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Christian Life Assembly, Calgary, AB

I discovered NCD while doing a paper on church growth in college.  I came across Christian Schwarz’s initial book, ‘Natural Church Development,’ and was eager to see it in action.  At that time I was on staff at a large church and could not convince the senior pastor to conduct the Survey, though he was aware of NCD and believed in its basic premise that healthy organisms grow.

When I was hired as a senior pastor at Christian Life Assembly, I was eager to give NCD a try, so we conducted our first Survey in 2006. The results showed we were slightly below the Canadian average – disappointing, but not altogether surprising.  At least we had an objective perspective on the area of health, on which we needed to focus and to which we needed to bring a greater level of health.  Having this, we changed a few things — not very many things at all, really, but they were focused on the right spot like a laser.  Our next survey demonstrated that those few changes had made a significant improvement in our overall health (an increase of 19 points when the average increase between two NCD Surveys is six).  It seemed almost too easy, but results are results, and that early success really fuelled my commitment to NCD as a valuable tool in congregational strategic planning and development.

We are about to complete our ninth NCD Survey at Christian Life and have reached a level of good health (in the top 15% of the country when compared with the Canadian standard); certainly not close to ‘arriving,’ however we may conceive of that, but it sure is nice to serve and be part of a community not plagued with problems, and possessing some spiritual momentum.  Our initial weaknesses have become strengths, and we are very aware of who we are as a church.

So things are good, but it wouldn’t be right to give the impression that we’ve experienced a continuous string of successes.  Some of our later NCD Surveys have not shown the dramatic improvements that our earlier ones did.  Our NCD consultants tell us that this is normal.  Sometimes we have failed to see movement in the area on which we focused  – well, that happened once, I think – and the failure can easily be traced to our own failure to follow through with our implementation plans.

That raises an important point:  NCD requires follow-through.  Just like weighing yourself doesn’t help you shed fat, NCD Surveys do not in themselves bring health to congregations.  They do, however, give church leaders an objective health report from which to chart a course from the current level of health to a greater level of health.  To press the personal health metaphor a little further, NCD produces multiple health indicators: not just weight, but body fat, vital capacity, heart rate, blood pressure, speed, agility, flexibility, etc.  Using these indicators, one can choose a regimen of diet, exercise and perhaps medicine known to increase health in the most crucial areas.  The point I’m trying to make here is that a person (or a church) has to commit to the regimen if any progress is going to be made.  It’s not a lot of work, but it is a little work.  But the payoff is well worth it.  I don’t know any other set of tools that is as user-friendly or equips leaders with as much usable information as NCD.

So, NCD is not for lazy leaders or leaders who are perpetually looking for the ‘one thing’ that will transform a congregation.  If that’s your style, don’t bother with NCD.  Churches need to commit to at least a full cycle of NCD to gauge results.  A full cycle consists of an initial Survey, evaluation of its results, strategic planning to address a health issue, following through with the plan, and a successive Survey to measure results.  I think the business management maxim applies here, too – “what gets measured, gets managed”.

What we’ve discovered is that positive results make ministry and church life more fun.  That sounds a bit trite, perhaps, but it’s true nonetheless. I’m working from the assumption that leaders are supposed to lead in the direction of positive change, so it’s fulfilling (‘fulfilling’ sounds more spiritual than ‘fun’) to succeed in our calling.  NCD has been a tool (or set of tools) which has enabled us to identify, very specifically, the areas of church life that can benefit from change.  This has led to efficiency in our use of time, effort, and resources that I’m confident would not result from best guesses or someone else’s success template.  Did I mention that it’s fun to succeed?

Larry Young is the Senior pastor at Christian Life Assembly in Calgary, AB