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Natural Church Development

Frequently Asked Questions




What is Natural Church Development?


Natural church development is a new way of looking at church health and church growth. The program identifies the principles of healthy and growing churches that are true across cultures and regardless of theological persuasion.

The concept is based on the belief that the church is an organism and that God's principles for growth in the church should be similar to growth and health in other parts of creation. It is not based on natural theology—that somehow we can know God or God's ways apart from Jesus Christ. Rather, it takes into account the processes of nature as it looks at how churches grow naturally. The  terminology is sometimes unusual because it is based on these natural growth principles.

One may define natural church development as "releasing the growth automatisms, by which God himself grows his church" . "Automatism" is a transliteration from the Greek word translated as "all by itself" in Mark 4:28 (New International Version). The concept is that, in nature, given the right conditions, plants grow "with no apparent cause" other than what God has built into that plant. The idea is that in churches, as well as in plants, God has programmed into their genetic code the qualities that will make them healthy and allow them to grow. The key is that we as human leaders must learn how we may best cooperate with what God is already doing.

These principles of natural church development have been identified from three sources: 1) empirical research, 2) observing nature, and 3) studying Scripture, with the Scripture being the final arbiter of truth.

Natural Church Development's principles are drawn from looking at many model churches—different sizes, in different cultures, in a variety of contexts (both in freedom and under persecution). From many models, one should be able to abstract the common principles, then individualize those principles for any church in any context . The conclusion is that improving the quality of church life should be a better stimulus and predictor of quantitative growth.

The Eight Quality Characteristics used to define Healthy Churches are:

1. Empowering leadership—leaders focus on equipping and training other Christians to do ministry; leaders are committed wholly to church growth.

2. Gift-oriented ministry—ministry tasks are distributed according to the spiritual gifts of the people; nearly every Christian is using his/her God-given gifts to build up the church.

3. Passionate spirituality—the spiritual lives of the church members are characterized by prayer, enthusiasm, and boldness; most members live out their faith with power and contagious enthusiasm.

4. Functional structures—the forms, practices, and structures of the church are designed to most effectively accomplish ministry in this time and place (form follows function); church structures are evaluated as to whether or not they contribute to the growth of the church.

5. Inspiring worship service—attending worship services is inspiring and uplifting to those who attend; worship is a high point of the week for the majority of the congregation.

6. Holistic small groups—there is a continuous multiplication of small groups that meet the real needs of people; the loving and healing power of fellowship is experienced in these groups.

7. Need-oriented evangelism—evangelistic activities relate directly to the needs of the people the church is trying to reach; nearly all Christians use their spiritual gifts to help fulfill the Great Commission.

8. Loving relationships—relationships among the members of the church are characterized by a high level of loving affection; Christ's love permeates nearly all church activities.

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