Case History: Columbiana United Methodist Church

Churches throughout northern Alabama participate in Natural Church Development (NCD) as a way to enhance church health and succeed in their mission to inspire more disciples of Christianity. Columbiana United Methodist Church is one North Alabama congregation that has benefited from a NCD process that helped them create new community outreach strategies.

The Natural Church Development process begins with 30 members of a congregation completing a survey to establish a baseline for measuring where their church stands on eight “quality characteristics” of ministry. Congregants, led by a Church Health Team who works with an NCD coach, then develop a plan to focus on and improve the score for their “minimum factor”—the lowest-scoring quality characteristic in the survey results.  Twelve to 18 months after executing the plan, the congregation retakes the NCD survey to track its progress, identify a new minimum factor, and create a new focused ministry plan for the next several years.  The result is a continuous improvement process.

By focusing on their minimum factor, or their maximum leverage point, many congregations see improvement in other quality characteristic areas as well.  For example, Columbiana UMC saw significant improvement in all quality characteristics scores when congregants recently retook the NCD survey.

When the congregation took the first NCD survey, they discovered their minimum factor was need-based evangelism.  The goal for healthy, need-based evangelism is for all Christians to use their gifts to serve non-Christians with whom they have a personal relationship and to demonstrate the love of Christ to them.  It is not a manipulative program where members pressure non-Christians. Instead need-based evangelism defines all ways congregation members can show the love of Christ to those in their community.

In order to address this minimum factor, the Columbiana congregation started new mission and outreach programs while continuing existing mission programs.  This variety of outreach ministries has provided a way to involve the entire church in need-based evangelism efforts.

During the NCD process, the church not only focused on how they reach out to their community, but also on continuing to minister to those who already are members of the congregation.  During the last year, they intentionally developed systems to stay connected to members who had not attended in a while or who are away at college. The congregation also focused on a new generation of Christians through ministering to their youth members with a new, full-time youth minister, and by continuing to offer discovery weekends for youth. 

“It has been said that it is easier to steer a vehicle that is moving,” said Dr. Don Wright, pastor of Columbiana UMC.  “The Natural Church Development model is a process and not a program.  It is not pre-packaged, but provided a scientific process that our leaders respected and acknowledged.  It diagnoses, but also designs directions for the church to take to become healthier.  It helped us see ourselves from an outside perspective.  Through this motif we experienced both renewal as well as reformation.  Consequently our church kept its eyes open to the needs of the world around us.”


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