The Origins of Natural Church Development

Comprehensive worldwide research

The Institute for Natural Church Development International, based in Germany under the leadership of Christian A. Schwarz, undertook worldwide research in the early 1990s. 1000 churches in 32 countries were surveyed to determine if there were principles producing healthy church growth independent of

  • denomination or theology
  • country or culture
  • leadership style
  • size
  • ministry model

The key question was: “What church growth principles are true, regardless of culture and theological persuasion?”

As of 2012, over 82,000 Surveys have now been completed worldwide, confirming the reliability and accuracy of the original research and that there are indeed universal God-given principles that can be applied to the unique issues in every local church. As a database of comprehensive information on the health of Christendom, it is unique.

The quality characteristics: a framework for healthy growth

The research revealed a framework of eight quality characteristics that were critical components of the life of healthy, growing churches. All were present and none could be missing. The names are sometimes slightly modified in the Diocese of Coventry to aid people’s understanding but the meanings are the same. They are:

  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-based Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Effective Structures OR Functional Structures
  • Inspiring Worship · Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-oriented Evangelism OR Outreach
  • Loving Relationships

The most significant finding was that the vital ingredient of each Quality Characteristic was the adjective. For instance, take leadership. It was not visionary leadership, nor pastoral leadership, nor decisive leadership which was the chief contributor to long term healthy growth but empowering leadership. That is, the principal contributor to healthy growth by leadership was the degree to which leaders empowered their people to keep growing toward greater spiritual maturity and contributing to Kingdom growth. The same emphasis applies for the other seven Quality Characteristics.

The growth forces: putting “natural” into church development

NCD has shown that what distinguishes healthy growing churches from others is not just high quality in the eight areas, but their application of a core of natural growth principles to church life so that the church functions more like an organism than a spiritual organisation. Six growth forces were identified in the research:

  • Interdependence – all parts of the church know the impact of what they do on other parts and ensure that such impact is always positive for the sake of long term growth.
  • Multiplication – every part of the church is looking to reproduce itself, including ultimately the church as a whole.
  • Energy Transformation – all the church’s energy and resources are continually assessed, harnessed and directed towards achieving its long term potential, whilst eliminating wastage of effort.
  • Sustainability – the church invests its resources in such a way that its various parts become self-sustaining, freeing up resources to be used elsewhere.
  • Symbiosis – diverse parts of the church are encouraged to work together in relationships where each part becomes healthier and none lose out.
  • Fruitfulness – all areas of church life are regularly assessed to ensure they are continuing to contribute to the overall healthy growth of the church as an organism.

The leaders of churches that are healthy, or becoming increasingly healthy, may or may not be aware that these principles are at work to a greater degree in their church, they may simply be employing these principles intuitively. They may use other names for these principles, or not name them at all, but they are nonetheless employing them. All NCD has done is identify and name the principles so that all churches can benefit.

The higher the health of the church, the greater the degree to which these principles are at work. This is encouraging for two reasons. First of all, it shows that God is entirely consistent in the way He superintends His creation, enabling churches to grow as organisms in the same way as He brings about the growth of other organisms. Secondly, identifying these principles makes it possible to understand and apply them as part of partnering with God to grow the church.

It should come as no surprise that these principles are thoroughly biblical. In some instances the teaching is direct, such as in John 15 where Jesus speaks about “fruitfulness.” In others we see the principles undergirding the message, such as “multiplication” in the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

For church leadership, therefore, understanding and applying these principles consistently until they become a natural part of the “way of life” of the church is essential. They are a key to releasing ‘all by itself’ growth. Introducing Natural Church Development

The NCD Survey

A regular accurate “snapshot” of your church’s health

The international research was used as a foundation for developing the NCD Survey which gives local churches an accurate annual profile of their health. The Survey is based on:

  • an internationally-validated, user-friendly questionnaire completed by selected congregational members chosen according to specific criteria;
  • a computer software program arising out of the original research programme; and
  • a statistical standardisation which measures the health of the church against other churches in the country to provide objectivity.

The Survey profile gives a rating for each Quality Characteristic and then provides a detailed breakdown of the individual questions. Effective analysis produces wealth of information about:

  • relative strengths and weaknesses of the Quality Characteristics;
  • the potential interrelationships between the Quality Characteristics (“Why is Holistic Small Groups high but Loving Relationships low?”);
  • the trends in health in various parts of the church from survey to survey; and
  • most importantly, the so-called “Minimum Factor”, the principal focus for discussion, analysis, strategic planning and action (see below).

The Minimum Factor

Natural Church Development picThe strategy to improve the health of the church is simplicity itself – work at improving the health of the Quality Characteristic that is least developed. Christian Schwarz calls this Quality Characteristic the Minimum Factor. Since all eight Quality Characteristics are essential to healthy growth, it makes sense to address the lowest characteristic, the part of the body making the least contribution to its overall health and growth. It is the most strategic use of energy and resources to maximize the church’s potential for growth.

Taking action to address the Minimum Factor brings changes to the church’s health. The next survey reveals the extent of such change to all the Quality Characteristics, that is, the overall health of the church). The new Minimum Factor reflects the area most needing attention at the new level of health. And so it goes with each successive Survey. This ensures leaders stay focused on what is most important for long term healthy growth.

More specifically, this strategy is about identifying the barriers hindering “all by itself” growth for that Minimum Factor and then taking steps to remove them, just as the farmer does in the Parable of the Growing Seed. This acknowledges that each church is a unique organism with a unique growth path and a unique set of emerging barriers as it grows, each requiring a unique and timely response.

Focusing continuously on successive Minimum Factors as they emerge with each new Survey does not mean an abandonment of the church’s strengths. On the contrary, NCD recognizes the vital importance of engaging the church’s strengths to help address areas of weakness.


© 2013 Ian Campbell/NCD Int’l/Diocese of Coventry Version 2.3/Cov Jan 2015 12

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