For more information
please contact Sandy Gutting at 850.291.1244
INTRODUCING NATURAL CHURCH DEVELOPMENT
The cabinet of the Alabama-West Florida Conference has endorsed a new process for revitalizing and growing churches of all sizes. Natural Church Development (NCD) is the name of this initiative. The thrust of the process is to measure and strengthen church health in at least one of eight categories. As churches get healthier, they are more likely to grow. This process has been field tested in thousands of churches on multiple continents in multiple denominations.
WHAT DOES THE TERM 'NATURAL CHURCH DEVELOPMENT' MEAN?
Natural Church Development means what it says... living organisms grow, bear fruit and reproduce naturally - God made them to do this - so long as they are fed, watered and kept healthy. This is true of people. It is true of animals. It is true of plants. And it is true of the church. The church is a living organism. When we tend to the baseline health of the church, the growth then follows automatically. This is more than theory. The Natural Church Development program, based on this idea, has demonstrated that when churches get to a certain level of health in all eight of the key ways that we measure health, the churches ALWAYS grow. Always. Location, population, average age of the members - none of these factors will stop a church from growing, when that church is really healthy.
WHAT ARE THE EIGHT HEALTH CHARACTERISTICS OF GROWING CHURCHES?
1. Empowering Leadership - the church and its leaders equip, support, motivate and mentor individuals to become all that God wants them to be. The church gives permission to people to take initiative and start new ministries within the bounds of the church's mission and values. The church works with people to help them find the ministry teams and projects where they are gifted to serve - and then the church turns them loose in that service with a minimum but appropriate amount of accountability and oversight.
2. Gift-oriented Ministry - the church helps members identify their spiritual gifts, and then steers them toward opportunities for using those gifts (and often away from other seemingly urgent tasks where people are clearly not gifted.)
3. Passionate Spirituality - faith is lived out with commitment, fire and enthusiasm. The church helps people develop an intimate, trusting personal relationship with God and to discover God's calling for their lives.
4. Functional Structures - the church organizes and operates in ways that are effective in advancing its mission of reaching out, winning people and making disciples for Jesus Christ. The church feels free to reorganize, change strategies and shift times in order to become more effective.
5. Inspiring Worship - the worship inspires those who attend it, indeed, most would consider their church's worship to be profoundly relevant, fun and exciting. It is this inspirational factor that is the key here - not whether the service is traditional or contemporary. To the degree that one can do traditional worship in ways that feel relevant, fun and exciting to large numbers of people, the question of traditional/contemporary is almost beside the point. In many cases, however, the churches that are committed to impactful worship are also either committed to very innovative worship design or to multiple music styles between two or more services.
6. Holistic Small Groups - growing churches typically have a system of small groups of less than 15 persons where individual Christians can find intimate community, often far more meaningful than what one can find in a small-membership congregation that functions as a single-cell organism of 30-40 people. The presence of small groups enables many large membership churches to do a much more comprehensive job of pastoral care than many small churches that are more informal in their caring.
7. Need-oriented Evangelism - the church meets the community people first based on the terms and needs identified by the community people. The church meets a perceived need (physical, emotional, social, recreational) first and then builds relationships with people in order to more effectively share the gospel with them.
8. Loving Relationships - the church develops a reputation both inside its membrship and out in the community for being a people who care for others. Strong habits and systems for caring are clearly built into the church's life. Powerful new relationships between people are constantly being initiated. Members accept that they are the front-line of showing God's love to one another and to the larger community; they do not expect the pastor simply to love everybody on their behalf.
WHAT CAN A LOCAL CHURCH DO WITH ALL THIS?
1. Contact Sandy at the Office of Congregatinal Development to get more information and to express interest in doing Natural Church Development.
2. Make a covenant with a NCD Guide (trained by the Office of Congregational Development) to work with the church for one year.
3. Thirty members take a survey asking about their experience of church life.
4. Based on the survey, one of the eight areas above is highlighted as a priority for immediate work.
5. The church forms a Church Health Team who works for one year overseeing the development of the area chosen.
6. At the end of a year, the Guide administers a second survey as a way of measuring improvement.
WHAT WILL LIKELY HAPPEN IF MY CHURCH DOES NCD?
In the Orlando District of the Florida Annual Conference, a dozen churches did Natural Church Development for one year and then the year end results were compared with the rest of the churches in that district. The NCD churches posted an 89% gain in new members by professions of faith. The rest of the churches declined 13%. Almost all of the NCD churches actually posted net gains in terms of their overall attendance and membership. If a church is struggling in several areas of its health, it may not be realistic to expect that they can turn around a long-standing decline in one year. But almost every church will see improvement if they take the NCD process seriously. And, most churches, even in tough situations, will see growth within two or three years after beginning the NCD process.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Much of the cost is absorbed by the Office of Congregational Development and the Guides. Churches are asked to pay a minimum of $350 for the first year, or $1 per person in average attendance up to $1000, whatever is more.
WHEN IS A CHURCH NOT READY TO DO NCD?
A church that is unsettled in terms of its pastoral appointment, who may be considering a change of appointment in the next year, needs to wait until there is clearly a stable and positive relationship between the pastor and the church. A church that is going through a crisis such as imminent relocation, hurricane recovery, or some sort of trauma/tragedy that has impacted the whole church - this church would be wise to let things settle down first, so that they can give the proper amount of attention to the NCD process.