A. The hallmarks of NCD research

1. What can be expected from NCD research—and what not

In order to understand the unique character of the NCD data, it is important to recognize that the majority of it has been derived from two different kinds of studies:

1. What can be expected from NCD research—and what not

2. Goals of the research

3. Scope of the research

4. The Church Survey as part of an overall theory

5. In search of universal principles

6. Synthesizing empirical and theological perspectives

7. Both diagnosis and therapy

8. Making the invisible visible

9. Individual and corporate applications

10. The hypothetical causality of quality and quantity

11. Language-based and national normations

12. Accessibility of data

● First, an extensive primary study that, in its initial phase, aimed at identifying universally valid characteristics of growing churches (in NCD language, “principles”), and, in its second phase, on developing a support structure to help churches of the most diverse backgrounds apply these principles in order to experience qualitative and quantitative growth.

● Second, a wide scope of secondary studies that are based on the data provided by the primary study, benefiting from the fact that the primary study enabled, in its second phase, an ongoing collection of new data and the unique possibility of screening long-term developments. The possibility of relating different kinds of observations to different levels of church quality enables empirical insights into the state of Christianity that are not supplied by other research agencies.

What NCD research is not targeted at

Since the NCD Church Survey has been designed as a psychometric test, the data collected by NCD is not the most ideal source when a person is interested in the following categories of information:

Demographic data, e.g., How many churches are there in a given country? How many new churches have been planted within the past twelve months? What is the average growth rate of Christianity worldwide?

Contextual data, i.e., What is the educational level of the church members? What is the influence of migration patterns on a given church? What trends in society are favorable/unfavorable for Christianity?

What NCD research reveals

However, the data collected by NCD is ideal when a person is interested in some of the following categories of information:

Principles that apply universally, i.e., What are the characteristics of all healthy churches, regardless of culture, spiritual tradition, or church size? How can we be sure that the methods suggested by some groups will actually work in our own situation? What are strengths/weaknesses of specific cultures in terms of applying principles of church development?

Data related to church quality, i.e., What growth patterns can be expected of a church representing a given quality level? How can a tendency to church decline be turned around? Which denominations or spiritual movements display higher quality than others?

Analysis of one’s own situation: What are the strengths and weaknesses of our local church? What are my own personal strengths and weaknesses? What are the strengths and weaknesses of our whole denomination/movement?

Identification of the critical factors blocking growth, i.e., What areas do we tend to be blind to? Which single measure could have the greatest strategic impact in our situation? What should be the next step in our development?

Ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of one’s efforts, i.e., How can we verify if our work in a specific area has been effective? What should be improved in this realm in the future? What have emerged as new problem areas, while the overall quality has been increasing?

Results that can realistically be expected from a change process, i.e., How many additional people can our church expect to attract if we increase our quality by 10 points? How will our financial situation look like if we successfully develop the quality of the church? What new ministries can we expect to launch when we strategically invest in the heads, hands, and hearts of our people?

Breaking down organizational change to character development, i.e., What would be my most effective contribution to God’s kingdom? How can I personally best invest my energy to help my church overcome its present minimum factor? What kind of church program could supply the ideal environment to my personal growth needs?

Information that helps you formulate and pursue your own goals, i.e., How can we identify the human resources needed in order to reach the goals defined by our leadership team? How can we become a church that is more relevant to the society around us? What are the topics that our whole denominational region should focus on?

2. Goals of the research

Studies conducted by NCD are never research for the sake of mere data collection. Rather, they are all targeted at answering practical questions. This applies both in cases of basic research geared at increased knowledge in general, and in cases of applied research geared at answering specific questions.

Focus on change processes

All NCD research is focused on supplying building blocks for change processes that make Christianity more relevant and effective in its manifold cultural contexts, understanding “church” as “salt and light of the world” (expressed in theological language) or an “agent for societal change” (expressed in sociological language). The most important goals of the different research projects of NCD are the following:

● First, identifying universal principles of church health in contrast to mere models. In order to secure a sufficient degree of neutrality, we have chosen the criterion of numerical growth in worship attendance as an external criterion. Only those items that proved to display a worldwide positive correlation to numerical growth were used as indicators for health.

