I am in Florida for a conference called The Gathering sponsored by ChurchSmart Resources. I first got involved with ChurchSmart about 10 years ago when I was given a book that introduced me to the concept of Natural Church Development (NCD) by Christian Schwarz. A group of Mennonite church planters gave me this book and at first I thought, "Yeah right, what do the Mennonites have that I need?" That arrogance gave way to excitement as I read the book and was captured by its content.
Basically, NCD is a philosophy of church growth that believes there are eight key areas essential to church health and growth, no matter the theology, liturgy or worship style of the church. NCD not only offers the book outlining the research done on these eight areas, but also a profile that a church can take with 30 of its members that renders an evaluation score for each of the eight areas. The strategy is to then work only on the minimum factor, the area with the lowest score, for six months to a year, at which time a new profile is taken and a new minimum factor is identified.
I have conducted about 50 of the profiles over the years and the results are so accurate its scary, which is why so many pastors reject the results. They refuse to accept that a profile can measure what they believe they know better than the profile, and most refuse to let go of their "pet" areas to work on the church's weakness. ChurchSmart has now profiled about 30,000 churches in the U.S. and 85% of the churches who have gone through two surveys have grown numerically and spiritually in the eight areas. Those churches that have not followed through with the results (especially those who have not enlisted the services of a coach to come alongside the church team to address the minimum factor) have not grown much. It's as simple as that.
Many pastors don't believe that spiritual things can or should be measured, which is one bias against the NCD survey. I would agree with them that measuring church health is difficult, but just because what we do in churches is almost impossible to measure doesn't mean we should not try to measure it. If we treat the measurement tool carefully and ask the Lord the right questions, then we can gain God's insight into the state of the church. We see in the first four chapters of Revelation that Jesus knows the condition of the church and is reay and willing to reveal it to those who are listening.
I am a profiling junkie, I admit. I am passionate about getting input on who I am, how I am doing and how I can accomplish more. I am always looking for things God can use to get my attention, so that I can address areas of blindness and deficiency, in the power of the Spirit. For instance, I took a profile the other day that said that I am not giving like I once did. That is a correct assessment. So the other day, I had a chance to give and before the profile I would have passed up the opportunity. Because I had taken the profile, I was more conscious of an area of deficiency. If I continue to do that, how can it be a bad thing?
The other reason I like the NCD profile is that it helps the whole church focus its efforts so that everyone is moving in one direction. Without a measuring tool, peole have opinions as to why a church isn't growing and what it needs to do to get back to health. Usually that opinion focuses on the person's favorite spiritual gift or practice. "This church needs to pray more," "We need to take care of the poor," "We need a children's pastor," or "This church should do more missions." The results is a group of fragmented believers who are not focused and who often argue over the way forward.
I have great respect for those who are hesitant to submit spiritual, biblical things to what seems like a secular measuring instrument. Yet I also know that most churches are not growing as they should and some don't even want to grow. I would rather do what I can to promote growth and see the church reach the lost and fulfill its mission than sit back and wait. When that happens, a "strong" leader comes in, gets people united and moving and then ten years down the road we wonder why we have problems with authoritarianism or what to do when that "strong leader" resigns or leaves.
So I head home later today more convinced than ever that we as church folk need to be more accountable for the results that are present or absent in our midst. I am convinced that the NCD tool is a spiritual tool, among others, that can be used to help build the Church. If you would like more information about the NCD profile, don't hesitate to write me. If you only want to do the profile, however, and aren't serious about applying the results, then do us both a favor and don't write. It will only be a waste of time if you are committed to doing what seems right to you. Research shows that you are only intuitively correct about what your church needs 30% of the time, and that is an "F" grade in anyone's school, including God's.
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