How naturally does church grow?
"There are more than enough bad theories about church. You recognise them
by the fact that they don't work - and many churches are not growing," said
Christian A. Schwarz at an NCD Summit in South Africa at the end of 2004.
NCD stands for Natural Church Development. Christian Schwarz and
Organisational Psychologist Christoph Schalk are the founders of an organic
church growth approach which has become influential around the world.
Many experts believe that it has mostly replaced the old technocratic
approach popular since the 1970's, based mainly on megachurches in the USA
and Yonggi Cho's church in Seoul, Korea: brilliant pastor + practical
recipes and programmes + huge building = massive attendance. More and more
churches, though, recognised that there is a direct correlation between
quality and quantity. A healthy therapy is only truly effective when it is
based on a balanced diagnosis, and just as a doctor checks his patient's
various bodily functions, Schwarz and Schalk began to recognise that
Christian churches have eight interrelated basic principles - bodily
functions of 'The Body of Christ'.
SETTING GOD'S GROWTH MECHANISMS FREE
The Biblical parable of the seed which grows by itself (Mark 4:26-29) gave
the initiators the idea that the Earth brings forth fruit 'by itself'
(Greek: automate), so there must be a 'Growth Mechanism'. That gave rise to
their first working hypothesis: healthy Christian churches grow - as long
as people don't hinder them.
In 1995, a global survey of 1,000 churches revealed that growing and
stagnant or shrinking churches differ significantly in eight areas. This
conclusion gave rise to a method with which churches can measure their
health - and thus their natural growth potential. Ideally, churches should
perform the check regularly, to measure progress and initiate change.
Biotic element Area
Inspiring Worship service
Holistic Small Groups
34,000 CHURCHES, 70 NATIONS, 1.1 MILLION NEW MEMBERS
What began as a research project in 1995 has expanded to cover 34,000
churches in over 70 nations, with astonishing results, and is now one of
the most influential Christian movements. It has been shown that the growth
rate of churches applying the NCD principles increased by 50% between the
first and third check-ups (an average time of 31 months), from an average
of 4.2% to 6.3% per year.
That is an effective membership growth of 1.1 million people in the participating churches. "That number is so significant," says Schwarz, "because only somewhere between 15% and 0.3% of new believers at classical evangelistic events are still in church one year later." For an actual membership growth of 1.1 million, traditional evangelistic methods would have to result in between 7.3 million and 366.5 million conversions, depending on the assumed rate of integration.
One of the world's fastest-growing churches applying the NCD principles is Abbalove Church in Jakarta, Indonesia. Pastor Eddy Leo reports that 1,500 new members joined the church in the past six months, of which 20% are ex-Muslims.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT: FROM GOLIATH TO DAVID
The Bible calls on all Christians to be good stewards. "This," says Schwarz, "also means that there should be a healthy relationship between sowing and reaping. The aim and result of Christian work is that people become committed disciples. Many Christians apply the 'Goliath Approach': investing major effort, time, money and staff to reach only a few people who become disciples. The 'David Approach' is preferable: significant results with little effort. In order to achieve that, we need to submit ourselves to critical approval, have an understanding of the natural principles of church development, and be in it for the long haul."