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The developers of Natural Church Development (NCD) are motivated by a desire to create healthy churches. Using this tool doesn't mean we agree to conform to someone else's ideal picture. Quite the contrary! This program recognizes that healthy churches may look very different from one another. NCD allows us to measure whether or not we are living up to our own sense of who God is calling us to be.

Getting the Big Picture

NCD is a diagnostic tool for churches. As a diagnostic tool, it's something like an x-ray machine or a cholesterol test. By using NCD, I hope we can get a more complete picture of ourselves as a meeting: both the strengths we can build on and the weaker areas that may need our extra attention.

Left to their own devices, most churches tend to focus on one or two characteristics. For example, some churches focus almost exclusively on "worship" or "small groups." In fact, a church can be so focused on one narrow area that it loses perspective. Imagine a church where everyone would like to see worship improve. These people might conclude that worship is an area of weakness for their church. Actually, it could be the church's greatest strength! Because people are so passionate about worship, they may hope to make a good thing even better. Meanwhile, other facets of church life could go completely unexamined.

Because it asks questions that may not occur to us, a tool like NCD can give us a more comprehensive picture of our overall health.

A Barrel of Fun

Simply as a matter of strategy, nudging our best attribute up half a percentage point will have little impact on the overall health of our meeting. It's far more effective to improve our weakest attribute. NCD offers a helpful metaphor to illustrate this idea.

Imagine a rain barrel. As you can see from this illustration, the wooden staves around the perimeter of the barrel are all a different height. The picture reminds us that the barrel's capacity is determined by the shortest stave. If we were to strengthen the weakest area, the entire barrel would be improved.

The barrel represents our meeting. Each stave is one facet of church life. Our strengths are represented by the taller staves; our weaknesses by the shorter staves. Our weakest facet will determine our overall "capacity." As we work to live out our unique role in the larger Body of Christ, our overall effectiveness is limited by our weakest area.

As another metaphor, think of the human body. A weak heart might put a strain on our lungs. A weak kidney might put a strain on our liver. If one organ is weak, the whole body is less able to accomplish its purpose. If one organ is weak, our focus should be on improving the health of that specific organ.

One Thing Leads to Another

Sometimes, we look at "spirituality" as an isolated, abstract principle. Or we might look at "leadership" as an isolated, abstract principle. NCD reminds us that all facets of church life are integrally connected.

As a Friend, I find this point very helpful. After all, the Quaker decision-making structure reflects an expectation that "Christ is present to lead his people himself." Our structures are connected to our spirituality. Our approach to worship reflects our understanding of leadership. I find it easy to believe that weakness in one area impacts the overall health of our meeting.

The Great Eight

The NCD program identifies eight facets of church life. These are:

1. Empowering Leadership (Do church leaders equip and empower others for ministry?)

2. Gift-Oriented Ministry (Do people in the church serve in ways that reflect the unique gifts God has provided each of them?)

3. Passionate Spirituality (Are people in this church excited about their spiritual journeys?)

4. Functional Structures (Is this church effective in handling its infrastructure needs?)

5. Inspiring Worship (Is meeting for worship a life-giving experience for the people in this church?)

6. Holistic Small Groups (Do people from this church gather outside of Sunday morning to support and care for one another?)

7. Need-Oriented Evangelism (Do people from this church reach out to meet needs of those outside the church community?)

8. Loving Relationships (Do people in this church love others and feel love in return?)

A healthy facet will replicate itself. In other words, healthy leadership will produce more leaders. Healthy small groups will produce more person-to-person contact outside of Sunday morning. Healthy spirituality will produce a deeper passion for connecting with God's Spirit.

This self-replicating principle is reflected in the adjective attached to each facet of church life. NCD wants to measure empowering leadership and loving relationships, because this is what builds momentum toward improving our "capacity."

The Survey

NCD uses a survey to measure the different facets of church life. The survey questions are far more subtle than, "Is your church good at X?" People are asked to agree or disagree with a variety of statements (e.g. "There is a lot of laughter in our church"). Incidentally, all the statements concern behavior rather than attitudes or beliefs.

Thirty people from the church will take the survey. Apparently, thirty is a standard number for this type of survey. It's a large enough sample to account for diversity, but small enough to be manageable.

We will send the completed surveys to a "head office," where they will be tabulated by computer. The computer will assign a score of 1-100 in each of the eight categories listed above. By comparing the results, we can see where we are relatively strong or weak.

First Things First

Before we can pass out the survey, we need to lay some groundwork. We need to assemble a group of people who will oversee the project from start to finish. As a first step, this task force will need to think carefully about which thirty people should complete the survey. Who knows the meeting well enough to answer these questions with authority? Are there different perspectives within our meeting that should be represented?

Perhaps even more importantly, the task force will help the meeting process the survey results. Once we discover our weakest area, we'll need to develop a strategy for addressing this weakness. Based on the survey results, the task force will need to consult with others and present the meeting with a concrete proposal for moving forward. The proposal should offer a way to measure our progress (i.e. "We'll do better" is a fine sentiment, but how will we know whether or not we are successful?).

A Roadmap for Action

NCD offers the following "action steps." This roadmap offers a glimpse into how the survey fits into a larger effort.

1. Build Spiritual Momentum (create a climate where people are listening for God's guidance and expecting God to lead)

2. Determine Our Minimum Factor (what area of relative weakness limits our overall capacity?)

3. Set Qualitative Goals (set concrete goals for how the community will improve its weakest area these plans should be measurable and time-specific.

4. Identify Obstacles (anticipate points of resistance; for whom will the changes be difficult?)

5. Apply the Idea of Self-Replication (how can we build momentum into this facet of church life, so it builds on itself?)

6. Exercise Our Strengths (how can our strengths address our weaknesses? How can we best acknowledge the interconnectedness of our weaknesses and strengths?)

7. Educate and Motivate Church Community (rather than implement a change "from the top down," how can we get everyone to work in partnership toward our goals?)

8. Monitor Effectiveness (by retaking the survey, we can see whether or not our scores have changed).

9. Address New Minimum Factor (repeat the process based on new survey results)

10. Multiply our Church (not surprisingly - since the program emphasizes self-replication - NCD invites each church to consider whether or not it is called to start a new church).

An Experiment

I don't see anything inherently "magic" in NCD, but I do see it as a great opportunity. If nothing else, the program will give us an opportunity to look systematically at the health of our meeting. It will give us an opportunity to consider God's unique vision for our meeting - and our ability to respond.

I hope the meeting will get excited about the insights that await us. I hope you will feel a sense of ownership for who we are and where we are going.

Let's see what happens!