IS MY CHURCH HEALTHY? By Bill Bickle, NCD Canada and Yianjoo Low, Salvation Army, Ontario Division
This article appeared in The Salvation Army’s Ontario Division newsletter in September 2022. It is reproduced here with permission.
What is the state of your church? Is your church thriving or surviving? How do we measure church health and growth effectively? What differentiates a strong church from a weak church? What is the best measure of church health and what should we focus on? Are there strategies to improve church health? These are all the questions you need to ask if you are keen on your church health and growth. You cannot help your church grow, lead with a strong vision, and have a greater impact without knowing what is working and what is not.
A common mistake made by most pastors is relying on quantitative measures such as offering, attendance, number of church activities or baptisms to measure church health or omitting to do so altogether. However, these are just indicators of church health and can be misleading if we rely solely on them. These indicators will neither get to the essence of a healthy church nor provide a complete picture.
So, what is the best way of measuring where your church health is at? The answer is by conducting a Church Health Survey to gather data and establish what is really happening beneath the surface.
The Salvation Army, Ontario Division has identified Natural Church Development (NCD) to measure and provide strategies to improve its church health and growth across the division. The goal is to conduct NCD Surveys for all corps within three years. Once surveys have been completed for 30 corps, a Divisional Health Profile can be drawn which will guide the Divisional Executives how to intentionally promote and resource church health.
A LITTLE HISTORY
NCD was started in Germany in 1989 by a theologian, Christian Schwarz and an organizational psychologist skilled in research methods, Christoph Schalk. Christian was determined to find out why some churches are healthy and growing, and some are not. He reasoned that after 2,000 years of experience, the church would have answers to these questions. But unfortunately, no. It became his all-consuming life passion to get to the root of the issue. Defying conventional wisdom that it cannot be done, he and Christoph set out to survey 1,000 churches across the globe posing hundreds of questions to growing, declining and stagnant churches.
In doing so, they found that there are 8 Quality Characteristics that differentiate healthy, growing churches from those plateaued or in decline, namely: Empowering Leadership; Gift-based Ministry; Passionate Spirituality; Effective Structures; Inspiring Worship Service; Holistic Small Groups; Need-oriented Evangelism; and Loving Relationships.
These characteristics reflect your churches’ overall health trends and can highlight any significant red flags.
NCD liberates leaders wrestling with growth issues by reminding them that God, and only God, does the growing, and that their role is to partner with Him, not try to generate the growth themselves. It helps leaders focus on essential growth values and bring focus to the use of limited time, energy and resources to maximize effectiveness. Churches tell us the most important aspects of conducting NCD Surveys has been gaining an objective view of themselves and fostering the important conversations in their church.
WHAT IS NCD, and WHAT IT IS NOT
NCD is a long-term strategic process for progressively improving a church’s health. Growing a healthy church is like growing a tree. It requires long term commitment which is intentional and consistently addresses the most important issues facing the church at each stage of growth. NCD is not a prescriptive “silver bullet” program guaranteeing church growth. It is not a quick fix. Growth, especially God’s way is not always fast or showy. Sometimes you have to slow down a little and wait for it, watch for it.
MAKE CHURCH HEALTH A TOP PRIORITY
Running a church can be a daunting task, but if you are not monitoring your church health, you are creating more hurdles for yourself. While it may be scary and uncomfortable to find out what your church needs and to tackle some pain points, a church health assessment can be a launching pad for its growth. Make this a top priority at all times. The time to prepare your church for the future is now. As NCD’s Canadian National Partner, I look forward to working with and supporting all Corps Officers/Leaders and their health teams to grow the respective corps’ capacity for ongoing healthy growth.