● Second, developing an increasing number of assessment tools that help both individuals and churches (1) analyze their respective starting points, (2) monitor their progress, and (3) decide what needs to be done once a higher level of health has been reached.

● Third, providing constant growth stimuli that motivate people to stay on track and to invest into the ongoing processes of change.

● Fourth, tools for coaches that are committed to helping both individuals and organizations/groups.

Guiding hypotheses

Throughout all of the research phases, there have been four basic hypotheses, some of which have been directly confirmed by our research, while others had to be relativized and modified:

Hypothesis #1: Both at individual and corporate levels, there is something like “quality” that can be measured empirically and evaluated theologically, a process in which the empirical research functions as a heuristic criterion, and the theological research, as a normative criterion.

Hypothesis #2: It is assumed that both at the individual and corporate levels quality correlates with quantity in the sense of impacting an increasing number of people.

Hypothesis #3: While hypothesis #2 merely assumes a correlation between quality and quantity, hypothesis #3 assumes a causal direction: The increase in quality is seen as the strategic root of quantitative increase.

Hypothesis #4: The state of Christianity can, both qualitatively and quantitatively, substantially increase to the degree that individual Christians and whole churches focus their attention on their qualitative development.

Different interpretations possible

In research projects of this kind, the collection of raw data and the interpretation of that data must be distinguished, while being aware of the fact that such a distinction is never achievable in any puristic way. The initial hypotheses we start the process with are already the result of a certain view (“interpretation”) of reality, and this interpretation determines the very questions that we ask or don’t ask. On the basis of the same raw data it is possible to come up with different interpretations and thus, different forms of implementation.

The goal of NCD is not only to provide raw data, but also interpretations that fulfill two criteria:

● First, they make most sense, empirically and theologically, when being compared with other interpretative constructs.

● Second, they can serve as helpful points of orientation within the needed processes of change.

3. Scope of the research

While the original research, as documented in the book Natural Church Development, was conducted in about 1000 churches from 32 countries, the present files include data from 75,000 churches, encompassing 220 million individual responses provided by 2.3 million people in 86 countries from more than 100 denominations. Apart from this data that derived from the NCD Church Survey, the data deriving from the various eTests targeted at the growth of individuals in different areas of life promise to enable highly relevant insights into personal dynamics of change in the future.

Advantage of high numbers

In other words, compared to the original NCD research, our present database is more than 75 times as large. However, for many considerations—e.g., the accuracy of the results originally gained—this huge enhancement is less relevant than a lay-person may assume. In research of this kind, you can come up with precise results based on significantly smaller samples than those that are currently accessible to us.

In most cases, the benefit of the present database is not higher accuracy in terms of the results originally gained, but enabling two research possibilities that were not available to us 25 years ago:

● First, because of the increased database we now can create new subcategories to be studied. Rather than solely comparing growing with non-growing churches worldwide, as was the most important distinction in the original research, we can now zoom in to considerably smaller entities and make highly relevant observations on them, i.e., Baptist churches in the United States inside and outside of the Bible-belt, non-charismatic churches in different regions of Asia, or observations on different age groups of people who answered the questionnaire. This fine-tuning can go so far as to make precise statements about a given diocese or interdenominational movements in a specific region. In other words, the number of questions that can be answered by using data from NCD research has dramatically increased.

● Second, while the original study represented cross-sectional research on the situation of churches we studied between 1994 and 1996 (usually one profile per church), the fact that many churches have done several repeat profiles throughout the past 25 years enables us to conduct longitudinal studies, through which we can precisely monitor the developments over time and evaluate the effects of specific interventions, such as working on one’s minimum factor or applying specific tools for church development.

Disadvantages of the new database

In spite of the new possibilities that the enlarged database provides, for some topics, the data deriving from the original study is still more relevant. In particular, this applies if a user is interested in observations that are representative of worldwide Christianity. This difference is due to the different kind of data selection in the two phases of research:

● As far as the initial 1000 churches are concerned, we applied the principle of “stratified random sampling,” i.e., we selected the churches according to criteria targeted at guaranteeing a representation of a wide scope of different kinds of churches, and within these different categories, we strove for random sampling. For none of these churches the decision to launch an NCD process played any role, since NCD as a technical term for a specific approach to ministry did not exist at that time.

