Natural Church Development and Process

Allow ‘. . . yourself to win by following the process rather than being caught up in outcomes.’ (‘Legacy,’ What the All Blacks can teach us, p.105, James Kerr). This may have been written about the ‘business’ of life but it applies equally well to the church!

Is this what our church is like?
Do we know what outcomes our church is looking for?
Are we following a clear process to achieve those outcomes?

Natural Church Development says if we have a healthy church, growth (all kinds of growth – people, leaders, financial) will happen automatically – ‘all by itself’ (see the book by Christian Schwarz, ‘The All By Itself Pathway’).
The processes to follow in a church are those that result in a healthy church. That means we need to be aware of four things.

We need to know:
1     What a healthy church looks like (our goal)
2     Our church’s current state of health
3     What we need to do progress from where we are to where we want to be
4     We need to do it!

Number 1 informs us where we want to be, our destination.
Number 2 informs us where we are now. We cannot get anywhere without knowing where we are starting from!
Number 3 gives us the process we should follow to get from #2 to #1.
Number 4 is totally practical; we must follow the process.

The quotation from ‘Legacy’ continues: ‘. . . most organisations . . . tend to go for the one-off hits, which is unrealistic: a training session, an away day, an inspirational speech, but nothing continuous and progressive. Few focus on long-term development, on a programme of improvement.’

Natural Church Development and Principles

In his Empowerment Diary, entry #127, Christian Schwarz (Founder and Director of NCD International) said: “Today I had an interesting discussion about the question of why we focus so consistently (the person I spoke to called it, “fanatically”) on principles throughout all of our NCD tools (the criticism was, “Not practical enough!”).

The answer is simple:

Principles are valid whether you believe in them or not. They will influence your life, even if you should decide to reject them. They apply regardless of your theological bent, your philosophy of ministry, or your favourite church model. And they even apply should you decide not to utilize them. In other words, whenever we are dealing with provable principles (rather than mere models or inspirational examples), we are on solid ground. Once we have identified the principles (which in our case works in a blend of empirical research and biblical/theological evaluation), the second step is to apply them to complex realities of an individual church – the core of any Mutual Empowerment Process.”

Stephen Covey (7 Habits) says: “I do not agree with the popular success literature that says self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind-set, of attitude – that you can psyche yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.”

One such principle (and how they work) is referred to in a paper published at Harvard Business School where Michael C. Jensen, Werner Erhard and Steve Saffron explore the relationship between integrity and performance. Of integrity, they say: “Like the law of gravity, the law (principle) of integrity just is, and if you violate the law of integrity . . . you get hurt just as if you try to violate the law of gravity with no safety device.” (‘Legacy’ James Kerr, page 127)

Integrity is one of the principles that is unchanging and unchangeable. No one can ignore or ‘break’ the integrity principle without being seriously damaged themselves.

And integrity is just one of them!

People may accomplish remarkable things while ignoring these principles, but their work will prove unsustainable in the long run.

Natural Church Development: A Question

Why are only 30 people required to fill in questionnaires in order to complete the Natural Church Development church healthy survey?

Why don’t we survey the whole church? Wouldn’t that be more accurate? And what if the church has 300 members? Or even 3000 members? Do we still need just 30 to obtain an accurate health assessment?

NCD International says we need just 30 people; but those 30 should meet certain requirements:

(1) They should have a ministry of some kind in the church, even if just a small one.

(2) They should be a member of a small group. Christian Schwarz defines a small group as a ‘group that is small!’ That is, a small group is a prayer or Bible study group, the music or worship team, the choir, the leadership team, the pastoral care team, the fund-raising task force, the men’s or women’s group, or any committee. A small group is a few people in the church who meet on a regular basis. And after these two criteria:

(3) They should be representative of the demographics of the church.

By means of this survey we are trying to assess the ‘spiritual’ health of the most influential people in the church; we want to discover their thinking (head); their behaviour (hands); and their feelings (heart) with regard to their relationship to God through our church.

If there are people who are not in a small group, who do not have a ministry, should they be included simple because they are influential? The answer is no! If they are that influential they will influence those who do meet the criteria. Disconnected from formal church involvement, even though people of influence, such members will be unable to give answers to questions relating to ministry or small groups.

The survey is not designed to capture to opinions of fringe people. A glance at some of the questions would confirm this; they would not know how to answer.. We want to know how the most influential people in the church perceive such matters as: Do the pastors have too much work today? When it comes to ministry, do the people who serve fit; or are they like square pegs in round holes? We do not want the absolute truth on these matters; only God knows that. We want to know how the responsible people in the church perceive it; because for we human beings, perception is the reality.

