How Can Natural Church Development Help Your Church?

How can Natural Church Development help your church?

If you were able to discover something that had the potential to help your church in the following ways, would you want to know more?

  • Give focus to the church
  • Unite the church
  • Make the best use of your resources
  • Assist leaders to help their church and not harm it
  • Identify the church’s strengths
  • Locate the church’s area of dis-ease
  • Help discover the church’s back and front doors
  • Guide a church to its own unique identity rather than copying other church models
  • Point leaders to God’s unchanging and unchangeable principles
  • Help your church become more balanced in its ministry
  • Help you church become more passionate, caring, praying, gift-based, need-oriented, empowering, inspiring, holistic and effective

Natural Church Development can help your church in all of these ways – and more. But will it? It will, if the leaders of your church are amenable to working agreeably with each other!

I am referring to the Natural Church Development church health assessment.

If you would like to know more you can contact me at ncd@inspire.net.nz

What to do Under Covid-19 Lockdown

George MacDonald was a Scottish author whose books were very influential in the life of CS Lewis. Two of MacDonald’s books were “Phantastes” and “Lilith.” The quality that most impressed Lewis about these books was holiness. On the strength of that I purchased these books. Dare I admit it – I had difficulty even understanding them!

I am thinking of the current situation when I post this quotation from Phantastes by George MacDonald. It is the final statement from the book:

‘Yet I know that good is coming to me – that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.’ (Phantastes, p. 213).

You may need to ponder this from MacDonald for a while.

It really doesn’t matter if the panic over the virus is justified; or if the panic should be about something else (like, would one of the conspiracy theories be something more than just a theory?). In a sense, through the present worldwide crisis, God is speaking to all peoples in a way He has not spoken for a very long time.

Covid-19 is causing many people much pain. CS Lewis in his book, ‘The Problem of Pain,’ says: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
In my mind, George MacDonald’s statement above lines up well with pandemic fallout and Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you are uncertain as to how to respond to what is happening in our world today, then this action may work best to strengthen your immunity: “. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18

If you go here you will find 31 science-backed benefits of gratitude.

https://www.happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

Church is not a Building

A number of people have reminded us in these days the church is not a building.

The church is people. Not bricks and mortar, but flesh and blood, living people. So what has happened to the church? Well, what has happened to the people? That’s what’s happened to the church.

Some people want to plant a new church. They want to begin again with something that they say is more incarnational. I have news for them: They do not need to begin again in order to make the church more incarnational. The church is already as incarnational as it can ever be. The church is totally incarnational. Wherever her people are – at work, at school, in lockdown at home, as long as they are in their bodies – there is the church. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome: And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (Romans 12:1)

Paul pleads with them to give their bodies to God; what could be more incarnational? We are to give our bodies to God:

  • Fit or unfit
  • Overweight or malnourished (or anything in between)
  • Healthy or sick
  • Old or young
  • Male or female
  • Saint or sinner
  • Damaged or all intact
  • Skin colour is no barrier
  • Tall or short
  • Despised or admired

Whatever the shape or state of our bodies, giving them to God is the way to go. Only two requirements:

  1. They need to be living
  2. They need to be holy

Why does Paul want us to do this? Did you see it there: ‘This is truly the way to worship God?’ There are those who attend church regularly, but maybe do not worship. Then there are those who rarely darken the church doors, but continuously worship.

This interruption to our way of life need not disrupt our connection with God when we understand that all of life is worship.

Covid-19 and Change

The world will never be the same!

Did you see this coming? Perhaps you did; but it’s not exactly as you might have expected it to be! The climate change ‘experts’ have been warning us we are heading for disaster! Those who watch over our morals have been predicting catastrophe almost since the world began (not without cause)! Some political commentators are blaming Donald and Boris mixing it up with Xi and Kim. For several years now Bill Gates has been warning the world of a global pandemic; we should prepare ourselves. Professed scholars of Bible prophecy wonder where this fits into the book of Revelation; they are sure the ‘end is nigh,’ but they are unsure which of the ‘seals’ has been opened to let it out! Some very confident preachers are ‘confronting’ Covid-19 ‘in the name of Jesus;’ Covid-19 hasn’t taken much notice thus far. Other preachers are counselling that we should wash our hands and keep our distance; with greater effect.

Someone said of Covid-19, ‘The world will never be the same!’

That sounds very dramatic; I think he was right. But then, there have been any number of events and inventions that have made a huge difference in world history. Think about some of them: The invention of the aeroplane; the printing press; TV; WWW; space travel; the light bulb; medicine; education; and many other such things. Which is the most significant? I do not know which of these has changed our world the most; but I know of something else that has made a greater impact: the Word of God (the Bible) and the Son of God, the living Word. World history changed radically at His advent. He was here 33 years; and after He left, the world began moving in a different direction. It would be fair to say the reason we enjoy the lifestyle we do in this country can be traced back to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. Daniel 2:20-22

The Marks of Revival

In going through a presentation I heard recently on the marks of revival, and having worked with Natural Church Development for some twenty years now, it is my conviction that any church that scores highly on the eight Quality Characteristics will be in a state of revival.

