Monday, November 19, 2007

Church Surveys: Willow Creek's Reveal Study, V

Measurement Issues
(Post 5 in an 11-part series)

The big take-home message of the Reveal Study, according to its authors, is that church involvement doesn't predict spiritual growth but there is a spiritual continuum that does.

I'll write about the church involvement aspect of this statement in a later post, but here I want to focus on the spiritual continuum. This post discusses its measurement, and the next post in the series addresses causal issues.

From how the authors describe it, a spiritual continuum is a Guttman scale measuring self-defined relationship with Christ. It has four stages:

1) Exploring Christianity. "I believe in God, but I'm not sure about Christ. My faith is not a significant part of my life."

2) Growing in Christ. "I believe in Jesus, and I'm working on what it means to get to know Him."

3) Close to Christ. "I feel really close to Christ and depend on him daily for guidance."

4) Christ-Centered. "God is all that I need in my life. He is enough. Everything I do is a reflection of him."

If I understand it correctly, one can be in one category only, higher scores represent being further along the spiritual continuum, and people in higher stages are assumed to have passed through the lower stages.

Here are some problems with this measure:

* Sequential? It's not clear that these represent a linear (or at least sequential) trajectory of getting closer to Christ. For example, #3 and #4 both seem to represent mature Christian faith.

* Multiple categories. Some people would place themselves into multiple categories. In reading this, I am squarely in #2 and #3. I believe in Christ, feel close to him, am working to get to know him better, and depend on him daily for guidance.

* Mixed message. The #4 level is awkward for me because it implies a perfection that I'll certainly never experience... Is *everything* I do a reflection of Him? I certainly hope not (at least for His name). In fact, I would probably be suspicious of anyone who would agree with this sta

Now, it sounds like I'm being nit-picky about measurement, and, who knows, maybe I am. However, the authors put so much weight on this measure--suggesting that it be a (the?) primary principle of church growth, that it's worth reflecting on its quality.

These types of scales aren't used a lot any more in sociology, and for pretty good reasons. Some of the problems suggested above are typical of them.

I'm not sure that the idea of a four-stage continuum--as conceptualized here--maps on to the reality of Christian life.


Jerry said...

Good points here. It makes me think of the use of a labyrinth as a spiritual exercise--that the path to holiness is seldom linear. I agree that #2 in some ways sounds like a more honest, real faith than #4. IT seems to me there's some kind of discursive analysis to do here as well--how people articulate their faith. I've sometimes felt that speaking evangelical-ese means talking up your personal relationship with God and avoiding the murky spots.

Brad Wright said...

I agree about avoiding the murky spots... too often we have incentive to gloss those over and speak of the highlights of faith.

David Freeman said...

I know I'm late to the discussion, however, I don't believe #4 to be true. As Adam demonstrates (Gen. 2:20), even before orginal sin, while in perfect harmony with God and creation, this was not enough. He also had to have relationship with people.