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Orlando churches in NCD process show progress (July 9, 2004)

Orlando churches in NCD process show progress (July 9, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Orlando churches in NCD process show progress

July 9, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0107}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham**

ORLANDO — Orlando District churches participating in the Natural Church Development (NCD) process are showing positive results, according to a recent study of those churches by Rebecca Maish, a local coach consultant and member of Tuskawilla United Methodist Church here.

Maish, a statistician, analyzes company data and makes recommendations for improvement to those businesses based on the analyses. Coordinators of the Orlando District's Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) asked her to compare the 2002 and 2003 year-end statistics of the 12 Orlando District churches entering their second year in the NCD process with the statistics of the district's 36 other churches.

"I'm cautiously optimistic about the numbers," Maish said. "The two-year analysis is showing very positive results in those particular areas [year-end statistics]."

The analysis showed members received by profession of faith increased 89.5 percent in the 12 NCD churches. All other district churches reported a decline of 13.5 percent. Attendance in short-term small groups increased 75.1 percent in NCD churches and declined 16 percent in all others. The number of people removed by transfer to other United Methodist churches or denominations decreased 20.5 percent and 38.7 percent, respectively, in NCD churches and increased 53.8 percent and 25.8 percent, respectively, in all others. African-American membership increased 21.2 percent in NCD churches and 7.9 percent in all others.

Maish said some of the information is "very compelling," but cautioned district leaders from drawing hard-fast conclusions about the NCD process from her analysis. She said measurements that gauge success should be determined and tested over time and other circumstances that might have contributed to the positive results should be considered. 

"One positive movement does not necessarily mean a trend upward," Maish said. "You need to come up with half a dozen things or numbers you want to track and consistently do that."

Maish said leaders should question whether the NCD churches were already improving  or undertaking initiatives to help them transform when they began the process. "Ask those 12 churches what else they did outside the NCD process to impact those elements or criteria," she said.

Thirty-six Orlando District churches began participating in NCD after a training event sponsored by HCI at First United Methodist Church here in January 2003. NCD has also been adopted as a key tool for transformation by the conference's Congregational Transformation office.

ORLANDO More than 100 people attended a recent fund-raising luau at Trinity United Methodist Church here. The church's pastor, the Rev. David Juliano, said the event attracted a significant number of residents from the surrounding neighborhood and children and families from the preschool located on the church's campus. Trinity is preparing to begin its second year of the NCD process and has already made inroads into reaching new people in its community, according to Juliano. "Our minimum factor was need-oriented evangelism," he said. "All of these things, signs of revitalization, are directly related to need-oriented evangelism." Photo by Bob Wadeck, Photo #04-0039.

NCD is an ongoing process that enables congregations to gauge their health. The first step is for a church's pastor and 15 laity to complete a survey that determines how well the church is doing in each of eight characteristics recognized as indicative of a healthy church-empowered leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism and missions, and loving relationships. The church then begins the process of discerning and implementing initiatives that will increase the characteristic with the lowest score, called the minimum factor, to a healthy level-a score of 65 percent or above. Churches spend a year or more focusing on that factor, then retake the survey to measure how they have grown and identify a new minimum factor. The 12 NCD churches analyzed are entering that second cycle.
Linda Mobley, who directs the district's Healthy Church Initiative, agrees with Maish's assessment the results are not conclusive, but says they "point us in a positive direction...They're [NCD churches] on a journey, and they're going in the right direction."
Mobley said Maish was asked to do the analysis to help determine if participating in the NCD process affects year-end statistics, which are used by the conference as quantitative measures of growth. The NCD process helps churches evaluate eight characteristics that are qualitative.

Mobley says the characteristics and year-end statistics are "almost apples to oranges," but the two are related when evaluating church health. "NCD extracts principles of health and applies them to your church, and when you apply those principles it should cause growth," she said.

Although NCD is new to the district Mobley says NCD leaders have gathered enough data on the more than 20,000 churches participating worldwide to show the NCD process helps a church transform. "They have done enough and been in it long enough to see that quantitative growth results in qualitative growth in 85 percent of the cases," she said. "In 100 percent of the cases when churches get 65 percent and above on all eight they really are growing."

Mobley agrees a variety of factors should be considered when determining the cause of a church's growth or improvement. "It's not just NCD. It's the circumstances they are living in and through, but when you couple it with an intentional focus to get healthy it makes a difference," Mobley said. "We can't tell how 75 percent more people in small groups affects the church, but we can say it's going to be positive." 


This article relates to the Congregational Transformation.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Parham is editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.