Follow Me: A Reveal (2)
The new and expanded survey results as documented in Follow Me are essentially an expansion of Reveal. However there are now more data for them to work with and further time has been spent on reflection of existing data.
Firstly, it must be recognised that this is a socio-religious survey utilising the tools of socio-anthropological research methodology. The qualitative sample of interviews does not balance out the errors that may arise from the very larger quantitative sample. It is essentially a consumer attitude and behaviour or “customer satisfaction” type of survey, analysing the expectation of the participants in respect to what they want from the church.
There is also a need to understand the definition of terms used in the survey. For example, evangelism is defined as “I had six or more meaningful spiritual conversations with non-Christians in the past year.” This may not be what is understood by Christians from other churches.
The use of the same survey in more than 200 churches of varying sizes and denominations raises the question of the reliability of the results. There are marked differences between a small inner city church, a mega-church, and a white middle class church in New England. The common link in the choice of these churches seems to be that the pastors attended Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit.
Secondly, the four segments of Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ, and Christ-Centered are now formalised into the three movements which makes up spiritual growth. While it is desirable to be able to categorise everything into neat categories, this diagramming of spiritual growth is too simplistic. There have been no attempts to develop the theological basis for this way of describing spiritual growth in the book except to ascribe a few biblical references.
Thirdly, the overview gives an impression of an “individualistic” spiritual formation. The aim seems to identify and equip individuals with knowledge, experiences and friendship. The new strategy of the church is now to intentionally train individuals. Even in services to the church, the aim is to give them personal experience in serving and also opportunity to make friends. The mid week service is also being broken into small classes. Essentially the new strategy of Willow Creek Community Church involves
-Equipping believers for Christ-centered life
These findings are nothing new as all of it is found in Paul’s teaching about church. Willow Creek Community Church however claim that their new strategy is special is because of their “intentionality” in making it happen (132). What is fascinating that as far as I can discover, there is no mention of the work of the Holy Spirit in the book. The Holy Spirit is only mentioned under the definition of the Trinity.
Fourthly, it must be recognised that the survey results shows a snapshot of what is happening in these churches in a certain moment in time. Therefore, we need to be careful not to read too much into it. I am glad there are plans to do longitudinal studies which will be more reflection of the real situation of the church. It is laudable that two “breakthrough discoveries” from these surveys reinforce the biblical teachings that (1) Christ-centered people show enormous capacity for increased kingdom impact, and (2) the Bible is the most powerful catalyst for spiritual growth. These are powerful truths that the church needs to be reminded of again and again.
Finally, it is sad state of a low understanding of the ecclesiology of the church when “the church’s greatest role is that of spiritual motivator or spiritual coach.” The church is not a coach or a spiritual motivator but the whole team. The church is the body of Christ, not dispenser of consumer products. It is all the members who are called by God for a special mission. The church is also Jesus’ body on earth and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Instead of being the body, the metaphor is given of a personal trainer to keep some person’s body fit.
Follow Me gives us a snapshot of the surveyed churches from a consumer attitude and behaviour perspective. Working within that limitation, it does provide us with some information of the state of the North American churches. What is gratifying is that the Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Leadership Summit takes these findings seriously and is heeding the call back to equipping the saints, discipleship, spiritual formation and a more biblical content-based teaching and preaching. However, there is a need to move into a deeper ecclesiology of corporate spiritual formation instead of individualistic ones. It is hoped that the next survey will highlight this important aspect of spiritual growth.