updated: 10-Jan-06
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Paradigm Shift in the Church:
How Natural Church Development
Can Transform Theological Thinking

by Christian A. Schwarz
1999, ChurchSmart Resources 1-800-253-4276
271 pages (Originally published in 1993 as
Paradigmenwechsel in der Kirche) ISBN 1-889638-05-6
Reviewed by Brad Boydston  28 August 2000

It's taken awhile but I've decided that I like Christian Schwarz. Perhaps it's his Germany perspective on Church Growth (or as he prefers "church development"). Or maybe it's the fact that he quotes as freely from Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he does from C. Peter Wagner and Donald McGaveran. Certainly he has a fresh approach and his emphasis on balance is a message that needs to be heard.

Schwarz is best known for the book Natural Church Development A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches. In that book, based on research of growing churches in 32 countries, he argues that "growing churches" are not necessarily healthy churches but that healthy churches are growing churches. He comes to the conclusion that church health needs to be the central issue and that there are eight characteristics consistently found in healthy churches--empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring worship services, holistic small groups, need-oriented evangelism, and loving relationships. He explains his understanding using a paradigm that he has developed around six "biotic" principles.

Paradigm Shift is a theological apologetic for his methodology and conclusions. He argues that the "nature of the church is made up of two elements a dynamic pole (organism) and a static pole (organization). Both are necessary for church development, and both poles are implied in the New Testament concept of ekklesia." (p. 16) Each of these poles stimulates the other.

Problems development when one pole is emphasized over the other and thus becomes defining. There is danger to the left and to the right. Balance is the key.

Covenanters will find Schwarz to be a kindred spirit with his emphasis on connectional ecclesiology and his great respect for Pietism ("The Second Reformation").

There are times when I find myself disagreeing with Schwarz. For example, when he, apparently unaware of the Covenant says, "For church development it would surely not be helpful if several positions, all of which have some degree of justification, were advocated in the same church at the same time both infant baptism and believer's baptism, both charismatic and noncharismatic, both parochial and church planting. A local church needs a clear identity. It does not have to cover all possibilities; rather it should passionately advocated the segment it stands for. Although a 'both-and' position may be right from a wider point of view, this does not usually apply on the level of the local church." (p. 79)

Furthermore, there are times when I feel he overstates his case. Because he is presenting a new theological model he is forever having to define and redefine his terminology --at times unnecessarily mudding the waters. But upon reflection I find the approach stimulating and challenging -- and that's what I'm looking for in a book that is trying to be both theological and practical in its orientation.


"There is a certain irony in the fact that among those who have accused the church growth movement -- rightly or wrongly--of being technocratic, we often find some of the greatest 'technocrats.' The differences among a magical, object-based sacramentalism, a heteronomic fundamentalism, and a technocratic input-output logic with regard to church growth are, in terms of the underlying thought patterns, negligible. Recite a certain formula (as a correctly ordained servant of God) -- and the Holy Spirit will come on you. Demand that people affirm the historical inerrancy of the Bible--and their hearts will turn to the living God. Use a certain church growth program--and your church will start to grow and blossom. Sacramentalism, fundamentalism, and church growth technocracy all have the same root -- a strange alliance of enemies united only by their unadmitted monistic thought structures." (p. 31)

"To repeat the main point briefly institutions can and should be passed on. The church as an organism, however, cannot be passed on in the same way. It must become a reality in each new generation, the factum esse must again and again become a fieri. This constant actualization is a work of the Holy Spirit. If we make an effort to preserve structures and create new ones that fulfill this purpose (God's purpose!), then we are part of a process that we have elsewhere called 'pneumatic functionality.'" (p. 159)

"The mistake of conservatism lies in the illusion typical of the institutionalistic paradigm, the belief that by defending structures it is possible to guarantee what these structures were designed to protect. When problems arise, conservatives are quick to call for a strong state. They tend to wish that adultery were legally punishable, that prayer in school were compulsory, that blasphemy were forbidden, that abortion were severely punished. The mistake of conservatives does not lie in their demands for laws and corresponding punishments (which sometimes can be useful); their mistake lies in the illusion that when such laws and punishments are passed, they have achieved their aim. 'Right' laws (as ends in themselves) are more important than the effect they actually have -- a typical thought pattern of heteronomism." (p. 193)