I have heard many people speak about revival (without actually defining it).

I have experienced congregations singing about it (without defining it).

What Christian Schwarz was investigating, in the largest research project on the church (1000 churches, 6 continents, 34 countries, 4.5 million bits of data), was an answer to the question: ‘What should every church and each Christian be doing in order to fulfil the Great Commission?’ Schwarz ‘uncovered’ eight Quality Characteristics that are always present in every church no matter what culture they are or what their denominational ‘persuasion’ or what person or programme they may be following.

These eight characteristics can be seen in the presentation where the speaker’s topic was: ‘The Marks of Revival.’

  1. Empowering Leadership

The speaker mentioned one revival that ceased because some high-ranking church leaders would not empower others in the church to continue their work. I think there might be a number of revivals that have ceased because those with ecclesiastical power refused to share it with anyone else; they dis-empowered those through whom God was working.

2. Gift-based Ministry

This can be easily observed in Acts 6 where the apostles delegated the work of sharing resources, while they continued with prayer and the word. God’s work flourishes when people work in the areas God has gifted them.

3. Passionate Spirituality

Revival is always accompanied by prayer and an emphasis on the Scriptures. All spiritual disciplines are carried out with passion. As the speaker said, revival creates a fresh hunger for the word of God; a new desire for prayer; a new dependency on the Holy Spirit.

4.  Effective Structures

George Whitefield lamented that he had not structured his converts as Wesley had. The Methodist church exists today because of the methodical way Wesley went about his work; but where is the work of Whitefield to be seen?

5. Inspiring Worship Service

Again, the speaker said ‘Revival brings a longing for worship.’ During revival times the people do not have to be pressed to attend worship; they are very clear on why they are attending and the whole experience of ‘church’ is totally positive.

6. Holistic Small Groups

John Wesley’s way of structuring his ‘converts’ into a small group system demonstrates the necessity and the value of meeting in this way. As someone once said, ‘Small groups are the cutting edge of the church.’.

7. Need-oriented Evangelism

As the speaker declared, ‘Revival brings an extraordinary harvest;’ and another point: ‘Revival brings a new thrust into mission.’ There is no doubt that during times of revival the church experiences exceptional growth with even the worst citizens being converted.

8. Loving Relationships

What more should be said but that church members must love one another?

These quality characteristics are like the vital organs of a human being; they each need to be healthy. If any one of them is not, it will prevent the body from functioning as it should, and that one will require attention to make it healthy again.

The health of a disciple-making church could be compared to the fitness of an All Black rugby team; most of us physically are not that fit. The same disciplines and routines that make All Blacks fit, can easily be transposed across to the health or quality of the individuals that comprise any community of faith.

God’s Blueprint for a healthy organisation

God has a blueprint for the way organisations work best (no matter what that organisation may be). It’s known by a number of different names to different people. The weather man, and many others, often refers to it as ‘Mother Nature.’ The Bible calls it Creation. It is the most efficient and effective organisation ever, and it’s right there for us to walk through and notice, to experience first-hand, to examine and learn from. The fact is we are part of it. We are involved.

We all know Jesus is a genius.

We know it’s important to learn from the lilies because Jesus directed His disciples (Matthew 6:28): Learn from the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. ‘Learn from’ the Greek word here is one that means ‘to study very intently’; a further component of the word Jesus used actually means to magnify the intensity of the study. In the whole passage He is saying, “Here is how my kingdom works. If you want to see my Kingdom come, and live your life in line with that, then rigorously study how the lilies of the field grow. That’s the way I’ve made them and I have implanted within them the way I want things to function.”

If we are going to learn from other organisations how to do things better, then it makes sense to learn from the most successful, fruitful, enduring organisation that we have ever seen – God’s creation. It is profound in its efficiency – its usage of resources, its harmonization and collaboration. If you walk into a rainforest, you don’t need trucks backing in pouring out loads of resources – everything connects, everything co-operates. It’s no wonder people like David Attenborough and Brian Cox are blown away by the way the systems work. And we have Jesus saying, observe this, look at this, find out how it works.

Some people think Jesus used these metaphors because it was an agrarian society. Today he would use something mechanical or electronic. I don’t think so. You cannot better what God has done. And the key that we can learn from living, breathing things is this:

Healthy living things make the best possible use of all that is available to them. That’s the definition of a healthy living thing. What happens when you give poor food, poor environment, poor everything – to a healthy living thing? In the beginning you can give it all kinds of garbage – and we do!

What happens when you give good solid food to an unhealthy living thing? Depending upon its present health levels, it won’t be able to take that kind of food; it’s something akin to giving solids to a baby before it is ready to take them. Paul – giving milk to some disciples because they couldn’t cope with solids. If it’s a healthy body it has extraordinary capacity to assimilate whatever is available.