● For churches researched beyond the initial 1000, the external selection was substituted by self-selection, i.e., the leadership of a given church decides if they want to take an NCD Profile (while the 30 people who fill in the actual survey are selected by stratified random sampling). In practical terms this means that today only churches with a certain degree of interest in NCD take the test. For that reason, there is a common denominator characterizing all of these churches: They made the decision to launch or intensify an NCD process, even if with strongly varying degrees of commitment or perseverance (indicated by different progress levels).

The consequences of these different forms of selection are far-reaching. Strictly speaking, we are safe to say that the new data is representative for all churches within an NCD process. For example, it can be assumed that Lutheran churches among the initial sample of 1000 churches represent the “typical Lutheran church” in a given country more precisely than the far higher number of Lutheran churches in the sample presently available to us. The decision of churches to get involved with NCD goes hand in hand with the following features:

● First, they have a certain problem awareness concerning their own status quo.

● Second, they are willing to be confronted with their less favourable features (“minimum factors”) and address them.

● Third, they don’t see strategic work on church development as something that is unnecessary or even unspiritual.

● Fourth, they are willing to proactively invest into a better future, and are ready to pay something of the price for that.

● Fifth, they are eager to actually see changes (as indicated by repeat profiles).

While none of these five features necessarily characterizes every single church involved with NCD, it can be assumed that, on average, these features are more strongly represented in a sample of churches researched by self-selection than can be expected for other churches, including the initial 1000 churches that we researched by external selection.

Does this mean that the data within our expanded sample is more “distorted” than the initial sample? Not necessarily. It all depends on the kind of question we strive to answer when studying the data. If our interest is to make statements about the “typical” church in general, the initial file will provide more accurate data. However, if our interest is to study the dynamics of actual change processes targeted at increasing church quality, the enlarged database provides better information.

4. The Church Survey as part of an overall theory

Today, the NCD Church Survey is a building block of an approach to ministry that we have chosen to call “Natural Church Development.” This approach is based on a theory that has existed in its rudimentary form from the very beginning and was revised, modified, and enhanced with every stage of research.

In need of theory

A “theory” within any endeavor of that kind (including Natural Church Development) serves the following two purposes:

● First, without some sort of theoretical concept, data analysis is not possible. “Raw data” in and of itself doesn’t tell us anything, as long as the analysis is not guided by a fitting theory. Any interpretation of research results depends on hypotheses and therefore on an (at least) rudimentary “theory” from the very beginning. This initial theory is then constantly modified in light of new data and new ways of understanding them.

● Second, for any research targeted at initiating processes of change, a theory is needed to develop a framework for practical implementation (“strategy”). Because of that, the theory doesn’t only have to help in the process of analyzing the data, but also in providing practical support in terms of actual change.

Whenever we are confronted with the statement, “What counts is not theory, but practice,” it must be questioned. It can be demonstrated that wrong theories result in wrong (i.e., counterproductive, ineffective, or even dangerous) practices. On the other hand it is true that a “good theory,” in and of itself, does not result in “good practices.” Both the theoretical and the practical sides have to be given equal attention.

Scientifically, there is no general agreement on how theories come into existence. However, there is agreement on how they should be tested. From theories, we derive hypotheses that are quantified in such a way that they can be empirically verified or falsified. The results of that “hypothesis check” are used to draw conclusions about the accuracy of the theory, modify it, or if there should be strong negative evidence, discard it.

Ongoing development

As in all research, NCD research started with an initial theory that was, throughout the different stages of the research, constantly modified. Some of the most important modifications of the theory—when comparing the initial hypotheses with the present strategy—are the following:

● The number of “quality characteristics” of growing churches has changed throughout the process (from initially seven to eight).

● The names of the individual quality characteristics were constantly adapted to the latest research insights (for instance, the first quality characteristic was first called “goal-oriented pastor,” then “goal-oriented leadership,” and finally “empowering leadership”).

● Some items of the questionnaire were, as a result of factor analysis, assigned to a different “scale” (quality characteristic) than originally assigned.

● Many items on the initial lists were erased as their correlation with numerical growth was not strong enough.

