Basic Overview of “Natural Church Development”
“Natural Church Development,” by Christian Schwarz is a church growth book based on the massive research of 1000 churches in 32 nations and 4.2 million church members, observing nature, and studying Scripture. The principle is called the “biotic paradigm” and is described in contrast to the “technocratic method” and the “spiritualistic paradigm.” The “technocratic method” is based primarily on techniques and the “spiritualistic method” is based on following the move of God’s Spirit with minimal structure.
The book outlines the weakness of the “technocratic method” being too focused on institutions, programs, and methods. Also, “spiritualistic methods” are described flawed because they do not rely enough on structure and strategies. However, the “biotic paradigm” is described as being the best of what both the technical and spiritual methods offer. Thus, the biotic method has a good balance between methods and the moving of the Spirit. The end result of having the best of both methods is a natural growing healthy church, which is both successful in qualitative and quantitative growth (quality/quantity).
The Biblical representation of the model is rooted in the parable of Jesus concerning the seed and its growth in Mark 4:26-29. Jesus says the man plants the seed, then sleeps, and the earth produces the crop “by itself” and he does not know how. However, he will harvest the crop when it is ready. Therefore, the “by itself” process describes the natural development of the church because man should do all he can do to have a harvest and then trust in God for the growth.
The primary research presented in the book comes from surveying churches in the following eight characteristics: (1) Empowering Leadership, (2) Gift-oriented Ministry, (3) Passionate Spirituality, (4) Functional Structures, (5) Inspiring Worship Services, (6) Holistic Small Groups, (7) Need-oriented Evangelism, and (8) Loving Relationships.
The research showed that on average growing churches scored higher in developing each of the eight characteristics than non-growing churches.What was even more impressive is that every church that had a score of “65” or higher in each area was always a growing church.Therefore, the research in the book helps prove what are the main principles to church growth.
The book also showed that “megachurch” growth is not so “mega.”The research showed that churches under 100 members grew in average of 32% per five years, but the churches over 1,000 only grew 4% over the same time.Plus, the research showed that the “less than 100 member” churches had an average of 31% member involvement in ministry compared to the shocking 17% in churches of 1000 members or more!This research helped show that a church can be “mini” and be “mega” in quality and quantity.
The book gives “six biotic principles” that every natural growing church has, (1) Interdependence: the ministries in the church work together towards common goals, (2) Multiplication: growing churches multiply their disciples, (3) Energy Transformation: the passion and vision is contagious, (4) Multi-usage: ministries help grow other ministries, (5) Symbiosis: freedom for each believer to find their own unique gifted ministry, and (6) Functionality: every ministry and disciple is in a well-working ministry.
The book concludes by giving ten helpful steps to transform a church into a natural developing church. The steps are mostly obvious and easily seen by reading the book. The book ends much the same way it began by proving the best way to grow churches is by having a natural use of both strategies and “free-flowing” spiritual experiences.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strengths: “Natural Church Development” has the following strengths: (1) The book does a great job of presenting well documented research, (2) It gives sound characteristics of a “quality church,” (3) The use of illustrations in nature are very helpful and sound, (4) The book dispels many church growth myths, and (5) it gives clear graphs and sub-points to make the main points easy to follow.
Weaknesses: Here are some of its weaknesses, (1) Like with all books in this genre it does not spend enough time discussing the spiritual principles behind genuine quality church growth, (2) it does not contain all the survey questions asked to the members, and (3) the book does help the reader deal with problems along the path that may arise from implementing the principles.
My Personal Thoughts
First, I personally think that “Natural Church Development” presented the best research for church growth that I have read. I really enjoyed reading the eight characteristics section and seeing how the research backed up every point. I believe the eight characteristics sum up what makes a healthy church very well.
Second, I liked how the book described the differences between the technocratic, spiritualistic, and biotic paradigms. I was in total agreement on how most churches fall somewhere in those three categories and that both the “left and right” are unhealthy but a sound middle balance with simple principles brings out the best in church growth!
Lastly, I really enjoyed the simplicity of the principles given to grow a church naturally. A healthy church will always have quality and quantity. The book did a great job of encouraging the smaller churches and challenging the larger churches to stay natural and healthy!