St Thomas’ Anglican Church, St John’s NL
In 2001 when John Paul Westin was St Thomas’ new rector, they found themselves in a stressful situation as they began their ministry together. Looking back, John Paul believes “NCD set us on a positive path to begin to do things to change our situation and our congregational health.” The early Surveys allowed St Thomas’ to focus their energies on something positive: a strategic approach to dealing with their difficulties. This saved them from both finger-pointing and opinions that, while often well-intentioned, can sometimes be based on ignorance of a larger perspective or broader view of how a healthy church looks and lives.
St Thomas’ Anglican Church is a large, busy urban parish in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Let’s see how they went about applying these principles, using the tools, and learning from their experience.
When John Paul came to St Thomas’, he found that they were faced with a myriad of issues. “It felt as if every possible direction was filled with pitfalls. We needed an objective diagnostic tool to assist us in knowing what to tackle first, so that we would not waste precious time, energy and resources in the parish.” They conducted their first Survey five months later in June 2001.
St Thomas’ wisely sought the help of an NCD Coach who brought a positive and objective approach, and continued helping them address their problems as revealed by the Survey. He provided a chance to work on their lowest Quality Characteristic, Need-oriented Evangelism (NOE), and bring greater health, without trying to address specific personalities.
Their highest-scoring Quality Characteristic was Inspiring Worship Service (IWS). This isn’t typical for a Canadian Anglican church, but then, St Thomas’ isn’t an average Anglican church in the first place: about 300 people attend three services; they experiment with worship styles; their programming includes Alpha courses, marriage workshops, and a prison ministry; and they’re still rejoicing from the celebration of their 175th anniversary.
The Second Survey
Interestingly, the second Survey revealed new things: i) the overall Quality score had jumped from 36 to 61, a massive shift in just 18 months; ii) the Minimum Factor was no longer Need-Oriented Evangelism (score jumped from 30 to 65); and iii) Inspiring Worship Service (IWS) was now their Minimum Factor (while the score in IWS had risen, it was the new Minimum). Gift-based Ministry was the new Maximum Factor and the strength they would need to leverage while they turned their attention to Inspiring Worship.
John Paul thinks Inspiring Worship became the new Minimum Factor on the second Survey, after having been the Maximum Factor, because it was a period of great change in the parish, including a change in much of the leadership.
Typical changes in Quality scores from first to second Surveys average seven points, but St Thomas’ experienced a jump of 25 points! John Paul says the large increase arose because they addressed some of the deficiencies, beginning with their lowest characteristic, but also because they realized that they needed to change in more areas than they had first expected. They tried to be consistent in addressing their lowest characteristic and it clearly had an effect on almost every area of parish life. “We could see the positive results of our work in the Survey, although it did not feel like we were much healthier,” John Paul says. “In fact, the church felt at times like it might explode with unhappiness in certain areas”.
Like many churches, they experienced a dip in their overall score after the fourth Survey, and also like many other churches, St Thomas’ realized that they had “picked most of the low-hanging fruit.” They had dealt with the obvious things related to their lowest characteristic after each Survey, and they needed to find out why they were having certain recurring problem areas. At the same time, they decided to move from two very different services – which was resulting in two separate congregations – to one intentionally integrated and intergenerational service. “We felt it was an important move for us to make as we tried to become a more holistic parish community,” submits John Paul. “The move upset a number of people, and this discontent was evident in the results of the next Survey after combining the worship services.”
The middle years
St Thomas’ found after several Surveys that they were able to focus more clearly on certain questions and developments as being particularly significant for their community. At first it was difficult to know what was important other than the lowest Quality Characteristic, but after several Surveys their eyes were looking for particular indicators of movement and change that signal growth. The whole process had helped develop greater discernment, patience and perseverance. John Paul is of the opinion that “NCD is a tool that transcends denominational and local differences between congregations. It is biblically faithful and clearly laid out so that the smallest and simplest congregation can use it. It can be used beneficially at various levels: with individuals, with groups, or with the entire congregation.”
Holistic Small Groups (HSG) has become a fairly stubborn, or “sticky,” Minimum Factor. John Paul thinks this is their naturally lowest characteristic. “We are a predominantly green-red (thinking & doing) church,” he says, “and our difficulty has always been in building and sustaining nurturing and healthy relationships. It is the effective part of our faith that has always been the most difficult for us. Looking at our 175-year history, I would think this has probably always been true of our very active people.” The first time HSG appeared as their lowest characteristic, they addressed it as they had addressed the others. The second time, “we looked at some of the sticking points and tried to address them more intentionally. It was still the lowest, but it was better than before.” This showed them that they had leveraged their stronger areas to address their weakest, and that it had worked. The new NCD Result Guides (NRGs), introduced and piloted at St Thomas’ in 2010, gave them a more detailed assessment and pointed out areas to address.
St Thomas’ application of the NCD growth principles over a number of years gave them a store of information and a history of growth and change to review and digest. They gradually came to see patterns in their way of life, both positive and negative. This ability to start seeing the sticking points empowered them to make changes that started transforming the course of its life. Now NCD is seen as the approach that they share as part of their parish values and strategic process.
“NCD offers practical insight into solutions for becoming a healthier and more fruitful church,” John Paul says. Any church that wants to be more faithful, balanced and healthy in its communal life will benefit from using NCD, as long as they do not look at it as a quick fix.
Recently, St Thomas’ has begun using The 3 Colors of Community to address HSG. “This is “exactly the right book for us now because our leadership has become better acquainted with both the process and the thinking behind NCD, our own spiritual gifts and the whole three-color way of thinking and seeing ourselves, our parish and our work toward greater Trinitarian balance.” John Paul goes on: “Our Vestry has appreciated the connection between our own personal spiritual health and that of our small group of leaders, and thus the health of our parish.” They hope that The 3 Colors of Community can be used as a practical tool in opening their people to a way of introducing health-bearing change to their group life. St Thomas’ current struggle is to find a way to communicate the NCD principles in clear and non-threatening language, since they believe the principles themselves would be largely agreed upon by the majority of the people in most groups.
John Paul likens the use of NCD to having a good relationship with a capable family doctor. “It’s not enough to go and see your doctor once, or when you have a problem – you need to have annual check-ups and keep the doctor up-to-date on what is happening in your life so that he or she can monitor your health and make suggestions on how best to adapt your lifestyle so that you enjoy greater health, longer.”
As John Paul says, “NCD can bring a level of resilience and fruitfulness to congregational life that many congregations lack but yearn for. NCD can take us from yearning to experiencing that new abundant life Jesus said He came to give to His disciples”.
John Paul Westin was the Rector at St Thomas’ Anglican Church in St. John’s, NL until July 2013