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: 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: 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

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!’

Natural Church Development Principles and the Bible

Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers; don’t take the land of defenseless orphans. For their Redeemer is strong; he himself will bring their charges against you. (Proverbs 23:10-11)
If we are in a position of power we must not take advantage of that position for personal gain, or even so that some other party may gain. People with power are to ensure than justice prevails, whatever form that may take. And justice (don’t cheat your neighbor) must be guided by truth (the ancient boundary markers) and grace (defenseless orphans). These three qualities together in balance equate to love.
As if the Preacher’s directive is not sufficient in itself, he continues with another strong deterrent for such action:
Their Redeemer is always on the side of the oppressed and disadvantaged. If we do not love them, He does, and in the great accounting day – if not in this life – we will discover ourselves to be in the dock. We will discover that it all belonged to Him anyway and we were but stewards; we will have nothing with which to pay for our ‘crimes.’
Sometimes in these days, when change is the only constant, some people are always wanting to change things, to make them more relevant and appealing to the unchurched. In many cases they are changing cosmetics things, making changes that irritate others, changing things that do not really need to be changed. Ancient boundary markers – like the eight quality characteristics of Natural Church Development – cannot and should not be changed. Perhaps in a church, the only changes that should be made at the commencement of the NCD process, are those changes that will facilitate improvements in church health; such changes will give members sufficient to grapple with, without making them all angry by changing a few cosmetic things and sending church health plummeting!

How Natural Church Development can help your Church: What will you do?

When we do the survey, control over the quality of our church is placed in our own hands.

God is showing us, through his people and by His Spirit where we should make adjustments so that He can better display His power through our church. Not only does the survey result enlighten us as to where God is doing His best work in our church, but where we should now focus in order that He is empowered to do what He has always wanted to do in and through our community of faith.
The Preacher says, “God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” (Proverbs 28:9) The law here is not the ceremonial law, but the moral law, those great principles that God has woven through His whole creation. Sometimes our conscious prayers are contradicted by our unconscious prayers. If God were to answer some of our prayers it would be the end of creation.
I am serious about that. It would be impossible for God to answer because we are not in the right space, and if God were to respond to our prayers in the way we want Him to, He would be denying Himself.

Sometimes we pray God will act in our church when He is waiting for us to act; to address the issues uncovered by the survey result.

How Natural Church Development can help your Church: Listening to Others

When we accept the survey result as a snapshot of our church’s current reality (where we are now), we are listening deeply and genuinely to 30 influencers in our church.

Listening to, and taking notice of, other member’s view of our church may require a fair amount of personal security. It can uncover our own vulnerabilities. We may need to be changed. And if deep down we are feeling fairly insecure, we cannot afford to risk being changed.

We may be prejudiced about the survey result because it is threatening our cherished and long-held perspective. The result may also be challenging to the area we have always felt so comfortable in. It may be suggesting we should go where we have always resisted going in the past. If we accept the result as a snapshot of our church, we will have to deal with a new thing happening. The specter of change frightens most people (see Principle-Centered Leadership by Stephen Covey, pages 115-116)

What kinds of changes might the survey result require of us?
Head? Logic? Changes in our thinking (The green area of of the 3 colors of Natural Church Development)?
Heart? Emotion? Changes in our feelings (The blue area of NCD)?
Hands? Action? We may have to break out of some habits we have developed over time (The red area of NCD)?