Issue no. 30

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Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight 
Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches. 

Schwarz, Christian A. (1996). 
Illinois: Church Smart Resources. 128pp.
     The book is a research report on the study of the causes of church growth between 1994 and 1996 by the Germany's Institute for Natural Church Development.  The purpose was to use the survey method to discover "universally applicable church growth principles" (p.18) and to develop an "evaluative instrument for  churches" (p. 20).  A total of more than 1000 churches in 32 countries from 6 continents participated in the research project.  The list of names of churches, denominations and countries was not included in the book except for map that did not help to give the needed information about the population and samples involved in the survey.  The sampling procedure was also not discussed to gauge to what extent the research findings can be generalized to a wider context.
     The report indicates that churches can be classified into four categories according to the "Quality Index" measurement.  They are churches with above-average quality and above-average quantitative growth worship attendance; above-average quality and diminishing worship attendance; below-average quality and above-average worship attendance; below-average quality and diminishing worship attendance.  The locations and the number of churches representing the different categories are not given but should be included bearing in mind that the cultural and political context of the church community can affect the study.
     The "Quality Index" of the church is based on the eight quality characteristics identified in the study.  The first quality responsible for church growth is empowering leadership, that is, leaders who empower others to use their gifts to serve.  The results also indicate a negative correlation between formal theological training of pastors and church growth but no explanation was given.  The second quality characteristic is related to involving members in discovering their gifts and serving in their respective areas of giftedness. Incidentally, the variable of  "lay training" has the greatest correlation with church growth (p. 25).  Passionate spirituality as practised in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading is the third quality present in growing churches.  The fourth characteristic is related to the form and structure of the church to promote unity and organisation.  The other four qualities that contribute to church growth are "inspiring worship service," "holistic small group," "need oriented evangelism" and "loving relationships" amongst the members.  The study did give an overview of "How do we get more people to come to church?" (p. 15) but, it did not provide sufficient details to understand the dynamics of each quality.  For example, the types of organisational structure or what constitutes a holistic small group and how members are helped to discover their spiritual gifts. This is a perennial quest of many church leaders. The survey could have included qualitative questions to gather the relevant data.
     Schwarz asserts that the "key to the eight quality characteristics is the release of the 'biotic potential' with which God has already endowed His church" (p. 61).  The six endowed biotic principles are interdependence, multiplication, energy transformation, multi-usage, symbiosis and functionality.  Knowing the principles will enable churches "not only ... to act, but also ...  to creatively react in a way that supports growth." That is, "how can we let God's growth automatisms flourish, instead of wasting energy on human-made programs?" (pp. 66-77, 80, 7) The shift calls for a new theological paradigm elaborated in Part 4 and this is followed by  a Ten Action steps to implement the Natural Church Development into the life of a congregation.         
     The research is said to be the first international empirical study to identify church growth principles that are "true, regardless of culture and theological persuasion" to help each church and every Christian to obey the Great Commission in today's world (p. 19).  It is good to start with integrating the Bible with social science research methods if our aim is to encourage church growth. Perhaps, the survey
research can be carried out in specific regions to verify the validity and reliability of the study. The results may provide a better instrument to help churches to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses using the Quality Index. In addition to the empirical research, Schwarz has consulted the Bible and made observation from the nature of God’s creation that led him to conclude "Natural Church Development is made up of principles God has created and revealed to us" (p. 126). The claim that the Natural Church Development principles are universal is a challenge for readers to ponder and to accept.

(Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng)

     Last Wednesday, Dr Roland Tan, National Director of Campus Crusade Asia Limited, was our chapel speaker on Wednesday, 17 July. He shared about the ministry of Campus Crusade through a slide presentation and his personal testimony. The sharing ended with a lively Question and Answer session. BGST is pleased to have as one of our students Amos Ang, a senior staff of Campus Crusade, who has completed his Diploma in Christian Studies with us and will soon leave to further his studies at Regent College, Vancouver. We wish Amos and Karen Ang and their family God’s blessings as they spend the next few years at Vancouver.

     Chapel speaker (24 July) for this week was resident Lecturer in Old Testament & Biblical Studies, Dr Philip Satterthwaite. His chapel message will be reported in the next issue of BGST This Week (BTW). Next week’s Chapel speaker will be Dr Quek Swee Hwa, Dean of BGST.

  1. NEW COURSES. Please note the following new courses which are commencing this week:

    NT greek: Basic research tools & methods by Dr Quek Swee Hwa. Because of the large number of students who signed up, Dr Quek has arranged for two classes, a Saturday and a Thursday class. The Saturday class has already commenced. Lecture 1 of the Thursday class will be held tomorrow (!) on 25 July at Rm 302 from 10.00-11.30am. Please note: (1) Those who wish to alternate between the Thursday or Saturday classes (refer to schedule given in the Course Manual) may do so; (2) Those who missed the first lesson on July 6 may either attend the lesson on July 25 or view it on videotape; (c) No students will be admitted to this course after July 25. They can wait for the next time this course is offered, which will be probably in 2003. (d) The same audit free arrangement applies to the Thursday class.

    BIBLICAL BASIS OF MISSIONS by Rev Dr David Harley. The first session will begin this Friday, 26 July, at Rm 302. Those interested may still register with Dr John Lim at 90094708.

  2. POSTPONED COURSES. The following courses have been postponed:

    INTENSIVE WEEKEND COURSE ON UNDERSTANDING ESTHER & RUTH, by Dr Philip Satterthwaite. Kindly note that due to unavailabilty of venue, we need to delay the commencement of this course. The final details are: 10 & 17 Aug, Rm 302, 2.30-9.30pm.

    DEVELOPING A MISSION-INVOLVED CHURCH, by Dr John Lim. Please note that this course will be postponed to October this year. Full details of this will be provided in next week’s BTW.

  3. Last week’s Good Books, Clearing the Fog : From the Pulpit to the Pew; Effective Expository Preaching by Dr. Alvin A. Low is available in PDF format at:
    . You may also want to download the zip file at: Users agreement is located at

Wishing you God's blessings on your Birthday!

Mr Pierre Fong 22/7

Mrs Christine Wong 24/7

Rev Yap Kim Sin 24/7

Rev Philip Soh Tian Lye 24/7

Mr Leonard Kok 26/7

Ms Ng Li Shien 27/7

Ms Au Na Chuang 28/7

Mdm Claudine Chan 28/7

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