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.

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.

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: 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 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.