Is it time for your congregation’s annual health checkup? Research has shown that to grow membership, congregations need a healthy base. One way to assess the health of your congregation and to build toward the future is to use the Natural Church Development tool and process.
Natural Church Development was selected by the ELCA because it is a proven tool to assess the health of congregations.
The focus is not on growth, the number of people sitting in the pews, but rather on improving the health of the congregation. This is done with the understanding that when a congregation is sufficiently healthy, numerical growth will follow.
The survey has the congregation focus on eight areas that have been found to be essential for healthy growth:
- Empowering leadership: Leaders of healthy, growing congregations concentrate their energy on the empowerment of other Christians for ministry. They help members attain the spiritual potential God has for them. These pastors, rostered and lay leaders equip, support, motivate and mentor individual members, enabling them to be all God wants them to be.
- Gifts-oriented ministry: The role of church leadership is to assist its members in the identification of their gifts, their individual talents, and to integrate them into appropriate ministries.
- Passionate spirituality: Healthy congregations are passionate about their spiritual life. They are committed to practicing their faith with joy and enthusiasm. Passionate spirituality comes when people realize their place in the body of Christ.
- Effective structures: This area of the survey considers functional structures. Are congregational leaders condescending or demeaning? Are worship services conducted at inconvenient times? Is programming really reaching the intended audience?
- Inspiring worship: Natural Church Development research revealed that worship services may target Christians or non-Christians, their style may be liturgical or free, their language may be “churchy” or “secular” — none of these things make a difference in regard to growth. What does matter is whether worshipers feel that they have encountered God during the worship service.
- Need-oriented evangelism: The key to growth is for the local congregation to focus its evangelistic efforts on the questions and needs of non-Christians. To what extent are the forms and contents of evangelistic activities related to the needs of those you are trying to reach?
- Holistic small groups: The use of small groups is a church-growth principle. For groups to have a positive effect on both quality and numerical growth within a congregation, they must be holistic — all potential contributing factors are taken into consideration when assessing overall health. In these groups people can safely share personal life concerns and learn to serve others, both inside and outside the group, with their spiritual gifts.
- Loving relationships: Growing congregations posses, on the average, a measurably higher “love quotient” than stagnant, declining ones. They practice hospitality as believers regularly invite unchurched people as well as other church members to worship.
In understanding these areas of congregational life, the research shows that all eight are important.
If you are interested in pursuing this process, contact the ELCA director for evangelical mission at your synod office or Helen Harms, coordinator for Natural Church Development, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more about this process in the book Natural Church Development by Christian A. Schwarz.