How Natural Church Development can help your church: 2

Number 2: Unity

Is this church more likely to be united than a church that lacks this kind of information?

Graph of NCD church health assessment

In this church a focus on Inspiring Worship Service has the potential to unite the church in addressing problems associated with that issue.

How significant is unity in a church?

There is the possibility that the NCD result can assist us in answering the high priestly prayer of Jesus:

Jesus prayed that all of His people ‘may be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’ (John 17:23)

Note the results that come from complete unity:

They are contained in the prayer. (1) The world may know that God sent His Son. (2) The world may know that God loves it as much as he loves His Son.

From this prayer we may see unity is very important.

In the ancient song, Psalm 133, the writer says: ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!…. For there the Lord bestows his blessing…’

I like the way it comes out in the New Living Translation: ‘How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!’

Unity is a good word. But you can have unity using stand-over tactics – unity by oppression. Unity with ‘yes’ men; unity where the ones at the top do the thinking and followers simply snap to attention.

Harmony suggests that people are singing different notes, and yet they are all singing from the same song sheet. Harmony suggests different people, each using unique gifts, yet with the same focus.

Unity in diversity.

People do have honest differences over theology. They have differences about spiritual style and philosophy of ministry and the kind of music that should be used in church and . . . and . . . and. . . the beat goes on.

Natural Church Development goes deeper than all of that.

Because it can help a church to focus, it can also help unify a church around a common objective: the objective to become a healthy (or even healthier) church. A church that doesn’t copy other churches. A church that seeks to achieve its unique potential under God

To find out more call me at 027 281 2814;

I could even send you a brochure

How NCD can help your Church: 2 – Unity

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.

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)

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?

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.

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 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 and “Legacy”

This is an appropriate time to recommend a book: “Legacy” by James Kerr. Subtitled, What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life. It’s an appropriate time because we are in the middle of the 2015 World Rugby Cup in England, and the All Blacks are about to play a quarterfinal against France this coming weekend.
Let me select a very few choice pieces:
After the game, while the country is still watching replays and schoolkids lie in bed dreaming of All Black glory, the senior All Blacks are tidying up after themselves. They have had the debrief; now they have picked up brooms and are sweeping the shed. Doing it properly. They have a servant spirit.
Character before Talent:
Wayne Smith (one of the coaches) said: “Talent was irrelevant.” We used certain game stats that determine the player’s character, and that’s what we were after. We picked high work rate, guys that were unselfish and had a sacrificial mindset. It is the identity of the team that matters – not so much what the All Blacks do, but who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist.
Leadership and Empowerment:
The All Blacks have developed a leadership culture. The structure of the working week: The Sunday evening review meetings are facilitated by the coaches, thought significant input comes from the on-field leadership. Then over the course of the week, you see a gradual handing over of responsibility and decision-making. By Thursday, the priorities, intensity levels and other aspects are all ‘owned’ by the players. By the time they play on Saturday the players have taken over the asylum. Graham Henry (head coach at the time) says that enabling his players to take charge of their own environment is, of all his achievements in rugby, the thing of which he is most proud.
What would the church look like if pastors operated this way?
If you are able to make the connection, this is a great book on discipleship and leadership. It fits very well into the principles of Natural Church Development. I do not hesitate to recommend it.

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.