And just in case you still think we should survey the whole church, think in terms of a blood test (this is, after all, a church health survey). You do not have to give all your blood. The medical experts can glean a great deal of information from just a small sample.

Natural Church Development: Overworked Leaders

When pastors and church leaders are asked if they would like to consider ‘doing NCD,’ they often respond they just don’t have the time for anything more. They are already stretched to the limit. ‘One more thing’ may be the last straw for them and their team. Whenever I hear this, I think of the comment made by a school principal:

“This is not ‘one more thing’ we have to do. This is a better way of doing what we already do!”

He was referring to the principle-based approach to education as demonstrated by a school named A.B. Coombs (see the website for videos of some of those schools http://www.TheLeaderInMeBook.org).

These principles were not invented by Christian A Schwarz (Founder and Director of NCD International), Stephen Covey or James Collins or any other human being. They are largely common sense. All cultures have discovered them – and then forgotten them, and either disappeared or deteriorated. They apply to all human institutions, including schools, governments, family and the church.

Identifying and incorporating these principles is the very best way of journeying through life and building something sustainable. We are governed by these principles even when we are unconscious of them or do not even know they exist. They apply to all of life just as the law of gravity affects us physically.

Natural Church Development, the principle-based approach to church life, is happening in your church even as you read this. It can help greatly when church leaders know these principles and actively co-operate with them. What are they? Such things as Empowerment, Gift-activation, Passion, Effectiveness, Inspiration, Community, Need-relief and Love.

The question is: Which one requires your attention in your church or organisation right now? What happens if you neglect that critical issue (think about these questions in terms of your own health)?

What is stopping you from taking steps to identify church health issues right now?

Natural Church Development: Effective Structures

In his book, ‘The 8th Habit,’ Stephen Covey reported

“People today are expected to produce more for less in a terribly complex world, yet they are simply not allowed to use a significant portion of their talents and intelligence. In no way is this pain more clearly or practically manifest in organisations than in their inability to focus on and execute their highest priorities.

A poll of 23,000 workers in key areas of industry, by Harris International, found:

Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.

Only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals.

Only 1 in 5 workers said they have a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.

Only half were satisfied with the work they have accomplished at the end of the week.

Only 1 5 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.

Only 1 5 percent felt they worked in a high-trust environment.

Only 17 percent felt their organization fosters open communication that is respectful of differing opinions and that results in new and better ideas.

Only 10 percent felt that their organization holds people accountable for results.

Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.

Only 1 3 percent have high-trust, highly cooperative working relationships with other groups or departments.

If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only four of the eleven players on the field would know which goal is theirs.

Only two of the eleven would care.

Only two of the eleven would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do.

And all but two players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent.

The data is sobering. It matches my own experience with people in organizations of every kind all around the world. Despite all our gains in technology, product innovation and world markets, most people are not thriving in the organizations they work for. They are neither fulfilled nor excited. They are frustrated. They are not clear about where the organization is headed or what its highest priorities are. They are bogged down and distracted. Most of all, they don’t feel they can change much. Can you imagine the personal and organizational cost of failing to fully engage the passion, talent and intelligence of the workforce?

It is far greater than all taxes, interest charges and labour costs put together!” (End quote)

There is something special about the church; yet it is still an organisation administered by fallible human beings. It is likely similar research would produce a very similar result. Might this be one of the contributing factors as to why, in spite of every effort we are making, and even with the blessing of God, most churches are not making much headway in the western world today?

Natural Church Development can help us find out a great deal about our own church; and can also help to improve matters – if we care to address what we discover. At least we would all know what our goals were!

Natural Church Development: The Importance of Regular Checks

Over recent months a number of churches have completed NCD surveys where there has been a 2-6 year gap since the last church health check-up. In each of these health has deteriorated quite markedly.
Perhaps the reason for this can be explained by something Stephen Covey said in his book, ‘First Things First’:
“Much of our pain in life comes from the sense that we are succeeding in one role at the expense of other, possibly more important roles.” (p.82)
If we do not focus intentionally on addressing our Minimum Factor-related issues (and they will be things we find most difficult to engage with) we will drift into working with those aspects of church life we enjoy most, areas that do not presently require so much attention, and we will neglect vital qualities that need to be attended to at this point in our history.

Of course, had those churches completed a church health check-up annually, the downwards drift would have been detected sooner and, hopefully, addressed sooner.

