How NCD can help your church: Principles

Natural Church Development has the potential to take a church from copying ‘Model’ churches to co-operating with God’s unchanging and unchangeable principles: 

When we look at another church as a ‘model’ we imitate what they are doing (This may be fine; and it may also be like taking someone else’s prescription medicine!). But with principles we can look at different churches from any location on the planet. We abstract those things that work in any culture and in any place: Principles. We ignore the local characteristics and flavour….the practices. We know that the principles have application to all other churches in general and to our specific church situation in particular. The Principles inform us “How” the Natural Church Development process should be engaged. 

One of the goals of Natural Church Development is to have pastors and people think principle.

 Christian Schwarz defines what is meant by ‘principle.’

  • Principles are universally valid. They apply to all denominations, to all church models, to all devotional styles, and to all cultures.
  • Principles must be proven. Some so-called principles are more properly ‘interesting concepts that are worth considering.’ The only way to know if something is a principle is to find out if it works in all cultures and settings.
  • Principles always deal with what is essential. Principles do not deal with cosmetic issues or secondary aspects of the Christian life. Therefore we may expect to find these principles also described in the Bible, even if we use different language and terms.
  • Principles always have to be individualized. They never tell you exactly what to do. Rather, they give you criteria which can help you discover what should be done in a given situation.

“Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile. While we do control our choice of action, we cannot control the consequences of our choices. Universal laws or principles do. Thus, we are not in control of our lives; principles are. We live in a modern society that loves shortcut techniques. Yet quality of life cannot be achieved by taking the right shortcut. There is no shortcut. But there is a path. The path is based on principles revered throughout history. If there is one message to glean from this wisdom, it is that a meaningful life is not a matter of speed or efficiency. It’s much more a matter of what you do and why you do it, than how fast you get it done.” (Stephen Covey, ‘First Things First”)

How NCD can help your church: Closing the Back Door

Natural Church Development has the potential to Give some Significant Clues about the Church’s ‘Back Door’ that needs to be Closed

NCD tells us that every church is unique, every church is different. Therefore every church has a different ‘back door.’


In the church above, the ‘back door’ has something to do with the area of Holistic Small Groups. We do not have to worry about planning to improve any other aspect of church life, except as it may impact HSG. This particular aspect of NCD is of special interest and value to small churches with limited resources.

As we plan to close our back door, we must also keep in the mind the fact that the survey measures the adjective. Increasing the number of small groups may be of no help whatever. Improving the quality of the groups we have is more likely to address our health issues. This is the Basic Profile.

With the detailed information now available from the NCD survey, we can become even more specific as we address church ‘back door’ problems. For example, seeing the church in terms of fellowship, service and faith is one of the longest standing ways of defining the essentials of church life. Based on your church’s NCD survey responses, the diagram below indicates which of these aspects are more or less emphasized in your church right now and therefore which one comes more naturally in church life and which does not.


NCD research strongly indicates that balance across these three areas is one of the essential keys to long-term sustainable healthy church growth.

The solid yellow line is our church now; the dotted yellow line is where we were at the previous survey; the other dotted line is a balanced church. So the task of leaders is to help the people increase their faith.

Receiving this information doesn’t make the work any easier to close the back door; it simply identifies the area where the back door is. And that is always helpful.

Now NCD can help your church: Minimum Factor ID

Natural Church Development has the potential to Identify the Church’s Weaknesses, Obstacles, Opportunities:

How can knowing our weaknesses be of value to us?

If the NCD survey really is a health test for a church, the Minimum Factor is not simply ‘a weakness’ that we can ignore while we concentrate on ‘playing to our strengths!’ It is difficult—in some cases, impossible—to continue achieving our purpose as a church when we as a church are unwell. Instead, it becomes very important that we give attention to addressing our ’weakness’ in order to become healthy or whole. When we look at what the NCD survey actually measures, we become aware of the inadequacy of ignoring the Minimum Factor and simply   concentrating on our Maximum Factor.


The barrel illustration (above) portrays exactly how such activity totally fails to help. When we focus on the Maximum Factor (the longest stave) and seek to do it even better (make it longer), the church is not helped to advance the mission (the barrel fails to hold any more water. It is only when we identify the specific health issues in our church and take definite steps designed to address them that we may expect, with some degree of confidence the blessing of our God. When we know our weakness and our strengths (as the NCD survey result reveals), we can find ways of using the strengths to address our weakness. When personal health is under fire, our body has mechanisms that automatically send strong healthy cells to fight whatever is threatening. Unfortunately, in these days, the church does not do this automatically; so leaders must have appropriate information to intentionally and deliberately address such issues.

