I've been studying the Willow Creek Reveal research since early October and have been coming to some conclusions about it that I thought might be worth sharing. Specifically, a question I have about their methodology and their results.
If you're not already familiar with the Reveal research, it is a collection of primarily survey based research begun by Willow Creek in 2004. Greg Hawkins is the Executive Pastor there and the primary author of the book "Reveal" which outlines the preliminary results of the research.
At the heart of the results is what Willow Creek calls the "Spiritual Continuum". When people were asked about their spiritual lives, it was found that this continuum was highly predictive of spiritual growth. The continuum is made up of four major segments, which are shown below:
These segments are described by a number of identifying statements like "The Bible provides direction for my life" and "I love God more than anything". So the stronger a person self-identifies their agreement (or disagreement) with such statements, the more likely they are to be identified as a member of a higher segment on the Spiritual Continuum. You can see with more detail below how these statements further expand the definition of the Continuum.
And what was found was that as people self-identified with these higher segments on the continuum, their self reporting of positive spiritual attitudes and behaviors also increased, as you can see from the chart below.
I attended the recent Reveal conference held here in the Northwest at Sunset Presbyterian Church. Greg Hawkins was the main speaker, and I had an opportunity to ask him what I thought was a pretty important question. You see, all this data leads one to believe that these continuum segments are linear. For example, one would assume that the longer someone has been a Christian, the more likely it is that they have advanced to higher levels of the Continuum. However, when I questioned Greg on this point, he admitted that they did not have any correlative data between how long someone has been a Christian and where they self-identify on the continuum.
In other words, it is possible that a brand new believer could self-identify as Christ Centered. By looking at the statements that in part describe the Christ Centered segment, it is easy to see how a passionate new believer would strongly agree with statements like "I seek God's guidance in every area of my life" and "I love God more than anything else". Unfortunately, the Reveal book consistently refers to these lower segments as "early", which I believe is misleading given that there is no data to show that.
So is spiritual growth linear? Is it the church's responsibility to help "grow" people along a linear path? The Reveal research as yet does not shed much light on this subject. What do you think?