Study Shows How to Spiritually Deepen Disciples
By: Bill Easum
A lot of conversations and misunderstandings have arisen as a result of the Reveal study done by Willow Creek. Because the study can be so helpful I thought I would set the record straight.
No, Willow is not abandoning its long standing concern for the seeker. No, Willow has not been a failure. No, Willow is not changing course and recreating itself. No, Willow is not suggesting that churches drop all their programs. No, Willow is not going to stop measuring how many people show up. So what is Reveal about?
Reveal is a survey to uncover the depth of spiritual growth in a congregation and what triggers that growth. The study defines spiritual growth as “an increasing love for God and for other people.” So far the survey has been taken in more than 200 churches and with more than 100,000 people, making it a reliable study.
Willow has discovered what most of us have known for some time participation in church activities does not make spiritual giants. So Willow is going to also start measuring the heart. They are now asking of everything they do: “Will this make and grow disciples?” Not a bad question to ask.
Opportunities to Grow
The study divides the church into four groups of people explorers of faith, growing in Christ, close to Christ, and Christ-centered. The study showed the most important thing the church can do to move people from one group to another is to provide opportunities to study and reflect on Scripture.
Several other insights were gained through the study:
Involvement in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth. The only predictor of that is a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.
The study also shows that spiritual growth isn’t linear. You could couple this insight with Larry Osborne’s concept that people grow in spurts when they need to know something or when they need to grow.
As people grow in Christ they depend less and less on their church, but at the same time want their church to challenge them and hold them accountable.
The more people grow the more they tithe, serve and evangelize.
As people grow in their relationship with Christ, worship becomes less important. This doesn’t mean they don’t attend church. It just means they receive more of their spiritual growth through personal disciplines.
The most effective outreach strategy by a mile is to motivate the most Christ-centered people. They are the best evangelists, tithers and servants, both in and out of the church. Whereas before the study Willow was more focused on the seeker than their most committed folks, now they are focusing more on the Christ-centered group. What they learned is that this group is the one that makes or breaks the church.
Willow also found that the Christ-centered group is the most likely to leave their church because the church isn’t providing them enough challenge and taking them deep enough into the Scriptures.
The results of the study support my recent article “People are Being Programmed to Death.” Most churches have too many programs that are never evaluated. Every program should be evaluated regularly by asking one question: “Is this program making or growing disciples?” If not, drop it. That way you can focus on those programs that do make and grow disciples.
Sharing Your Faith
The study also supports the two questions we have been asking now for more than a decade: “What is it about my relationship with Christ my neighbor needs to know?” and “How do I share my faith without coming off as a bigot?”
The study also supports the use of three other metaphors we’ve used for some time now: Spiritual Incubator, Spiritual Midwife and Equipper. Our churches need to be a safe place (incubator) in which people can grow, birth their gifts (Spiritual Midwife) and be equipped to share their story. That’s why it’s so important to lovingly confront dysfunctional people before they get the church in an uproar.
One of the key recommendations in the Reveal book is that leaders need to coach people to take the next step along the continuum of spiritual growth. Instead of doing so many programs, church leaders need to function more as coaches and guides. As a midwife coaches a woman through the birth process, so the Spiritual Midwife coaches a person along the spiritual growth continuum.
Church members can take the Reveal survey online. Willow analyzes the results and sends the church a report. I’ve only used Reveal with one church, but I was very disappointed in Willow’s report to that church. Other than the excellent graphs, the report didn’t give much guidance or many recommendations for the church. They were mostly on their own to figure out how to proceed.
Would I recommend Reveal? Yes, but you may need a consultant to help you figure out what you’ve got.
Author and consultant Bill Easum works with 21st Century Strategies, is a member of the board for the Society far Church Consulting From: www.ChurchCentral.corn. July 2008
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.