How NCD can help your church: Strengths Identification

Natural Church Development has the potential to Identify the Church’s Strengths!

Some criticize Natural Church Development – even reject it – because of the focus on the Minimum Factor or weakness. They believe we should always focus on our strengths. But a little thought will reveal there are times when we should play to our strengths, and other times when we must give attention to our weakness.

For example, when it comes to spiritual gifts we play to our strengths, but with the fruit of the Spirit we seek to strengthen our weakness.

When we visit the doctor he/she is looking for, even concentrating on, areas of weakness/damage/infection. The doctor is not really that interested in your good knee. When it comes to health, we are all minimum factor people; and the same may well apply to your church.

So why is it helpful to know your church’s strengths?

Consider the human body again: When you are sick your body automatically applies your strengths to compensate for, even heal, your illness. A church, unlike the human body, does not generally address its weakness (sickness) intuitively or automatically – unless it is an exceptional church! Let’s face it. Most churches don’t even know their weaknesses that need to be addressed. Nor do they know the strength they have that may be applied in healing those places that are weak.

Churches need an intentional strategy to use their strengths to improve their health.

In a church where Inspiring Worship Service is the Minimum Factor (weakness, sickness) and Holistic Small Groups the Maximum Factor (strength, area of good health), leaders should address the question:

How can our church use Holistic Small Groups to improve Inspiring Worship Service?

Another message of good news from NCD is this: Every church has its strengths; no matter how sick a church may be; no matter how small the church; no matter how unfriendly the church’s environment……every church has strengths to celebrate…….and the NCD survey can be extremely useful in helping us discern the strengths in our church that we should celebrate and use.

“Let us speak, thought we should all our faults and weaknesses – for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it.” Herman Melville

How NCD can help your church: Right Choices!

Natural Church Development has the potential to Assist Leaders to Make Decisions that will Help their Church and not Hurt it!

Is it possible for leaders, doing something good, to unknowingly damage their church? That’s a big question. What leader would want to harm their church? But some—maybe many—are unwittingly making their own church sick! When leaders pour resources into the wrong area FOR THEIR CHURCH, they run the risk of doing serious damage (my personal conviction is that most churches in New Zealand are in this state and have been for some time)! Why are the many good things promoted by leaders so ineffective? They are doing good things, but the timing is wrong. What happens when we do the right thing at the wrong time? It is counter-productive. It works against us, that’s what happens!

Consider: Why do leaders use a given programme in their church? Why do they pursue any given course of ministry? There are a number of reasons. The course of action was advertised at a conference; or a pastor friend used it with some success; or they came across it on the internet and it looked to be exactly what they wanted.

I suggest these are not good reasons for embracing any course of action in a church.

But isn’t the indiscriminate use of NCD falling into the trap of possibly doing the right thing at the wrong time? Christian Schwarz says there is just one time the NCD survey should not be used; and that is when there is division in the church. In such a situation the first requirement is reconciliation.

Furthermore, NCD should be considered in terms of process, not programme; we must think principle, not programme; we think health and allow growth to take care of itself.

NCD can prevent such a situation from happening by simply identifying the area that should be addressed at this point in the church’s history.

We go to the doctor. The doctor runs some tests, asks some questions, and may then give us a prescription which is specific to us. We are warned against taking other people’s prescription medicine, yet churches do this all the time. Using the NCD survey is like taking your church to the doctor for a medical check-up. The survey result will give you a very accurate diagnosis of the health of your church.

Prescriptive planning just became easier.

How NCD can help your church: Resourcing!

Natural Church Development has the potential to Channel Limited Resources to where they will be Most Effective

Church leaders usually want more! They want more people, leaders, money, space, time, training; church leaders want all these things, but they usually want less work! Natural Church Development can help in all of these areas simply by channelling limited resources to where they will be most effective!

Too often church is like this diagram:


Very often the work is done by a few overworked and exhausted people, while the rest seem to be along for the ride! The good news is that a church does not have to do everything all at once in order to become healthy. If you address the right thing, the Minimum Factor, you will find God has given your church all it needs to do His will.