Sunday, October 12, 2008

Natural Church Development

Western PA Conference has used the "natural church development" program extensively in the last decade or so. Pioneered in western PA by former church consultant Rev. Sharon Schwab (now superintendent of the Indiana District) and supported wholeheartedly by Bishop Thomas Bickerton and the "Believe Again" staff (put together by our Bishop to lead the restructuring of our Conference), this program has inspired many disciples in our Conference and has seen some success. The program is based on a 1996 book by Christian Schwarz. Personally, I see much good in NCD, though it appears to be an imperfect model (what's the role of doctrine in NCD, for example, or doesn't theology matter?). I am providing a link to a friendly review of the book, found at the "More than Cake" blog. The review is written by my old friend Joe Miller, with whom I was confirmed at Westmont UMC in Johnstown, PA in 1984 and who is today a church planter in the Pacific Northwest. It's an interesting take and worth a read.


Unknown said...

Hi Keith,

One thing I liked about NCD, is that Schwaz does a better job than most other Church Growth books in dealing with the issue of ecclesiology and pneumatology. His 8 characteristics of growing churches do address some of these issues.

However, I, like you, think theology is important and and not given enough consideration. Growth is not a substitute for the Gospel or good Christology. I am interested to read what some of the other folks in your district think.

Greg Cox said...

juxtapose this book with something from the business world and Marcus Buckingham on building upon your strengths and it will make you rethink NCD.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

But, again, what about theology? If we follow NCD and/or something from the business world or whatever, we may end up with a strong institution or a strong business, but I see precious little of that in Scripture. Mind you, I'm no fundamentalist who wants to reject all things secular (far from it, actually), but what role does theology play...if any...if all we have to do is follow these steps? Surely, it isn't just assumed in the midst of today's fractured ecclesiological realities.

Eric Park said...


I share your concerns about the absence of theological integrity, articulation, and education in NCD's listing of 8 quality characteristics.

I have similar concerns about NCD's failure to name racial/ethnic sensitivity and the formation of justice ministries as essential ingredients in any healthy and holistic congregation.

On the other hand, I have yet to encounter the perfect and complete ecclesiastical evaluation tool. NCD, while imperfect, has been a helpful and illuminating resource for us at Central Highlands.

One of the things that I like about NCD is that its quality characteristics are specific enough to provide an understanding of what's being described while remaining open-ended enough to allow for differing interpretations. For example, in our congregation, we have broadened the "effective structures" quality characteristic to include more than simply our administrative and communicational structures. We have also taken a look at the effectiveness of our existing "structures" of theological training and education (including Sunday School). This, for us, has been a way to explore the issues of our theological integrity and identity, and it has been quite illuminating.

So, even though the 8 quality characteristics do not name the urgency of theological identity and articulation (which is a valid concern), there are some ways for churches to bring those issues into the NCD nomenclature and framework.

Whether or not other churches are doing this, however, is another question.