National Church Life Survey
Many Anglican churches in Australia have participated in the NCLS (most recently undertaken in 2021). NCLS has 9 core qualities that measure church vitality: 1 alive and growing faith, 2 vital and nurturing worship, 3 strong and growing sense of belonging (these three are grouped as internal qualities); 4 a clear and owned vision, 5 inspiring and empowering leadership, 6 openness to imaginative and flexible innovation (grouped as inspirational qualities); 7 practical and diverse service, 8 willing and effective faith-sharing, and 9 intentional and welcoming inclusion (grouped as outward qualities). Completing the NCLS gives a church leadership team some quantified measures of health in each of the core qualities.
NCLS provides notes and a suggested planning process for addressing weak core qualities at https:// www.ncls.org.au/articles/act/. This process is based on ‘appreciative inquiry’ and assumes that reflection on the church’s past, combined with a shared new vision, followed by strategy and implementation steps, will yield positive change. I’m not convinced. The NCLS planning materials are fairly thin on biblical priorities for church life and mission, and in trying to appeal to any Australian church from any tradition and any denomination, they feel too openended and theologically vague. Evangelical Anglican churches would likely seek a stronger ecclesiology and missiology (such as that found in Tim Keller’s Center Church, and which is incorporated into City to City Australia’s Church Revitalisation consultancy process).
Natural Church Development
Like NCLS, Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development (ncd-australia.org) uses a survey tool filled in by church attenders to produce a report on a church’s health. NCD has eight quality areas: empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. NCD is better than NCLS at providing resources and strategies to address a church’s ‘minimum factor’ – that is, the area which scores lowest on the 8 health characteristics.
There is a series of books with titles beginning ‘The 3 Colors of…’ which each address gifts, community, spirituality, ministry, etc and provide tools to improve church health in that domain. NCD presupposes a pattern of Sunday services and mid-week small groups as the engine room of church life, and this would be familiar to most evangelical churches. Therefore, it won’t yield revolutionary change in ministry shape or priorities. Notwithstanding its conventionality, NCD has established itself as a reliable tool for church revitalisation.
Kingsford: Matthias Media, 2000
This brief book (70 pages) is short enough for every parish council member and ministry leader in the church to read and act on in one week. It provides a simple tool (a one page table) that leaders can quickly fill in to evaluate the extent to which the church’s current activities are contributing to evangelism or edification (with 3-4 stages specified under each broad goal). The tool enables a church to quickly see why it is not growing through conversions or not growing in spiritual maturity or in ministry impact. Mission-Minded can help a leader start a revitalisation process with some straight-forward analysis and a clear strategy for improving churches stuck in maintenance mode.