● The majority of items were repeatedly reformulated throughout the process, sometimes in the light of validity considerations (correlation to numerical growth), sometimes in the light of interdenominational considerations (being understandable by different traditions), sometimes in light of cultural considerations.

● The normation for the various languages in which the survey is available were constantly adapted to the increased knowledge derived from the growing data-base.

● With every update of the survey new items were included for research purposes, i.e., in order to find out if there may be additional factors contributing to growth that can be seen as subcategories of the existing set of quality characteristics or could form a “new” quality characteristic. (This policy was ceased in the 2005 update of the survey, as it had resulted in far-too-long lists of questions which undermined the user-friendliness of the procedure.)

These changes reflect the normal development in any scientific process. Every update of a given theory is supposed to explain all phenomena that have been explained beforehand and, in addition to it, some new discoveries that were not known or explainable before.

In NCD language, those factors that can be proven to apply universally (e.g., across cultural or denominational lines), are called “principles.” It is important to understand that these principles should not be confused with laws, such as “Water freezes when it is xyz degrees or colder.” Rather, in NCD we are referring to higher or lower probabilities. A typical example of a statement derived from a principle-oriented approach is the following: “If a church reaches the quality X, the likelihood is Y that it will grow by Z percent or more.”

Items, scales, and quality index

In the NCD Church Survey, the quality level of a given church is referenced in three different ways:

● First, in the form of a “quality index” that indicates the overall quality of a church, expressed in the form of a number based on a mean of 50, with a standard deviation of +/-15 (i.e., approximately 68% of all churches have a quality index between 35 and 65 points).

● Second, in the form of eight scales (“quality characteristics”), each of them constructed from ten to eleven different items, depending on the respective scale. These eight numbers enable a distinguishing between areas of strengths and weaknesses within a given church. In particular, they enable the identification of the so-called “minimum factor,” which is of high strategic importance in terms of church development.

● Third, in the form of presently 85 individual items, i.e., statements that the the person filling in the survey is supposed to respond to with a five point answer scheme, indicating the level of affirmation (Likert method). Some of these items are negatively poled to interrupt the pattern of checking everything toward the right (or left). All of these items are related to one of the eight scales mentioned above.

It is important to understand that the individual items on the survey are not intended to name the root causes of growth or decline; rather, they serve as indicators of realities that are not directly visible (the reality behind the eight scales). At the same time, the answers to the individual items, as they are displayed in the Detailed Profiles, provide valuable pieces of information in the implementation process.

Spiritual, institutional, and contextual factors

There are three categories of factors that impact on the growth or decline of churches: spiritual, institutional, and contextual factors. The 85 items on the present NCD Survey provide information on both the spiritual and institutional realms of the church. While it is true that contextual factors have an impact as well, the NCD Survey deliberately focuses on principles that apply regardless of context. The focus on both spiritual and institutional factors should not be understood in such a way that contextual factors would be deemed un important. They are important. But by definition, we cannot influence them (at least not directly). We have to accept them. By contrast, both spiritual and institutional factors can be influenced by people committed to pursuing such a change process.

6. Synthesizing empirical and theological perspectives

One hallmark of NCD is the synthesis of both empirical and theological perspectives. This approach has been strongly inspired by the theological work of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see, for instance, his doctoral dissertation Sanctorum Communio. A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church). NCD understands its own place as a “theory between practice and practice,” i.e., it is triggered by practical questions that need to be addressed and it is supposed to result in a changed reality. The “theory in between” strives to encompass both the theological and the empirical dimensions.

The empirical perspective

As far as the empirical dimension is concerned, the criterion of “theological neutrality” applies. The fact that most of the researchers involved with NCD are Christians may have an influence both on their motivation and on the questions they ask, but it doesn’t have any influence on the research methodology itself. In general, the basics of measurement in empirical social research is chiefly taken from psychology. It is a hallmark of the empirical perspectives to focus on objects that can be observed and measured. For these procedures, the religious orientation or theological conviction of the respective researcher is not important.

The theological perspective

As far as the overall theory is concerned, the theological perspective is deliberately included. While the empirical insights serve as “heuristic standards,” the theological (i.e., bible-based) insights serve as “normative standards.” Everything that is identified by empirical means is carefully evaluated in biblical categories before incorporated in the NCD tool box.

