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The Upper Room Community Church, Vaughan, ON

The Upper Room Community Church is a vibrant, growing, ten year old Christian & Missionary Alliance plant in Vaughan, Ontario, a suburb in the north of the GTA. They have conducted four NCD Church Surveys between 2008 and spring 2015. This is a retelling of their 2015 Survey experience.

The Upper Room started conducting NCD Surveys back in 2008, about two years after being planted. They’ve conducted Surveys every couple of years to keep an eye on the church’s health as it grew to a mid-sized congregation. Even on the first Survey, The Upper Room “scored” above average when compared against NCD’s Canadian church sample, and the health kept improving through 2013. The key strengths over time have ranged across Effective Structures twice, Gift-based Ministry, and Holistic Small Groups in 2015. Need-oriented Evangelism has been their consistent Minimum Factor.

So what happened in 2015? When the Lead Pastor, Vijay Krishnan, received the Profile, he was astonished and called Bill Bickle at NCD Canada to have the input checked. The health had dropped nearly 15 points since 2013 and Vijay’s immediate reaction was “but nothing is significantly different, at least not that different”. To put 15 points in perspective, a church might expect an annual increase in health of six to seven points, and The Upper Room had experienced nearly 15 points from their first Survey to their third. So in some respects this represented a loss of all the health increase they had experienced since their first Survey in 2008.

Bill went over some of the possible causes and arranged a three-way Skype call with Vijay and Adam Johnstone, the Australian National Partner, one of the three international leaders of NCD, and the creator of the suite of reports called NCD Result Guides, or NRGs. Adam walked through the results with Vijay

and asked a series of questions around the key themes of self-awareness and joy, two of the themes that come least naturally according to the Story Guide (see left). Adam asked Vijay a lot of questions about how people were feeling, what was energizing them, and how were they connecting with one another.

The three lowest scoring questions connected to the theme of Joy were #35 “The atmosphere of our church is strongly influenced by praise and compliments”, #48 “When someone in our church does
a good job, I tell them”, and #62 “I enjoy the tasks I do in our church. As Vijay commented during the discussion, “we’re doing everything we’ve always done, but the results point to a loss of joy and engagement in our doing”.

One story Vijay recounted was about how they’d suddenly been told by their landlord that they were going to have to move. “God provided a suitable venue and we moved all the furniture and equipment – by the next Sunday!” Looking back, “there was a huge sense of excitement over God’s provision and a real team effort to make the transition happen. However, over time, as the demands of a new environment, and the reality of set-up and tear-down every Sunday continued, that excitement waned. We were in the new place, but the same old challenges and demands still existed”. As well, there was a grief from having lost the home in which the church had been born; where they had experienced their first nine years together. Now as he looks at the drop from 8th to 23rd in the theme ranking, it seems a fairly obvious indicator. It was only the report and the ensuing discussion that brought it to the forefront. By the end of the Skype call about the Profile, it was clear to Vijay that the church’s energy had been drained away, that everyone was feeling a bit driven, and that joy & engagement had ebbed.

So how did the leadership decide to deal with these issues? There are four key elements in their plan to address the sense of loss, and lack of energy: 1) focus on the collective, the bigger community – beyond just the small groups, and really enjoy one another – sometimes even without ‘doing’ anything! 2) step up the annual leaders retreat to include the broader leadership team and their spouses – get away, and once again, just for fun and not to ‘do’ anything. 3), Vijay and other leaders are modeling an attempt to schedule their calendars so there’s room for re-energizing activity and just being. And four, in Vijay’s words, “These survey results, along with a period of prayer and discernment, have lead us to seek a more permanent facility for our weekly gathering and ministry. The NCD survey was a red flag that we cannot just be focused on bringing more people into the community but also to the joy and well-being of those who are the core, the ones tasked with serving the existing community at URCC.”

Bill asked Vijay if he’d recommend NCD, the growth principles and the NCD Church Survey to other planters. He said, “Absolutely! It provides a benchmark check-in every year or so and a read on the rhythm of our culture”. Plants generally go from one phase of development to another very rapidly. NCD provides an ideal way to keep on top of where things are heading.