Monday, November 10, 2008

A Review of Willow Creek's Follow Me (Reveal): Is the spiritual continuum a useful concept?

(Part 8 in a series)

In my review of Reveal, I wrote at length about the spiritual continuum, and, overall, I suggested that it rated low in both usefulness and accuracy. I won’t repeat my prior writing about it, but I would like to make two points.

In two places, Follow Me states that spiritual growth in not linear, but in reading its explanation of linearity, I’m not sure that Follow Me has it quite right. Page 77 presents a graphical representation of Follow Me’s idea of non-linearity. It shows silhouetted male and female figures walking down the spiritual continuum. Sometimes their beliefs and attitudes propel them forward, sometimes church activities, sometimes spiritual practices, and sometimes spiritual activities with others. In both cases the figures move forward from stage 1 to 2 to 3 to 4. This is still linear growth. I think that Follow Me means is multimodal catalysts—that different inputs matter most at different times in a Christian’s walk. Fair enough.

If in fact there is a multi-stage process in spiritual growth, it’s possible that Christians go back and forth between stages as part of their journey. Sometimes we move forward, but sometimes we return to basic issues and concerns of the faith. Spiritual maturation could be one of two steps forward, one step back.

The other point has to do with the measurement of the spiritual continuum. As I mentioned previously, I took the Follow Me survey as a member of one of its churches. In doing so, I had the chance to study the survey instrument that they used, and as far as I can tell, they create the four-stage spiritual continuum measure from a single question with seven possible answers. I’m not sure how these get translated into a four-stage process, for it certainly isn’t obvious looking at the question itself.

As a courtesy to the Reveal team, I’m not reprinting the question (though I believe that one can reprint excerpts from even copyrighted material as part of a review). I will, however, strongly encourage them to be more explicit about how they create some of their key measures. Survey research works best with full disclosure—informing readers about how you do things and why. This gives readers a chance to more fully understand the analyses.

This isn’t just a Reveal thing, for I’ve noticed that other Christian researchers, such as the Barna Group, are also rather guarded about how they conduct their research. As a result, it’s difficult to gauge the quality of this work.

Next: Do Church services matter?

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