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.

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 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!

Now NCD can help your church: Minimum Factor ID

Natural Church Development has the potential to Identify the Church’s Weaknesses, Obstacles, Opportunities:

How can knowing our weaknesses be of value to us?

If the NCD survey really is a health test for a church, the Minimum Factor is not simply ‘a weakness’ that we can ignore while we concentrate on ‘playing to our strengths!’ It is difficult—in some cases, impossible—to continue achieving our purpose as a church when we as a church are unwell. Instead, it becomes very important that we give attention to addressing our ’weakness’ in order to become healthy or whole. When we look at what the NCD survey actually measures, we become aware of the inadequacy of ignoring the Minimum Factor and simply   concentrating on our Maximum Factor.

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The barrel illustration (above) portrays exactly how such activity totally fails to help. When we focus on the Maximum Factor (the longest stave) and seek to do it even better (make it longer), the church is not helped to advance the mission (the barrel fails to hold any more water. It is only when we identify the specific health issues in our church and take definite steps designed to address them that we may expect, with some degree of confidence the blessing of our God. When we know our weakness and our strengths (as the NCD survey result reveals), we can find ways of using the strengths to address our weakness. When personal health is under fire, our body has mechanisms that automatically send strong healthy cells to fight whatever is threatening. Unfortunately, in these days, the church does not do this automatically; so leaders must have appropriate information to intentionally and deliberately address such issues.