It is a general consensus among empirically oriented scientists that metaphysical constructs are not accepted as scientific explanations. This does not imply, however, that metaphysical explanations don’t influence the behavior of human beings. As far as people’s motivational system is concerned, they are even more important than most intellectual knowledge deriving from empirical data. In a strategy targeted at change, these factors should be addressed. However, the theory must clearly distinguish between the empirical data and the metaphysical explanations, even if at a practical level the majority of people tend to mix both dimensions.

The integration of the two perspectives

The integration of the empirical (physical) and the transempirical (metaphysical) layer is a major topic in the first two volumes of the Energy Trilogy.

7. Both diagnosis and therapy

The NCD Survey is not just a diagnostic tool, but plays an important part in the “therapy” as well. Taking the NCD Profile—and hence, learning about one’s strengths and weaknesses—is already part of a set of interventions. Taking the NCD Survey, in and of itself, changes the reality that the survey is supposed to measure. Even if some researchers may complain about the “distorting” effect connected to these dynamics, in NCD that sort of distortion is explicitly desired. The NCD Survey is a research tool, a diagnosis tool, a prognosis tool, and an intervention tool—all at the same time.

NCD as a change agent

In the past, NCD International has sometimes been criticized for not limiting itself to “pure research,” but offering practical implementation tools as well. The fear is that by offering a specific ministry approach we are in danger of compromizing our “scientific neutrality.” In our view, however, NCD’s positioning as both a research and an implementation agency has highly beneficial effects on both the empirical research (in terms of growing a sensitivity for asking the right questions) and implementation (in terms of practical suggestions that are empirically verified).

Some people are not sufficiently aware of the fact that in NCD we don’t strive to defend a pre-determined approach to Christian ministry (by means of illustrating that approach with the help of research data). Rather, we are constantly striving to adapt and modify the tools and procedures of NCD to what we learn from ongoing research.

Knowledge and motivation for action

Throughout the last twenty years of ministry, we learned that the very information that helps people explain a certain phenomenon (e.g., the growth of the church), is not identical with the driving forces that motivate them to launch and sustain the change process needed. Even if the dimension of “knowledge” is an important ingredient in any change process, the cognitive dimension is just one of many factors, and often not even the decisive one.

For that reason, we have proactively invested in gaining insights into people’s motivational system, and to address these factors by our tools as well. A key discovery in that process was “God’s energy” as part of the New Testament texts and teaching, which has—for linguistic, cultural, and political reasons—never found its way onto the agenda of Western Christianity. The Energy Trilogy outlines some of the practical consequences that an awareness for the dynamics of God’s energy entails.

8. Making the invisible visible

One of the major effects of the various diagnostic procedures offered by NCD—both at a personal and a corporate level—is making dynamics visible that otherwise would not be detected, and in some cases not even be detectable.

Benefits of visibility

Three of the most important benefits of that possibility are the following:

● First, it enables us to perceive certain dynamics and to assign names to them. In the perception of many people, this is identical with bringing them into existence.

● Second, it makes these dynamics manageable. Since we become enabled to measure them, we can monitor our progress while working on them.

● Third, we are enabled to visualize even tiny steps of progress (say, a 1.5 increase on a scale between 0 and 100). Without an exact empirical measurement, those kind of changes would remain unnoticeable, especially at a corporate level. By being able to measure them, we become thankful for small steps of incremental growth, which, if maintained year after year, are often the key cumulative factors behind alleged “breakthroughs.”

Accuracy of qualitative assessment

Because of its central place within a change process, the accuracy of the quality assessment is of utmost importance. We cannot achieve such an assessment by asking people, How would you rate the quality of your church in the area of “loving relationships?” Whenever we compare the results of that kind of “self-assessment” with the actual survey results, we can see that the guessed results have not much to do with the real situation. In many cases, the actual maximum factor of a church is guessed to be the minimum factor, and vice versa.

Can we measure the church?

In some streams of Christianity there is a general reluctancy, if not hostility, toward “measuring” the quality of the church. We need to be aware that what we measure is never “the church,” but some aspects of the church that are well-measurable and can give us information on what we should do in order to improve our practices. We cannot measure “love,” but we can measure the quality of our relationships. We cannot measure “spirituality,” but we can measure progress in our prayer lives. We cannot measure God’s presence in a given worship service, but we can measure the perceived atmosphere, etc.

