Natural Church Development is…Still Developing

Posted by on Apr 1, 2009 in good idea! | One Comment

Many of us were introduced to NCD as a “survey” that evaluated 8 key ministry areas: leadership, ministry, spirituality, structures, worship, small groups, evangelism, and relationships.  60,000 surveys worldwide have demonstrated the validity of NCD’s initial premise:  thriving churches have a similar approach.  In healthy churches leadership is empowering, ministry is aligned with spiritual giftings, structures function well, spirituality impassions and guides the rest of life, God inspires in the worship, the whole person is engaged through small groups, evangelism relates to the needs of those beyond the church, and relationships within the parish have a loving quality.  The tragedy has been that many parishes have “done a survey” or two and moved on to something else.

While the newly updated survey is still extremely useful for helping parishes diagnose health issues, the process has evolved beyond getting the numbers and attempting to improve the weakest link.  Some parishes were able to take the survey results and improve them, but many struggled with the pragmatic reality of implementation.

ncdwheelBill Bickle, an Anglican layman, management consultant and the new international liaison for NCD in Canada has some good news for parishes struggling to translate analysis into action.  He says, “Change has evolved in three key areas.  When the Canadian Church adopted NCD  in 1999 it was heavily influenced by the big box model of churches south of the border.  Parishes used it as a program to boost numbers.   I’ve met dozens of people who’ve told me ‘We tried NCD once, and then moved on.  .  .  .’

“We’ve rediscovered a deceptively simple Cycle of gathering information, understanding it deeply, and putting a plan of action into place.  A five year old uses the same process figuring out a new route to school.  It is deeply imbedded into our everyday processes already, which makes it a natural for parish that doesn’t know what to do next.”

The Cycle is a lifestyle pattern for parishes. After doing the survey, time is spent trying to understand why the results are what they are.  A plan is developed out of that understanding, and applied.  As the plan is applied the parish pays attention to what they are experiencing and perceiving; whether or not some measure of transformation is underway.  A parish might ask if God is guiding them in some area.  After a year or eighteen months perceptions are put to the test through another survey, and the cycle begins again.

What makes this process much easier to implement now is a new detailed analysis of how survey respondents answered each survey question, within each category.  Called “Profile Plus,” a parish can identify the 10 most vibrant strands of its internal life – across ministry categories – and also the 10 weakest.  It is here interesting patterns emerge.  A parish may score extremely high on Loving Relationships but find a lowest score for the entire survey is hidden within that category.  For instance the survey question asking, “I know of people in our church with bitterness toward others,” could be dampening the experience of God in worship and stifling small group life. It could affect the functioning of Parish Council, hinder evangelism, and create an environment where leaders exercise tighter control. We all know intuitively that there are issues behind the issues that are difficult to identify.

Many parishes tend to get stuck somewhere in the process.  They may gather information and jump to action before taking time to reflect on what the information means, or plan without putting into action, or fail to evaluate whether the plan has produced desired results by taking a new survey.  The Cycle encourages the doers to slow down and think, the thinkers to speed up and do, and provides a quantified evaluation at the end to launch the next cycle. When a parish has undergone the entire Cycle several times, hidden or undiscussed  issues emerge and there is possibility for deep transformational change.  We can plan for what we understand.  We can experience God’s grace as we work it out.  We can gauge whether our efforts have borne fruit and begin again.

One other insight has emerged over the last 10 years, that the spread between highest and lowest scores is significant.  If a church is extremely developed in one area and extremely undeveloped in another, there is an instability within that needs to be addressed more urgently than simply bringing up the numbers.  A weak athlete with two legs of equal length will respond to training more readily than an athlete with a highly toned right leg, and a left leg half a meter shorter.  The gap between strongest characteristic and lowest must be narrowed.  It’s not simply a matter of attaining a higher score.

Parish ministry is increasingly challenging in post-Christendom.  NCD is a post-Christendom tool which resonates with European and Canadian experience, is parish friendly – and most importantly – relates the task of Church to the work of God in understanding, in action, and in experience.

Churches wishing to learn more about the suitability for NCD in their context should contact Bill Bickle at .  An “NCD Primer” can be downloaded at . Churches that did NCD under the former system may wish to try again, using Profile Plus.  The NCD Cycle Manual can now be downloaded from the same website, left hand column.


The Rev. Dr. Connie denBok has a background in church planting, and is currently minister of Alderwood United Church in Etobicoke. She is also a columnist for the United Church Observer. She and her husband Doug have two adult daughters.

1 Comment

  1. avatar
    Brian Keezer
    May 19, 2010

    looking for Bill Bickle’s e-mail address re: NCD books


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