Natural Church Development Principles (Energy Transformation) and the Bible

A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. (Proverbs 14:1 (NLT))

I would suggest the wise woman knows just what she is doing and is intentionally engaged in building her home, while the foolish woman may think she is doing what is right and actually be working against herself.

She cannot understand why everything she does seems to turn out wrong. She does not discern any appreciable difference between herself and the wise woman next door. The only difference she can see is in the outcomes; for her, things are falling apart.

If she is a real fool, and not just someone who is behaving foolishly, she will never be able to trace the disintegration of her family back to her own foolishness. She does not realize that she must begin by working on herself; after that, many other things she has tried so hard to do will begin to fall into place.

That does not mean they will not require effort; they will.

No matter how much she tried before, it seemed impossible to build her home; now she has corrected herself, that which was impossible before now becomes possible with a little effort; or maybe a lot of effort.

The principle of Energy Transformation is at work here. When we look at the Preacher’s comments about what constitutes foolish behavior, together with its Fruitfulness (with the foolish woman, negative, but with the wise woman, positive), we may understand why this woman is tearing her family apart.

This principle applies to both men and women; and it makes no difference what they are engaged in building: a business, a family, a life, a church – we receive back what we put in!

Natural Church Development Principles

Some people might be interested to know just how many New Zealand churches are involved with NCD. I am not being flippant or smart when I respond: 100%. Yes. That’s correct. All New Zealand churches are involved with the principles of Natural Church Development, whether they are aware of it or not. So how can that be?
It is because NCD does not concern itself with programs; if the church is not healthy, programs run by that church will not be healthy either.
Neither does NCD promote the idea of model churches (or programs); the ‘model’ church implies that ‘one size fits all’ when the reality is every church is unique.
The main reason we believe every church (and organisation for that matter) is affected, is that central to the NCD thesis is the idea that everything – including the church – is governed by principles.
Stephen Covey said. ““The principles I am referring to are the basic universal principles that pertain to all human relationships and organisations, for instance fairness, justice, honesty, integrity, trust. They are self-evident, self-validating. These principles are like natural laws that operate regardless of whether we decide to obey them or not. I call them ‘true north’ principles because they don’t shift. They are always there, always reliable, like the ‘true north’ on a compass. And they provide us with rock-solid direction in our lives and in our organisations.
They are also principles that no one argues with. Everyone buys into them. There is a universal common sense about them.” (‘Rethinking the Future,’ Covey, p.36)
That is why we say, no church can avoid being connected with the core of Natural Church Development principles. For these principles are active and affecting everything we do, even if we try to ignore them.

“The All By Itself Pathway” by Christian Schwarz

all by itself

  • How can your church grow in quality and quantity regardless of unfavorable trends in society?
  • How can you have the greatest impact on your church regardless of your level of responsibility?
  • How can you maximize your fruitfulness in all areas of life regardless of your present starting point?

The All By Itself Pathway invites you into a 90-minute encounter with Christian Schwarz, the founder and head of Natural Church Development (NCD).  Christian will reduce the discoveries of two decades of research in tens of thousands of churches to a handful of personal steps. While countless churches have implemented individual aspects of Natural Church Development, the majority have yet to discover the strategic key that Christian calls the All By Itself Pathway—
consistently living in line with the unique gifts, energies, and resources that God has already granted you and your church.

In this little book, Christian will explain (among other things). . .
How Natural Church Development leads every movement back to its roots!

The All By Itself Pathway eBook is now available online at:

Why I like Natural Church Development!

Because it majors on the majors!
When church leaders examine the results of the NCD church survey they will always find change of some sort is advocated; but those leaders, if they read the result correctly, will never be allowed to forget the essentials.
So often church leaders are aware their church needs to change if it is to meet the needs of a 21st century disciple. What is not so easy to discern is the answer to the question: Exactly what needs to change?
In many instances leaders have managed to make their churches even more toxic by ignoring, or even omitting, one or more of the essentials. Or perhaps they have given attention to an essential, but it is the wrong essential for their church at this point in its history.
When the NCD church survey result is taken seriously it will not allow church leaders to make that mistake. The eight Quality Characteristics of a church are like the vital organs of a human being. You cannot leave them out. You may not ignore them.
There are leaders who are tired of ‘business as usual’ in their church, and rightfully so. They want to start something new and radical and effective. Natural Church Development says, ‘Be as radical as you and your people want; but do not ignore the essentials; make sure you major on the majors; do not overlook any one of the eight!’