Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, led by Bill Hybels, has conducted surveys every three years to assess the quality and impact of their ministry. After moving into a new 7,200-seat auditorium in 2003, they conducted one of their most extensive surveys ever. Their focus in the survey was less on “how many?” but more on “where are you?” – are people moving towards deeper love for God and people? They endeavored to measure spiritual growth, defined as “an increasing love for God and other people.”
The survey results revealed six insights:
1. Involvement in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth. Church activities alone do not create spiritual growth. But there is a “spiritual continuum” that is very predictive and powerful.
2. Spiritual growth is all about increasing relationship to Christ. The spiritual growth continuum has four stages:
(a) Exploring Christianity – “I believe in God, but I’m not sure about Christ. My faith is not a significant part of my life.”
(b) Growing in Christ – ”I believe in Jesus, and I’m working on what it means to get to know him.”
(c) Close to Christ – “I feel really close to Christ and depend on him daily for guidance.”
(d) Christ-centered – “God is all I need in my life. He is enough. Everything I do is a reflection of Christ.”
3. The church is most important in the early stages of spiritual growth. Its role then shifts from being the primary influence to a secondary influence. The church’s main activities (weekend services and small groups) decline in importance as people advance along the continuum. Personal spiritual practices begin to become more crucial at the later stages of growth.
4. Personal spiritual practices are the building blocks for a Christ-centered life.
5. A church’s most active evangelists, volunteers and donors come from the most spiritual advanced segments.
6. More than 25% of those surveyed described themselves as spiritual “stalled” or “dissatisfied” with the role of the church in their spiritual growth (with many of them were considering leaving). Both segments voiced complaints about the need for more in-depth teaching, more connection opportunities, more serving options and more of about everything else they felt was missing from their church experience.
Tomorrow – a strategic response …