What is Natural Church Development?
NCD is a different way of thinking about growth
Natural Church Development (NCD) is a set of principles – a way of thinking about church growth. Growth should be about quality (health) and not just quantity (numbers). In fact NCD suggests that quality should take priority over quantity in church growth. Quantity follows quality.
At the heart of the principles is the Scriptural concept of the church as a living organism, not just an organization (albeit a spiritual one). Looking at the church “organically” gives us a different perspective on what “growth” means. The growth of organisms focuses on their health, their capacity to reproduce, and how the individual ‘body’ parts interact. They are grown, not built.
They are nurtured, not assembled.
NCD is a long term strategic process
Natural Church Development is also a long term strategic process for progressively improving a church’s health. It is a process of continuous improvement, not a program that guarantees ‘a healthy church’. Growing a church, like growing a plant, requires a long term commitment which is intentional and consistently addresses the most important issues facing the church at each stage of growth.
At the heart of the NCD process is a globally recognized diagnostic tool, the NCD Survey. The Survey was developed in Germany and is based on research into what causes churches to grow or decline. Originally carried out in one thousand churches across the globe, it is now corroborated by more than 90,000 Surveys. The NCD Survey complies with the highest international statistical standards for validity and reliability.
Surveys are done annually, offering an accurate up-to-date “snapshot” of the church’s health. NCD churches find that integrating the Survey into their annual planning cycle is advantageous. Each Survey enables the leadership team to see three views of their church: i) the current state of health, ii) how the church’s health has changed over the previous year, and iii) what areas need greatest attention over the coming year.
Quality as the foundation for quantity
To think of the local church as a living organism is to acknowledge that quality (health) is just as important to church growth as quantity (attendance). In fact, quality is the essential foundation for quantity.
The health of any living organism directly impacts its capacity to grow and reproduce. NCD’s international study of over 65,000 churches has shown a clear correlation between quality and quantity: churches that continue to maintain focus on improving their health are more likely to grow numerically and reproduce ministries. Likewise, churches failing to heed the “health warning” are much more likely to be in decline or to make decisions that will lead to future decline. It just doesn’t make sense for church leaders to measure ministry success solely by quantity.
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.
Inspiring Worship Service
Holistic Small Groups
The most significant finding was that the vital ingredient of each characteristic of quality was the adjective. For instance, take leadership: it was not visionary leadership, or pastoral leadership, or 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 six growth forces: putting the “natural” into church development
NCD has shown that what differentiates healthy, growing churches from those in decline or stagnant is not just high quality in the eight areas, but their application of six natural growth principles to church life so that the church functions more like an organism than a spiritual organization. Six growth forces were identified in the research:
Interdependence – all parts of the church know the impact on other parts of what they do and ensure that such impact is always positive for the sake of long term growth.
Multiplication – every part of the church is looking to pass on God’s blessings and reproduce itself, including the church as a whole.
Energy Transformation –the church’s energy and resources are continually assessed, harnessed and directed towards achieving its long term potential, eliminating wastage.
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 synergistic “win-win” relationships.
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.
If a church becomes increasingly healthy over time, it is more likely and better able to reproduce disciples, ministries and eventually itself. The NCD principles, tools, processes and resources help you think about growing your church as a healthy living organism.
NCD is not a prescriptive “silver bullet” program guaranteeing church growth. It is not a short term solution. Deciding to “try NCD this year” will miss the richness and benefits that accrue from using the tools. Neither is it a replacement for exploring the paradigm, applying the principles and spiritual leadership that is motivated to achieve healthy growth.
Each church still has to have a strong sense of its unique vision that God has for it. Every church leader needs to discern God’s leading for that vision, but it is true that NCD can help clarify, stimulate and enable that vision. NCD is not a “complete package”: the NCD paradigm is dynamic, and understanding continues to grow as the international NCD community makes new discoveries in applying the principles. NCD does not make all churches the same, it’s about becoming the best, unique church possible.
NCD’s objective is for each church to become the best church it can be. First Baptist should become the best First Baptist it can be, Knox Presbyterian should become the best Knox Presbyterian it can be, and St John Lutheran should become the best St John Lutheran!
(Natural Church Development: An Introduction for Churches, by Ian Campbell and Bill Bickle.)