The American Baptist Churches of Vermont and New Hampshire (www.abcvnh.org) was recently at the denominational headquarters in Valley Forge to share about its work in transforming the ministries of congregations experiencing decline. As part of the presentation given by regional minister, I was invited to talk about the work of First Baptist as a congregation working through the “Transformation Track” of interim ministry. I am honored to go on your behalf to talk about what has happened since we began working together on the transitional journey one year ago this month. It is a joy to share your congregational story with others!
One of the assessment tools we are using is the recent Natural Church Development survey taken in early January 2007. This survey has been used around the world, helping Christian congregations assess their “quality” of life. These eight areas are “qualities” identified by Natural Church Development as indicators of healthy marks of a congregation that is able to grow and flourish. The survey asked the participants questions about how you feel about basic components of congregational life. Is worship inspiring? Have you spent time recently with other congregants? Do you pray or read the Bible often?
After the survey is completed, it is scored and interpreted back to the congregation. The transition team met in late January with a region staff member, and the results were quite encouraging! For your information, here are the scores from August 2004 (the first time this test was taken) and January 2007. The comparisons are quite illumining! The baseline scores of an optimally healthy church would be somewhere around 65 per quality. (Scores are not to be considered on the scale of 100-90 is an “A”, etc., so understand that “70” is really high for this scoring system.) To see one 62 when scores above 40, let alone 60, were not possible previously is quite good. It is important to note that the congregation has made marked change over the time since August 2004 when the last survey. We are moving upwards!
Qualities 08/04 01/07 Difference Empowering Leadership 38 (MAX) 62 (MAX) 24 Gift-oriented Ministry 21 39 18 Passionate Spirituality 14 (MIN) 27 (MIN) 13 Functional Structures 18 40 22 Inspiring Worship Service 20 42 22 Holistic Small Groups 25 35 10 Need-oriented Evangelism 25 30 10 Loving Relationships 19 29 10 AVERAGE SCORE: 22 38 16
The idea behind NCD is simple: affirm where we are strongest, but really work on the lower scores to improve areas of challenge. The two lowest scoring areas in 2007’s survey are “Passionate Spirituality” and “Loving Relationships” (“functional structures”, the second lowest in 2004 has moved up quite a bit by 2007). These two areas involve essentially our personal and congregational spirituality. The questions involved in creating the scores for these two areas were concerned with how we live out our faith as individuals and as a gathered people.
The transition team will be working on opportunities for the congregation to grow in these areas. To improve our spirituality, it involves one’s personal faith commitments growing in ardency. To improve our relationships, we become more attentive to how the church membership relates to one another. I would argue further that the more creative and intentional we are as a congregation in working in these two areas, which essentially prompt us to be more faithful and communal, will stimulate growth in other areas tracked by Natural Church Development.
The good news is that the NCD survey demonstrates that First Baptist is further ahead in its work. You feel better about the life of the church. Now we will start working throughout 2007 to deepen and grow our ministries.