What we measure is not the reality that we are talking about. Rather, it is an indicator of that reality. This is not a specifically spiritual insight, but applies to all tests that measure what researchers call a “theoretical construct.” The value of the unobservable theoretical construct is considered to be the “true score” T, which is only inaccurately recorded by a given measuring instrument X (a single indicator or more likely the score of an array of items). We always have to expect measuring errors E (“error variable”). It is assumed that the observed measured value is composed of the “true value” plus the measurement error.

9. Individual and corporate applications

In some countries there is the misunderstanding that NCD was “originally” an organizational tool (i.e., the NCD Church Survey) that was later applied to individuals (e.g., the various eTests on character development). However, the historical development was exactly the opposite: The first tools were targeted on personal development, and only years later the NCD Church Survey was developed. The reason that some people may have the opposite perception is simply due to the sequence in which the tools have been translated into some languages, such as English.

The church is people

However, regardless of the sequence in which the tools have been published, the positioning of “church development” (organizational development) versus “character development” (personal development) reveals a misunderstanding. In NCD categories, the church is people. What both the NCD Church Survey and the various eTests measure is the reality in the heads, hands, and hearts of people. For both a personalized result (individual level) and a group result (organizational level) is available; but the questions asked and the method of measurement are exactly the same. All organizational change is based on personal change.

For that reason, all of the eTests of NCD can be applied both at an individual level and at various corporate levels (such as small groups, local churches, and whole denominations).

The dual character of repeat profiles

However, there is one area where a distinction between an organizational measurement and the summation of various personal measurements does play a role. When a church takes repeat profiles, it is not necessary (and in many cases, not even desirable) that the same individuals fill in the survey year after year. In actual fact, in every repeat survey there may be very different groups of people who fill in the questionnaire. The Survey has been designed in such a way that it does not make any difference (in terms of the results) whether it is the same group of people who fill in a repeat survey or a completely different group of people—as long as it is, in both cases, the same category of people (i.e., regular attendees that have a task in the church and are members of a small group).

There are churches that have taken the NCD Survey for more than twenty years. Even if in every assessment the actual people who fill in the questionnaire change, each survey presents a precise picture of the congregation researched. Even if the church is people—and its quality is the quality in the heads, hands, and hearts of these people—there is a transpersonal dimension that characterizes the congregation as a whole, regardless of its present members. The whole is more than the sum of its individual parts. This insight is more easy to understand for members of cultures in the Eastern and Southern parts of the world, than it is in the West.

10. The hypothetical causality of quality and quantity

At the level of practical implementation, the quality of a church (eight quality characteristics) has always been treated as root cause for quantitative increase (worship attendance), even at a time when a cause-and-effect relationship could not be proven. However, throughout the different phases of the research, a growing number of indicators were collected to increase the likelihood that we are are indeed talking about a cause-and-effect relationship.

● In the beginning of the research (explorative phase) this was a mere hypothesis that (a) made logical and theological sense and (b) seemed to work well at a practical level when people treated it as a “rule of thumb.” In other words, the hypothesis seemed to motivate people do the right things.

● In the course of the primary study (1991–1996) a correlation between quality and quantity could clearly be demonstrated, without claiming a cause-and-effect relationship.

● With the longitudinal studies (evaluating repeat profiles of churches between 1998 and today) the situation changed: We could identify a number of indicators of the fact the relationship between quality and quantity is actually governed by cause-and-effect dynamics.

Initial international study

After the assumption of a cause-and-effect relationship between quality and quantity had guided the explorative phase of the study (1987–1994), in the subsequent study that involved researching the first sample of 1000 churches internationally, a correlation between quality and quantity could clearly be proven.

It is important to understand that the term “correlation” does not necessarily imply a cause-and-effect relationship. A cause-and-effect relationship is only possible between variables that correlate, but correlation in and of itself does not imply cause and effect. When it comes to two variables—X and Y—that correlate to each other, there are five possibilities for cause-and-effect dynamics:

● First, variable X influences variable Y causally.

● Second, variable Y influences variable X causally.

● Third, both variable X and Y are influenced by a third variable Z (which has not been identified by the research) causally.

