's health, and an important contributing factor for developing our ministry recommendations.
We do not use a church's NCD scores in a vacuum, but in the context of an extensive written self-study compiled by the church and personal conversations with church staff and other ministry leaders.
THE NATURAL CHURCH DEVELOPMENT SURVEY
What does it measure?
The Natural Church Development survey measures the church's relative health in eight areas that have been demonstrated to have a clear correlation with healthy church growth known as Quality Characteristics.
The survey consists of about 80 questions to be answered by 30 church members who are active in ministry, involved in some kind of small group life, and who are considered by the pastor to be at the center of church life, plus a questionnaire to be filled out by the senior pastor. This data is computer scored to generate scores for each of the eight quality characteristics showing how much above or below the national norms the church's scores are in each of the eight Quality Characteristics.
The Eight Essential Quality Characteristics
· Empowering Leadership. Leaders of growing churches concentrate on empowering other Christians for ministry. They do not use lay workers as "helpers" in attaining their own goals and fulfilling their own visions.
What is measured:To what extent is the ministry of the leaders focusing on equipping other Christians to serve?
· Gift-Based Ministry. When Christians serve in their area of their spiritual gifts, they generally function less in their own strength and more in the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus ordinary people can accomplish the extraordinary.
What is measured:To what extent are the tasks in our church distributed according to the spiritual gifts of individual Christians?
· Passionate Spirituality. The NCD research indicated clearly that church development is dependent neither on spiritual persuasions (such as charismatic or noncharismatic) nor on specific spiritual practices (such as liturgical prayers or spiritual warfare, etc.). The point separating growing and non-growing churches is a different one: "Are the Christians in this church on fire? Do they live committed lives and practice their faith with joy and enthusiasm?
What is measured:To what extent is the spiritual life of our members characterized by prayer, enthusiasm, and boldness?
· Effective Structures. The NCD research confirmed an extremely negative relationship between traditionalism and both growth and quality within the church. Leaders in healthy churches continually evaluate to what extent church structures improve the self-organization of the church. Elements not meeting this standard (such as discouraging leadership structures, inconvenient worship service times, demotivating financial concepts) are changed or eliminated.
What is measured:To what extent do our decision-making processes, operating procedures (official and unofficial), and board and committee structures facilitate rather than hinder the fulfillment of our church's mission?
· Inspiring Worship Service. The NCD research revealed that services may target Christians or non-Christians, their style may be liturgical or free, their language may be "churchy" or "secular"–it makes no difference for church growth. What does matter is whether worshipers feel that they have encountered God during the worship service.
What is measured:To what extent is attending our worship service an inspiring experience?
· Holistic Small Groups. The NCD research documented that multiplication of small groups is a universal church growth principle. It also showed that for these groups to have a positive effect on both quality and numerical growth within a church, they must be holistic–they must go beyond just discussing Bible passages to applying it to daily life. In these groups people can safely share personal life concerns and learn to serve others, both inside and outside the group, with their spiritual gifts.
What is measured:To what extent do our small groups meet the real life needs of members in a holistic way?
· Need-Oriented Evangelism. They key to church growth is for the local congregation to focus its evangelistic efforts on the questions and needs of non-Christians. This "need-oriented" approach is different from "manipulative programs" where pressure on non-Christians must compensate for the lack of need-orientation.
What is measured:To what extent are the forms and contents of the evangelistic activities related to the needs of those you are trying to reach?
· Loving Relationships. NCD research shows that growing churches possess on the average a measurably higher "love quotient" than stagnant or declining ones. Genuine, practical love has a magnetic power far more effective than evangelistic programs that depend mostly on verbal communication.
What is measured: To what extent are the relationships of the members of this church characterized by a high degree of love and affection?
Developing and implementing your Action Plan
A Church Health Team that is charged with developing and overseeing the implementation of a ministry plan designed to strengthen the church's NCD Minimum Factor(s) will be established. Identifying the core issues that contribute to the Minimum Factor being the church's area in need of greatest improvement will be one of its major focuses. Developing an Action Plan consisting of two to five specific actions will then be implemented within the next twelve months to strengthen the Minimum Factor, will follow. The Church Health Team is not responsible to do the implementation, but to determine what action needs to be taken, by whom, and by what time. The Church Health Team then makes these assignments and provides accountability for the tasks being implemented on time.
The Church Health Team's role is one of strategic planning, advising, and providing accountability. The Church Health Team does not assume any responsibilities that are reserved to the church's governing board. For example, if a recommendation involves hiring a staff member, the Church Health Team can recommend, but the governing board will need to decide whether to act on the recommendation.