Over-interpreting the data?
(Post 8 in an 11-part series)
In my last post, I discussed one of Reveal's two major criticisms of Willow Creek Church, a moderate relationship between church activities and spiritual growth. Here I discuss the second major criticism--that a significant minority of sample members described themselves as spiritually stagnant or were dissatisfied with their church. As shown in this figure, about 1/4 of the sample identified labeled themselves as either dissatisfied or stagnant.
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.
It may be the nature of Christian life that 1/3 of the people are stalled or dissatisfied.
It may be that this number is high, suggesting that Willow needs to improve
It may be that this number is low, suggesting that Willow is doing a great job.
There's another wrinkle here: Church involvement is voluntary. So, why would a dissatisfied, stalled person be involved? It suggests that there may be other benefits or ties that come into play.
What if a church found that 100% of its attendees were satisfied and growing. Would this be good? Maybe but maybe not. What if the church didn't attract people unintentionally drove off or otherwise couldn't keep people who were having troubles or were unhappy? That would produce high satisfaction scores, but it might be missing the larger purpose of the Church.
In this sense, Willow might be commended for holding on to these people.
Again, it's not that Reveal did anything wrong in collecting these data or that it collected them badly. Rather, the concern here is over-interpretation. These data should suggest future work, but by themselves they are not sufficient to justify wide scale changes in an organization as successful as Willow Creek.