Willow Creek Reveal

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?


Kyle said...

I like how Harold Best puts spiritual growth. It's helical, it's not linear and it's not circular, but a combination of the two. I tend to agree with Harold on that and he makes really good points along that line. I can't possibly explain it succinctly, and if you've heard or read Harold Best you'd understand why :-) Some of the definitions of these categories is perplexing to me, why small groups become less important in "Close to Christ" than "Growing in Christ" is odd.

The fact that these charts are the results of self assessments of people's own hearts can't be all that accurate either. More accurate results would come through assessments done by the person discipling the individual or the person they are accountable to. If they aren't accountable to anyone, well then that is sort of a self defining position. But the fruit is what should be charted here, cause that can't be faked. You can claim to be Christ centered and love him more than anything, but your life should bear the fruit of that. The two subcategories are Attitudes and Needs, there should be a Fruit sub category in my opinion.

Really interesting post, thanks.

Ken said...

Totally. I mean, on the one hand it is good that Willow Creek is finally coming to the realization that increased program attendance does not translate into increased spiritual growth. That has been one good thing to come of this research for them. But on the other hand, this Spiritual Continuum idea is still a very modern and enlightened approach to an issue that does not lend itself well to that way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

I think the church should be an environment that encourages discipleship of its members by other members. I also think the church can encourage personal Christian growth check ups so people will reflect on where they are and where they want to be.

Unfortunately I have seen too many churches use lists like the above to make people feel guilty for not being more involved in their church. The whole " do this or you’re not a mature Christian" is the wrong approach.

Sandy S.

Ken said...

Yes! Our Equip Pastor Greg Boulton calls it an "Ethos of Discipleship" where not only do people disciple each other, but that they seek out that discipleship on their own as opposed to having it outlined for them by professional Christians.

Anonymous said...

I want to Amen Sandy S. above in expressing disagreement with the standards used to measure the spiritual maturity of these folks. If the above charts are representative of the study, then I would say the standards used are not the best ones. Not only are some of them not very convincing stamps of maturity, but also some of them are ridiculous and unbiblical. For instance, I have known plenty of people who mentored others whose maturity was doubtful. So this is an example of a not so reliable gage. Furthermore, when someone tells me they have surrendered everything to God, it doesnt take that long watching them to find out what they have not given up. Finally, I noticed with sadness that if someone said they "needed help from others in discerning spiritual issues" then they were on the lower end of the spiritual maturity zone...Oh my dear Lord please save us from people who feel they can figure it out on their own! Please let me know if I misinterpret, but it is a great sign of maturity to seek guidance and counsel in spiritual issues. To sum up, if the above charts are indicative of the study, it cannot mean much. Oh, Hi Ken! Its Brooks from TEXAS.

Ken said...

Hi Brooks! Awesome comment! Thanks... you made great points about how the labels don't work. I agree. The main point of my post is that there is absolutely no correlation between how people assess themselves and how long they have been a Christian. Furthermore, even the "length of time" of their spiritual walk is no true indicator of spiritual maturity.

I very much agree with Kyle that only an assessment that includes the observations of a mentor or coach (discipleship and/or accountability) can lead to an accurate picture of one's maturity.

OR... is spiritual growth really the pount anyway??