The Northwest Conference of The Evangelical Covenant Church

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Natural Church Development-An Introduction

Mark Stromberg

Jesus also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."
-Mark 4:26-29

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
-I Corinthians 3:6,7

Natural Church Development (NCD) is a strategic planning process by which a church determines its strengths and weaknesses. It further assists a church in addressing its greatest needs with the goal of the implementation of a strategic plan to improve in areas of need. Particular attention is paid to what NCD calls "The Eight Key Quality Characteristics." These characteristics are evaluated in order to identify the effectiveness of each in the local church setting. The degree to which these are present and in operation directly correlate to the health (or lack of it) of the church. The Key Characteristics are:

1. Empowering Leadership
2. Gift-oriented Ministry
3. Passionate Spirituality
4. Functional Structures
5. Inspiring Worship Service
6. Holistic Small Groups
7. Need-oriented Evangelism
8. Loving Relationships

NCD has been used in 60 countries on six continents. It has involved thousands of churches and millions of survey respondents. The creator of NCD is Christian Schwarz from Germany. He identifies the following as being pivotal points in the NCD process:

1. All churches are different and therefore must take basic principles and apply them to each local setting. It is not particularly effective to try to imitate another church…rather, it is better to identify the principle behind what is taking place and contextualize it for each specific place.

2. Churches are organic in nature, not simply organizations. Therefore, leaders must learn to "tend" to the church. This involves evaluation and caring interplay between the various parts, knowing that each part affects the whole.

3. We have a part to play in the health and growth of our church… God has a part to play. We seek to remove obstacles to health and growth. We also plant and water…but God causes the growth!

4. The key concern of NCD is the quality of a church, rather than simply its numerical growth. Christian Schwarz does believe however that qualitative growth does tend to promote quantitative growth in time.
5. The crucial aspect of the Eight Key Characteristics listed above is the adjectives (i.e. Empowering, Passionate, Inspiring, etc.).

6. No Quality Characteristic can be missing. If a church is strong in all of the areas but one, the one area of weakness (known as the "Minimum Factor") will be the point of vulnerability and decline. Picture a barrel with each of the Quality Characteristics being a vertical stave. What happens if all of the staves are the same length, but one is significantly shorter? If you pour water into the barrel, the water will run out at the point of the shortest stave. This is the idea behind the need of a church to identify and address its Minimum Factor.

7. NCD is a process that involves hard work. It also takes time. It is not a magic formula meant to bring instant health and happiness to churches that are in deep trouble. It is most effective in churches that have the capacity to adapt and implement for the sake of future ministry. It does not solve all of life's problems…rather it seeks to provide a common language and structure to better facilitate new direction and purpose.

If you would like to find out more about Natural Church Development, please contact Mark Stromberg by email at or call the Conference office.

For NCD's Web site, go here.