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Living with the Spirit of Promise (Chapter 10)

The question in my mind all the way through this chapter was, who is giving us the best advice--Kennon Callahan or Christian Schwarz?

Christian Schwarz, in Natural Church Development (NCD), gives us eight "quality characteristics:"

  • empowering leadership
  • gift-oriented ministry
  • passionate spirituality
  • functional structures
  • inspiring worship service
  • holistic small groups
  • need-oriented evangelism
  • loving relationships

A proprietary NCD survey scores a church on each of the eight quality characteristics.  The church takes its weakest point and tasks a church health team to work on it.  NCD uses the the analogy of a barrel, which can only hold as much as the shortest stave will allow.  To increase the capacity of the barrel, the shortest stave has to be lengthened.  Because the eight characteristics are part of an interrelated system, improving one element tends to improve others also.  Data collected in NCD indicates with some certainty that when scores on all the characteristic reach a certain point, a church will be growing.

Callahan also gives us eight characteristics--specific to a small, strong congregation.  The table below rearranges Schwarz's quality characteristics to correspond to Callahan's where there is some measure of similarity.

Callahan Schwarz
-mission & service -need-oriented evangelism
-compassion & shepherding -loving relationahips
-community & belonging -holistic small groups
-self-reliance & self sufficiency
worship & hope -inspiring worship service
-team, leaders, & congregation -empowering leadership
-just enough space and facilities
-giving and generosity
-gift-oriented ministry
-passionate spirituality
-functional structures

Callahan doesn't provide a survey, but suggests in his book that small congregations think, pray, review the explanations of the eight qualities, discover the wisdom of friends and family, gather in an enjoyable planning session, and rank each quality on a scale of 1-10, seeing which ones are the strongest.  Then he suggests that the congregation look ahead 3 years and develop practical ways to expand two of its strengths and then add one or two "new strengths."  The goal of the process is to deliver five of the eight characteristics well.

Which list do we use?  What do we focus on first--expanding our strengths or improving on our weaknesses?  For a small church, I find myself leaning toward Callahan for three reasons.  First, a small church has unique characteristics, and I like the way Callahan captures the "best practices" of ministry in that setting.  Overall, the eight characteristics are consistent with missional thinking and practice in a small church context.  I appreciate the focus not on getting large but on getting strong and watching what the Lord does with a strong congregation.  Second, Callahan's approach involves the whole church in the process, which is a good fit for the small church environment.  NCD utilizes smaller groupings of the membership to do the survey and the improvements. Third, I resonate with Callahan when he says, "When we begin with our weaknesses, we are in the weakest position to deal with our weaknesses.  When we begin with our strengths and expand one or two of them, we are now in the strongest position to deal with our weaknesses" (p. 303).  Working with our strengths is consistent with the principle of God gifting his people for what he has called them to do.  When a church determines its "one, excellent mission" (Chapter 2), it makes sense that the mission will be in line with a church's strengths, not its weaknesses.

That being said, the NCD process can still benefit small churches.  But, after looking at them both, I have a preference for Callahan's approach for that setting.

Add your comments

What do you think - focus on strengths or on weaknesses?

Have any of you worked with NCD in a small church context?  How did it go / how is it going?

Are any of you going to try Callahan's process of claiming, expanding, and adding strengths?