● Fourth, there is a mutual influence of variables X and Y on each other.

● Five, there is no causal relationship between variables X and Y at all.

What we could say at the end of the initial international study in a strict scientific sense was the following: When you address variable X (the quality of the church) in the right way, something happens, and in the end of this “something” the likelihood of numerical growth increases. This “something” could give room to empirically verifiable dynamics that have not been detected or understood so far, while being generally empirically accessible, and it also could give room to metaphysical constructs that should not be part of an empirical theory, but have a strong impact on the motivational context of church development. These dynamics are explained in detail in the three volumes of the Energy Trilogy.

Extended data (2020): indicators for cause-and-effect relationship

The longitudinal studies following the initial international study provide a different research scenario than the cross-sectional studies that were conducted beforehand. In churches that took (one or more) repeat profiles we could actually study the effects of what they consciously and proactively did after they received the recommendations that are part of the various profiles. In the majority of cases, these processes were supported by using NCD resources targeted at qualitative increase. That scenario comes close to what in empirical social research is labeled an “experiment.”

Growth projections

Based on these insights, we have developed growth projections that relate the increase in quality to the respective quantitative growth that can realistically be expected. When working with these growth projections, we have to be reminded one more time that they present probabilistic explanations, i.e., not being deterministic in nature (not: “Every church that increases its quality from A to B will increase its numerical growth rate by X,” but: “If a church increases its quality from A to B, the likelihood that its numerical growth rate increases by X is Z%”).

11. Language-based and national normations

One important feature that distinguishes NCD tests from home-made tests (or from people who use the existing NCD Survey questionnaires but strive to develop their own calculation procedures) is the fact that all assessment tools developed by NCD include normations. That is a precondition for coming up with precise and comparable results.

National and/or language-based

An important “side-effect” of these normations that differ from language to language (and in many cases from country to country) is the fact that they are an important ingredient of the various contextualizations that need to take place. Since there are different normations for different countries (or language areas), it is guaranteed that the survey provides precise results in different cultural contexts. The difference between using a normation developed for one’s own country and using the normation of another country can be very large. In the beginning of the NCD ministry, some people used, in spite of our instructions, the U.S. English norm for other English speaking countries. When the results of these churches were re-calculated on the basis of the correct normation, some scores were completely turned upside down (in extreme cases, displaying what was indicated as the “minimum factor” in the version using the wrong norm, was in fact the church’s “maximum factor,” and vice versa).

When working on normations for different countries, the two major areas that have to be considered are the following:

● The first area is the translation into various languages. It goes without saying that, since every translation results in a different survey, new normations have to be applied.

● The second area are different cultures, which applies even when two countries may speak the same language. For instance, there are cultures that give strong incentives for seeing everything more positively (which leads to higher affirmation to the individual items of the questionnaire), whereas other cultures tend to the opposite. Apart from that, the role of social expectations (and thus, of what people expect to be the “right answer” that they are supposed to give) differs strongly. Different normations give credit to these dynamics, even if the formulation of the individual items might not be changed.

Different forms of contextualization

As far as the usage of the NCD Church Survey in different languages and cultures is concerned, there are four major realms in which contextualizations take place:

● First, the translation of the items. There are always different ways of expressing the chief idea of an item in a given language. Translators take great care to contextualize the contents to the situation of their target group, without losing the compatibility to the international research (and thus to the possibility to link the Survey to universal principles).

● Second, for every language (and in many cases also, for every country speaking a given language) there are different normations. This normation process guarantees that even if some of the items may not have been ideally contextualized (point 1), the results are still precise, since the normation process will automatically assign a corrected weight to the respective items.

● Third, the printed and electronically available tools used in the implementation process (both books and the Profiles resulting from the NCD Survey) provide room for cultural contextualizations.

● Fourth, the decisive element in any contextualization is provided through a coaching process. Since it is the job of any coach to help relate universal principles to highly individual situations, this ability helps bridge cultural differences.

12. Accessibility of data

In contrast to many other consulting agencies, in NCD there is the philosophy of not withholding any information from others. The major background for rejecting such a policy is that it would inevitably result in disempowerment: You depend on the protected knowledge of some experts in order to develop your path into the future. NCD has an extremely gracious policy of sharing gathered knowledge. NCD Coaches are explicitly instructed not to withhold any knowledge from those they coach.

