So many Principles

There are so many principles. How can a person be expected to take all of them into account?

The good news is it’s possible to cover all of them by living whole-heartedly by one of them.

Loving Relationships is a good example.

If we really love God and others (the great commandment), we will seek to empower our associates and fellow-disciples (Empower Leadership); we will be looking for ways to discover and develop their gifts and talents and engage them in their particular ministry (Gift-based Ministry); we will do this – and all things – enthusiastically, with passion (Passionate Spirituality); we will look for ways to be effective (Effective Structures); we will want to inspire them (Inspiring Worship Service); we will find ways and means – and people – to meet their needs (Need-oriented Evangelism); and we will seek to engage them holistically – head, hands and heart (Holistic Small Groups).

The same applies for any one of these quality characteristics. If we are truly to empower people, we must love them; we help them find out how God has wired them up by helping them discover and engage with their spiritual gifts; and so on through each of the eight quality characteristics of any church.

When it comes to the growth forces (also principles God has woven through His creation):

  • Interdependence
  • Multiplication
  • Energy transformation
  • Symbiosis
  • Sustainability
  • Fruitfulness

Naturally we will want them – all of the principles – to be working positively (not negatively) for ourselves, for God’s creation and kingdom and for all humanity. In other words we want to be working with these principles, not conflicting with them.

As Jesus said: ‘Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.’ (The Message)

How do we know if a quality is a principle or not?

Covey says a quick rule of thumb for testing if a quality is a universal, unchanging and unchangeable principle, we should try to imagine living in a world where the opposite is the rule and practice. For example, what would it be like working for a company (or being part of a family) where everyone wanted to control, rather than empower, each other? And what about being in a team (or a relationship) where nobody cared?

He says:

“Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. They are fundamental. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident. One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites. I doubt that anyone would seriously consider unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity or degeneration to be a solid foundation for lasting happiness and success.” (‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ page 35)

Christian Schwarz has a clear definition of the term, principle: “A principle-oriented approach to church development fulfils the following four criteria:

  1. Principles are universally valid. They don’t apply only to certain situations or specific circumstances. They apply to all denominations, to all church models, to all devotional styles, and to all cultures.
  2. Principles must be proven. Until we have clear empirical proof, we may be dealing with an interesting concept that is worth consideration, but we shouldn’t speak about it as a principle. There is only one way to find out whether or not a specific feature is a universal principle: research on a universal (worldwide) scale.
  3. Principles always deal with what is essential, never with secondary aspects of the Christian life. Therefore, we can expect to find the principles that influence our lives also described in the Bible, even if the terminology is different.
  4. Principles always have to be individualized. They never tell you exactly what to do. Rather, they give you criteria that enable you to discover what should be done in a given situation (‘Color Your World with Natural Church Development,’ page 19).

Jim Collins had just finished presenting to a group of internet executives when he was asked: “Will your finding continue to apply in the new economy? Don’t we need to throw out all the old ideas and start from scratch?”

Collins answered, “Yes, the world is changing, and will continue to do so. But that does not mean we should stop the search for timeless principles. Think of it this way: While the practices of engineering continually evolve and change, the laws of physics remain relatively fixed. I like to think of our work as a search for timeless principles – the enduring physics of great organisations – that will remain true and relevant no matter how the world changes around us. Yes, the specific application will change (the engineering), but certain immutable laws of organized human performance (the physics) will endure.”[1]

Which are those things that are timeless? They are the qualities we should pay attention to!

[1] “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, pp.14, 15

The NCD Process: Commitment

Why do church leaders do one or two or even more church health surveys, and then quit?

Why do they not commit to the process, and follow through to becoming a healthy church?

Perhaps the answer is hinted at, in part, in the front page of the NCD Story Guide (see picture):Story Guide

Notice how the results are set out. There is a column with common church Themes and another showing a list of the eight Quality Characteristics, in a different order than we may be accustomed to seeing them. Both of these columns run from strongest to weakest. The bold line in the centre has the caption at the top, ‘Comes more naturally to us,’ and at the bottom, ‘Comes less naturally to us.’

Changing a church culture in order to address weaknesses (read ‘health issues’) is no easy road. Changing oneself is difficult enough, yet that has to be the place where one begins.

There is no suggestion here that NCD is suggesting that we should ‘play to our weaknesses.’ When we think of ‘teams’ and ‘talents’ and ‘spiritual gifts’ each person must play to their strengths. They should focus on those things that ‘come more naturally’ to them; and the same applies to a church. When it comes to character issues, the fruit of the Spirit, or health, we cannot rely on others to compensate for our deficiency.

If the survey result reveals that a church’s strength (something that comes naturally to the church) is Need-oriented Evangelism, and church leaders are somewhat bemused at the lack of newcomers turning up, perhaps a closer look at those things that ‘come less easily to us’ – the Minimum Factors – might just give a clue. As will be very clear, Need-oriented Evangelism is never going to work as it should in the church represented by the diagram above without real attention being given to Loving Relationships. Jesus made that very clear.

Christian Schwarz (Founder and Director of NCD International) has demonstrated the eight Quality Characteristics to be interdependent. If one is weak, without appropriate attention being given to it, it will drag the others down. The church will continue to limp along (like an unhealthy person going about their business) only a fraction of what it could be, not measuring up to what God has in mind for it.

Perhaps church leaders are not committed to the NCD process of becoming healthy; they did a survey out of curiosity and they are finding the changes required to improve church health are just too difficult for them. So they have decided to ignore the survey result and go back to what they were doing before.

If your church fits into this category, let me encourage you to pick it up again; this time, really commit to the process. Follow through. Of course, if you do that you may have to lead the change that is required. As someone once said, “Be the change you want to see.”

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?

“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:

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”)