A Sociologist Reviews Willow Creek’s Reveal Study

Brad Wright is associate professor at the University of Connecticut where he studies the sociology of Christianity. I enjoy reading Brad’s blog which offers up an interesting mixture of sociological analysis, Christian reflections, great photography and just plain fun.

Over the past few weeks Brad has been reviewing Willow Creek’s recently published Reveal study from a sociologist’s perspective. I found his analysis of Reveal very “revealing!”

Here are the links to Brad’s series along with key excerpts from each post. The excerpts are only meant to whet your appetite and give you an idea of what Brad is doing in each of these posts. I encourage you to visit Brad’s blog and read the full posts to get the whole picture.

  1. A review of ‘Reveal: Where are You?’ by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson – “I will take what is my somewhat standard approach and discuss what I think works well and what I think can be improved. As a sociologist, I’ll focus on methodological issues more than church growth issues.”
  2. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, II – “Spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”
  3. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, III – “Let’s start with some things that Reveal does well: First, they are collecting data … Second, they collected both qualitative and quantitative data … Third, they ask some very interesting applied questions … Fourth, I think that one of their findings will prove especially valuable for the church – that Christians of different maturity levels need different things from their churches. That is, a church’s activities are not one-size-fits-all.”
  4. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, IV – “The Reveal Study emphasizes the consequential dimension of religion – various attitudes and behaviors that should be changed by religion … They use the experiential dimension as a predictor (or independent variable) which they call a spiritual continuum. This leaves significant aspects of the Christian walk not covered by the outcome measures employed by Reveal … The limited range of outcomes in Reveal does not invalidate it findings, but rather examining a broader range of outcomes might produce a richer, and ultimately different, story.”
  5. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, V – “The big take-home message of the Reveal Study, according to the authors, is that church involvement doesn’t predict spiritual growth but there is a spiritual continuum that does … From how the authors describe it, a spiritual continuum is a Guttman scale measuring self-defined relationship with Christ … Here are some problems with this measure …”
  6. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, VI “The Reveal Study documents that people with higher scores on the continuum also score higher on measures of spiritual growth. It’s not that this statement is inaccurate, rather it’s uninteresting. If you have two measures of about the same thing, well of course they will be highly correlated and thus predictive of each other.”
  7. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, VII – “The big story to come out of Willow Creek’s Reveal Study is that the seeker-sensitive ministry made famous by Willow is supposedly flawed and ineffective … Is the Willow Creek actually flawed? Maybe, maybe not, but we can’t tell from these data … The big changes apparently in place at Willow as the result of Reveal may in fact not be warranted. In short, they may be fixing something that isn’t broken.”
  8. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, VIII – “A significant minority of sample members described themselves as spiritually stagnant or were dissatisfied with their church … This statistic highlights the problem posed by Reveal not having a comparison group, for we don’t know if it’s good or bad. Let’s say I told you that a sports player was successful at two-thirds of what they attempted, and then I asked you if this is good. Well, you would need to know how everyone else does. If it’s free throws, this isn’t very good. If it’s completing passes, this is very good. If it’s getting on base, it’s the best ever.”
  9. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, IX “A key finding in Reveal is that a good portion (up to 25%) were mature believers who said that they were stalled in their spiritual walk. This has been used as an indictment of the Willow Creek, with its focus on bringing seekers into the church. As we think more deeply about this finding, however, it may not be problematic.”
  10. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, X “The study’s authors plan to give the current Reveal study in 500 other churches. By doing this they could easily get up to 50,000 respondents … Nonetheless, this next phase of Reveal isn’t necessarily a big step forward … What then would I recommend for Reveal? Three things … These three suggestions would substantially increase the power and importance of the Reveal study, helping it to further achieve its laudable goals of helping the church grow.
  11. Church Surveys: Willow Creek’s Reveal Study, Summary “I hope that this series has been helpful to the authors and readers of Reveal. In academics, critical attention is a form of flattery … it indicates that one thinks a work is worth consideration. I believe that Reveal will be looked back upon as an important step in the American Christian Church discovering the value of empirical data.”

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