I recently had the opportunity to read Reveal: Where are You?, the soon-to-be released book by Willow Creek Community Church executive pastor, Greg Hawkins, and Cally Parkinson. It’s a fascinating book that describes the results of a groundbreaking congregational survey performed by Willow Creek over the last 3 years. The research provides valuable insight into understanding people across the continuum of spiritual growth as well as clues as to what factors are most important in spiritual development at different stages.
In 2004, as a part of Willow Creek Community Church’s strategic planning, they commissioned a congregation survey. Willow has done congregational surveys since 1992, but with the help of veteran consumer researcher Eric Arnson the 2004 survey was the most comprehensive ever. It focused on getting beneath the surface to look beyond attendance figures in an effort to understand and measure “the unseen” – the heart, the emotions, and the attitudes of the people who make up Willow Creek. The research also included 6 additional churches varying in size, location, and demographics in order to determine whether the results were specific to Willow or universally applicable.
Some of the results shocked senior pastor Bill Hybels and challenged many of the assumptions Willow Creek (and many other churches) have been operating under for decades.
One of the most interesting insights revealed by the research is that as the number of church activities a person participates in grows it does not necessarily lead to spiritual growth as measured by the person’s attitude towards God and other people.
In fact the research found that the further along a person is in their spiritual development, the less important the church is in the person’s spiritual growth. While the church is the most important factor in the spiritual growth of seekers and new believers, it becomes secondary to segments of the congregation referred to as “Close to Christ” and “Christ-centered.” What supercedes the church in fostering spiritual growth for those further along? Personal spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study, and solitude.
Your response to that might be, “Well, duh.” But the authors acknowledge that the message to their congregation has been that no matter where you are in your spiritual growth the church can take you the next step. In fact many churches have that perspective. They are so passionate about helping people grow spiritually that they try to do all the work for the individual. They are like the parent who wants their child to excel so badly that they do all their homework with them and never give the child the opportunity to learn how to learn on his own.
Willow Creek’s response to this finding is that they are trying to shift from the role of a spiritual parent to that of a spiritual coach, particularly for people further along the spiritual growth continuum.
Another fascinating insight that came from the research is that 25% of the Willow Creek congregation (and probably yours as well) are either spiritually “stalled” or “dissatisfied” with the church’s role in their spiritual development and are considering leaving the church. The book profiles these segments of the church and provides insight into both the causes and possible solutions to help these people.
There are numerous other significant discoveries discussed in Reveal as well.
In conclusion, I found Reveal to be very aptly named. It provides tremendous insight into the hearts and attitudes of people across the spiritual continuum, which exist in all congregations. It would be a valuable book for any pastor or church leader, and I’m personally looking forward to discussing it with the spiritual leadership team of my church.