Why no public access to raw data?

As far as the public accessibility of data is concerned, there are only two exceptions to that rule:

● First, it must be guaranteed that no information passed on to a third party (such as other researchers, public media, etc.) violates the principle of data anonymity. In other words, every individual and every church taking a survey must be confident that nobody will be able to assign the data to an identifiable person (or group), with the only exception of those they themselves decide to share their results with.

● Second, it must be guaranteed that nobody outside of a team of NCD researchers gets access to those formulae on the basis of which everyone would be able to sell the NCD Survey (or an adapted variation of it) without participating to the original research investments and the cost of sustaining and expanding the existing support structures. This rule is motivated by three concerns: (a) Securing the sustainability of NCD International. (b) Securing the sustainability of the national NCD Partners, who have sometimes taken enormous risks and pre-investments to build up their ministry. (c) Securing the NCD Partners to be in a relationship of accountability with NCD International, so that a potential misuse of the approach (for instance, adapted versions for religious cults or commercial interests) is minimized.

It is important to know that the research done by NCD has not been subsidized by any external group, but has been 100 percent financed by personal loans. The money coming back from selling the profiles is the only way of (a) refunding the research loans, (b) keeping up the existing support-structure, and (c) proactively investing in new technologies and developments. In other words, it is essential for the sustainability of NCD as a whole.

This financial structure is fundamentally different from groups that get their research work subsidized by tax payers’ money or the donations of other agencies. In Germany, for instance, the largest part of social research is financed by “Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft” (in 2015, 2.84 billion Euro). If the research has been paid by tax payers, the tax payers have a right to get the results for free, since they have paid for them. In our case, that procedure would not work. Therefore the system is set up in such a way that those benefiting from the research (either churches/individuals taking a profile or researchers that use non-published results for their own projects) contribute to the financial feedback needed.

Paths to background knowledge

While all of the published results are accessible to everyone (and can be utilized by everyone), there have always been different paths to background knowledge that is not published in the NCD tools themselves. Other research agencies, para-church organizations or individuals can approach NCD International with their research needs, and NCD will work out a suggestion of how this research need can best be addressed, and what the conditions (service fee, copyrights, etc.) are. The most important paths to get access to that sort of background knowledge are the following:

● First, shortly after the first NCD book we published a research report that exemplified the scientific methods applied with reference to a small sample of churches. By that way of publication, it was guaranteed that both the anonymity of participants was guaranteed and the formulae on the basis of which an alternate product to the NCD Survey could be produced without taking part in the development cost, were protected. While this report (published in 1999) does not present the information on all churches researched so far, it explains the exact methods applied, discusses the reasons for opting for each of them, and supplies an abundance of results that would have been too specific or theoretical to be published in one of the NCD books. This report can be downloaded for free.

● Second, for all research requests we have supplied a form through which anyone can describe their research interest. On the basis of this basic information, we will come back to them with suggestions of how, and upon which conditions, this request can be addressed. The more specific the questions asked, the more specific answers we can provide. While some questions may be directly answerable without applying any fee, other information may be obtained by paying a service fee.

● Third, selected sets of raw data can be supplied to other researchers for use in their work. As far as the procedure is concerned, the same applies as for point (2).

● Fourth, there is the possibility for people in search of deeper insights into the research, to visit one of our offices, where it can be arranged that a member of our team works directly with the person interested in our files. In the past, the same procedure has been repeatedly applied by way of Skype/Zoom conferences as well, in which Screen sharing has been used.

● Fifth, since most of the research questions we received in the past were about denominational analyses (e.g., What is the most frequent spiritual style among Anglicans? What is the most frequent problem area in leadership among Lutherans? What spiritual areas are most neglected among Pentecostals?), we generally recommend to do a group profile with the respective tool (for instance, Spiritual Style Test, Empowerment Test, etc.), to get the actual results that apply to the respective region. These results may radically differ to worldwide (or national) averages, and we are very reluctant to publish anything that could result in dealing with mere stereotypes rather than with actual data of one’s respective group. In most cases, the procedure for these group profiles is already set up; in other cases, we can work out a customized solution.