What is Natural Church Development?
Natural Church Development is a way of understanding church health and growth that views the church as a living organism. It does not ask the question "How can we grow our church?" It assumes that God desires to see every church actively involved in His redemptive mission. Paul wrote, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (I Corinthians 3:6-7).
The question that needs to be asked is, "What are we doing to hinder God's growth in our churches?" Natural Church Development helps pinpoint areas of strength and weakness in the local church. In reality, it aids the church in determining what systems are working and which ones need attention. Sometimes making the right adjustments can unlock God's power in a church which will lead to a fruitful impact.
Natural Church Development is based on an international study of 1,000 churches in 32 countries and the research was first published in 1996 by Christian Schwarz. The goal of this extensive research project was to discover principles of church health that are universally valid across cultures. The research findings confirmed eight quality characteristics, or as I refer to them, eight systems that keep a church engaged in God's mission in a healthy manner. These eight systems are:
- Empowering leadership
- Gift-based ministry
- Passionate spirituality
- Inspiring worship
- Effective structures
- Need-oriented evangelism
- Holistic small groups
- Loving relationships
The key is that all eight are activated by the Holy Spirit. We can see these qualities coming alive in Acts 2:41-47.
"Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
The church I started and pastored was part of the original study back in 1995 and grew every year for 10 years (the church continued to grow even two years after I resigned to come to MidAmerica). During that ten year period, we discovered that focusing on quality and health led to growth and life transformation. Every year we would develop a ministry plan that would raise the quality of our ministries. Through solid evaluation, timely corrections and continual vision casting we maintained a solid growth track. The Natural Church Development Survey made the process quicker and easier for us to do each year. By gathering 30 key influencers and stakeholders in the church to take the survey, we discovered the areas that needed our focus for that ministry season and planned accordingly.
What are the benefits of Natural Church Development?
- It reminds us that God brings forth the growth.
- It helps us focus on principles, not programs.
- It helps your church discover its critical factor for development of the church and its current situation.
- It focuses your churches resources (human, financial, etc.) at the critical points.
- It identifies your churches strengths and weaknesses.
- It provides a regular and accurate snapshot of your church’s health.
- It outlines a process for improving quality.
- It helps us focus on essential growth values.
- It provides input for developing/refining vision.
- It saves time and eliminates the risks of an inaccurate analysis.
- It provides the basis for a one-year ministry plan with an objective evaluation at the end of that year.
What happens if you work the process and create a church health rhythm in your ministry?
All the research has revealed that establishing a church health rhythm is critical for both the qualitative and quantitative growth of a local church. Christian Schwarz in his follow-up research project of over 50,000 churches discovered that churches who repeated this cycle for three years experience these four realities.
- Each quality characteristic averaged a 6% increase.
- They have increased their worship attendance by 51%.
- Transfer growth decreased and conversion growth increased.
- The work-load of the pastor decreased because they learned how to delegate and empower others.
What do you want your church to look like in the next three years?
Join us on the journey towards health and missional impact and check out the different packages we offer to MidAmerica Churches.