Growing a healthy church

Eight tried factors that will transform a church into a growing congregation

John Grys is director of Advent House and editor of the forthcoming Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Knoxville, Tennessee
Greg Schaller, D.Min., is pastor of the Kent Seventh-day Adventist Church, Covington, Washington, United States.

Our small group abruptly stop ped the Bible study when Mary said "My mother's voice keeps playing in my conscience. I can hear her now questioning my every move. I am finding it hard to believe God can really accept me." The group gath ered around Mary. Our prayer for her focused on applying God's freeing grace in Mary's conscience.

How did our church body get to this moment? How did Mary find a group of sup portive friends? It is part of a movement that has seen the number of small groups in our church grow from one to ten in less than a year.

But how did this growth occur?

Two years ago a trusted friend introduced me to a new approach to church growth called Natural Church Development (NCD). I read the materials with mixed emotions. Could this work in our setting? Was this just another program? The materials promised authentic growth. I began to pray for guid ance in determining whether this approach could integrate our piecemeal attempts to gain health and growth in our local church.

Eight elements that help churches grow

Christian Schwartz, the author of the materials, is a researcher who did extensive study on what makes churches grow. He attempted to measure the natural characteris tics that cause church growth. After research ing a thousand churches on six continents, he zeroed in on eight characteristics that emerged as significant to both spiritual and numerical growth: 1 (1) empowering leader ship; (2) gift-oriented ministry; (3) passionate spirituality; (4) functional structures; (5) inspiring worship services; (6) holistic small groups; (7) need-oriented evangelism; and (8) loving relationships.

Schwartz's research further revealed that all eight characteristics are interconnected and each one is essential for church health and growth. The key is the harmonious interplay of all eight elements.2 Schwartz observed that when all eight characteristics reached a cer tain measurable strength, not one church could be found that was not growing!

Surprisingly, Natural Church Development is not a model to imitate. Nor is it a program. That is what struck a chord with me. NCD is a set of natural, God-given principles that can be tailored to a local church setting so God can grow the church. The apostle Paul reminds us, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow" (1 Cor. 3:6, NIV).

Four phases

How does Natural Church Development work in a church? There are four basic phases:

1. Pre-survey. This is an information sharing phase. In our setting, we started by passing out a little booklet, The ABCs of Natural Church Development. 3 Church leaders and board members read this short booklet. This pre-survey step engages leadership's under standing and commitment, and starts building momentum. We began with the church board as the core implementation team.

2. The survey. The pastor, along with thirty active members, completed an eighty-ques tion survey. A NCD coach/consultant then scored and returned the results. The eight characteristics were plotted on an easy to read bar chart showing strengths and areas that needed work.

3. Action plan. The summarized findings of the survey showed areas where we needed change. We moved from not knowing where to start, to agreeing to address our weakest characteristic. The first survey uncovered holistic small groups as our weak link. Fromthe urgency created, we formulated an action plan to grow small groups. Prayer, sermons, testimonies, coach ing, promoting, and leadership mentoring created a focused ap proach. One night Mary found herself in a safe place, sharing her need and finding healing.

4. Repeat the process. Six to twelve months later the survey was taken again. Our results? Holistic small groups turned into a strength and need-oriented evangelism was identi fied as the area needing the most work. We discussed using small groups as places to evangelize friends. We held training events on "Becoming A Contagious Christian"4 and prototyped the new resource, "Friend 2 Friend." 5 For six months, we addressed need-based evangelism. The result? The church was overflow ing and the parking lot was full. We have now started a second alterna tive service and are planting two cell churches. We are finding God grow ing our church. By repeating the survey every six to twelve months we objectively discern what characteris tics to address.

NCD's simplicity

What I find attractive about NCD is its simplicity. It's easy for busy people to grasp and implement. It works. It's like taking a blood test and getting an objective reading on what aspects need improvement. And it's exhilarat ing being a part of a growing church.

Current research has determined that 85 percent of the churches who iden tify and address their minimum characteristic are growing within one year. The remaining 15 percent either didn't do anything with the assess ment, or are in conflict.

How is NCD being implemented in other churches and regions? Our state conference holds regional con ventions across our territory. In an afternoon session, a number of churches gather for an introduction to NCD and learn how to get started. Other states utilize consulting teams that go into a congregation to affirm and recommend action steps. The yearly Seeds church planting confer ence hosted at Andrews University introduces NCD as effective in form ing new churches. The Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary is designed around these principles of pastoral and congregational health. In the United States, this approach to church growth is spreading from coast to coast. Currently, materials are available in ten languages.

Eight characteristics of a healthy church

1. Empowering leadership: Leading via vision casting, mentoring, equipping, delegation, and change.

2. Gift-oriented ministry: Understanding and matching spiritual gifts to tasks for meaningful service.

3. Passionate spirituality: Faith lived out of a love relationship with Jesus Christ by practicing spiritual disciplines.

4. Functional structures: Combining the life in the church with systems, goals, and planning to move forward.

5. Inspiring worship services: God-centered worship with transforming preaching that leaves the congregation edified and uplifted.

6. Holistic small groups: A spiritual atmosphere of transparency, trust, and sharing with the application of biblical truths to daily living.

7. Need-oriented evangelism: Connecting to already existing friendships by listening, meeting needs, and connecting the gospel to personal situations.

8. Loving relationships: A relational environment of affirmation, encouragement, joy, and intentional conflict resolution.

For more Information, contact the following Resource Centers:

* Center for Creative Ministry 800-272-4664: <www.creativeroinistry;Org>

* ChurchSmart Resources 800-253-4276: <> .

*. North American Division Evangelism Institute 616-471-9220:, <>

1. Christian A. Schwarz and Christoph Schalk, Implementation Guide to Natural Church Development (Carol Stream, III.: ChurchSmart Resources, 1998), 195-205. Also see ChurchSmart's Web site for full research document at <>.

2. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential dualities of Healthy Churches (Carol Stream, 111.: ChurchSmart Resources, 1998), 39.

3. ——, The ABCs of Natural Church Development (Carol Stream, III.: ChurchSmart Resources, 1998).

4. Mark Mittelberg, Lee Strobe), and Bill Hybels, Becoming a Contagious Christian (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).

5. Monte Sahlm and Curtis Rittenour, Friend 2 Friend: Reaching the Unchurched Through Friendship Evangelism (Lincoln, Neb.. The Center for Creative Ministry, 2000).



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John Grys is director of Advent House and editor of the forthcoming Journal of Applied Christian Leadership, Knoxville, Tennessee
Greg Schaller, D.Min., is pastor of the Kent Seventh-day Adventist Church, Covington, Washington, United States.

January 2001

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