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A New Look at Church Health for St. Matthew’s

Barely one month into my time here, in August of last year, I mentioned a few things that I had planned for the fall of 2014. Of that list, I think I’ve managed to cover all of them, save for one. I mentioned, if only briefly, something called “Natural Church Development” or “NCD.” A tool that I first encountered in early 2007, serving as minister at Clarkson Road Presbyterian Church, it provides ministers and boards some diagnostic tools for improving the overall health of a congregation, and by extension removing barriers to growth. This coming Sunday is St. Matthew’s first venture into using this tool, and I am hoping that it will help provide the Board and myself with some guidance for setting priorities and goals for the congregation.

Natural Church Development was pioneered by Christian Schwarz a German Lutheran minister and trained sociologist who noticed trends amongst growing, vibrant churches. While these churches were extremely diverse in form, function, and theological outlook what they did share was common characteristics of health. He began by surveying over 1,000 congregations around the world to test this, eventually creating what has become the NCD survey. Today, more than 70,000 churches worldwide participate in NCD, benefiting from the insights that the survey offers, and promoting both church health and individual creativity.

This Sunday, April 19th, we are taking our first foray into exploring NCD at St. Matthew’s, which involves 30 individuals taking a survey that will create our first profile. From this, myself and the Board will be able to explore the results and help us set our priorities over the coming year. The survey will show us our strengths and growth areas in eight measurable areas of congregational health. These eight areas were identified through the founding research and have continued to be refined since.

The eight areas of congregation health as measured through the NCD Survey are:

  • Effective Structures
  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-based Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Inspiring Worship
  • Needs-oriented Evangelism
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Loving Relationships

What I find fascinating is that in this process, no financial questions are ever asked. Through research, a church’s effectiveness, health, and rate of growth are not determined by the state of finances. In my experience, this is entirely true. I have seen churches flush with cash that are dying, with other congregations struggling under tremendous debt that are bursting at the seams. It provides a perspective on what really matters in the life and work of a congregation.

NCD’s core belief is that God gives churches everything that they need to grow naturally. As members of the congregation, we play a role in providing the healthiest possible environment in which that growth can happen. Like a plant or a garden, there is nothing that we can do to make it grow, but we can provide water, light, nutrients, and a healthy space. If they have these factors, then they will naturally grow all by themselves.

The first part comes this Sunday. I’m looking forward to digging into the results which will help us discern God’s plan for St. Matthew’s!

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