It is no exaggeration to say than an unhealthy church, centre, organisation, is an unhealthy, regurgitating organism. The inability of an organisation to make use of the gifts, passions, abilities, talents, ideas, resource, of a particular person means: “We don’t know what to do with you.”

How do we apply this?

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

Principles in Organisations

Principles in Organisations

In any discussion about the way organisations function, including churches, someone will invariably make reference to principles.

Stephen Covey writes about the ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ and labels them ‘principles.’ By the title of his book Covey is saying these principles are so important to one’s effectiveness as a human being, they should be absorbed into one’s life as habits

Christian Schwarz identifies ‘eight quality characteristics of healthy churches,’ and ‘six growth forces’ in the natural world, and says they are principles. Schwarz has entitled one of his books, ‘Color Your World with Natural Church Development.’ He seems to be implying that the principles of Natural Church Development are not restricted to the church but apply across the board, to everything in the world we might engage with.

Jim Collins (Good to Great) describes the way a number of companies have transitioned from ‘good to great[1]’ – and Collins says any human enterprise can make the same journey, the ‘secret’ is not restricted to business – by means of paying careful attention to several principles uncovered by the thorough research project his team facilitated.

Warren Wiersbe said:

“About the only thing I remember from one of my courses at seminary is a bit of doggerel that the weary professor dropped into a boring lecture:

Methods are many, Principles are few.

Methods always change, Principles never do.

As soon as I returned to my dormitory room I looked up “principle” in my dictionary and found it meant “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.” I read further and discovered that the word comes from the Latin principium which means “beginning.” I learned something from that definition that has helped to deepen and direct my ministry for many years: if I go back to beginnings and build on principles, I will always be up-to-date and in step with what God is doing.”

The church health assessment developed by Christian Schwarz can help you to discover the alignment between your church and the principles that are described in God’s Word (Natural Church Development – although different words may be used in the Bible, the meaning can be understood to be the same) and woven into His creation (Natural Church Development).

Please contact me if you would like more information.

[1] Collins defines ‘great’ in the book, ‘Good to Great,’ page 3

Decisions

Decisions. Everyone is always being faced with making a decision of some kind, conscious or unconscious (a behaviour that has become a habit, so we don’t have to think about it anymore); during the course of a day, we will have to make hundreds of decisions. And remember, to decide to make no decision is still a decision.

When we put together all the decisions made by humans down through history, we come up with a world that looks exactly what we experience here today.

So what kind of decision-maker are you?

How do you use the time, treasure and talent you have at your disposal?

Are you making things better?

Or are you contributing to the world’s burden?

 Ella Wilcox said it better than I ever could.

She said,
There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Two kinds of people no more I say.
Not the good or the bad, for its well understood,
The good are half bad, the bad are half good.

Not the happy or sad, for in the swift-flying years,
Bring each man his laughter, each man his tears.
Not the rich or the poor, for to count a man’s wealth,
You must know the state of his conscience and health.

Not the humble and proud, for in life’s busy span,
Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.
No! The two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift, the people who lean.

Wherever you go you’ll find the world’s masses
Are ever divided into these two classes.
And, strangely enough, you will find, too, I mean,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.

In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of the overtaxed lifters who toiled down the road?
Or are you a leaner who lets others bear,
Your portion of worry and labour and care?

Want to find out more?

Why not go to: https://3colorworld.org/en/etests/stewardship/summary/about

And do the test?

You run the risk of finding more out about yourself than you really want to know!

Bless you as you seek to be the best you can for God and his people.

Does Natural Church Development Work?

Having read your article, I would be interested to hear of any congregations that have done this assessment and made changes, and what difference it has made to the effectiveness of their ministry!

A good question.

In his book, ‘Color Your World with Natural Church Development,’ Christian Schwarz writes:

“Recently we selected all of the churches that have done three NCD Surveys and compared their initial numbers (at the time of their first survey) with their most recent results (at the time of their third survey, which was completed, on average, 31 months later). At the time of the third survey, the quality of these churches had increased by an average of 6 points. [These numbers] indicate considerably more love, more forgiveness, more answers to prayer, more wisdom, more spiritual power, and countless other quality factors in those churches. Great. But what about the quantity? Did the focus on church quality actually result in numerical growth, as NCD claims it does? Here are the results. By the time of the third survey the average growth rate of all participating churches had increased by 51%. If a church had been growing at a rate of 10 people per year before beginning the process, 31 months into the process, that number had grown to 15 people per year; if there had been 200 people per year joining the church previously, now there were 302.”

I have a congregation in this country that, in 2012, had an attendance at worship of 120. Four years later that number had climbed to 830. The NCD assessment revealed a remarkable, above average, level of church health. Was this because of the NCD process? Perhaps. Or was it because the responsible people knew intuitively how to lead a church to higher levels of health? We cannot make claims that we cannot substantiate. All we can say for sure is that improvement in quality coincided with increase in quantity.

My recommendation to any church is: If you don’t seem to be increasing quantitative numbers, then change your tack and work on improving the numbers that relate to quality. If you want to know more, contact me.