Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Review of Willow Creek's Follow Me (Reveal): Do church services matter? Apparently yes.

(Part 9 in a series)

The most provocative finding of the original Reveal study was that church activities don’t matter in spiritual growth, and, by extension, the Willow Creek model didn’t seem to work as well as advertised. This was the first of six key discoveries by Reveal. “Involvement in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth” (p. 33). Reveal tempered this conclusion by suggesting that church activities might have more importance in the early stages of spiritual growth than in the later stages (p. 41). This was confirmation for critics of Willow Creek and consternation for its supporters.

Follow Me tells a different story about church activities as a whole, for it concludes that they matter at every stage of spiritual growth. In fact, it appoints church activities as one of the four main catalysts for spiritual growth. “The church is the most significant organized influence on spiritual growth, so the activities of the church naturally emerge as important catalytic factors” (p. 36). Like Reveal, it suggests that weekend services matter most for those earlier in their walk with Christ. However, small groups, adult education, and additional teaching and worship services significantly matter later in the spiritual continuum (p. 37).

Given the big news that Reveal’s original conclusion made, I wonder if it would have been as widely attended to if it had come to the conclusion of Follow Me.

Also, I’m not sure that Follow Me has correctly interpreted their own data. Consider the chart on page 58. It shows a blue line representing frequency of participation in weekend services as it varies by the four stages of the spiritual continuum. This chart doesn’t give numbers, but eyeballing the data, it appears that about 65% of stage 1 respondents routinely attended weekend services, 85% of stage 2 respondents, 90% of stage 3 respondents, and 95% of stage 4 respondents. So, there’s an increase of 20 percentile points for the first transition, and five for each of the following. This appears to support Follow Me’s conclusion that weekend services matter the most for the first transition.

However, it’s worth pointing out that the numbers here can’t go above 100%, and so perhaps the most useful measure is not percentile points but rather percentage changed. Here’s what I mean. If 35% of stage 1 respondents do not attend services weekly, and only 15% of stage 2 respondents do not, this is a reduction of 57% (i.e., 20/35). Using this more-appropriate measure, weekend service attendance appears to change considerably from stage 3 to stage 4, where it drops from 10% not frequently attending to 5%--a change on the same order as stage 1 to stage 2. Obviously the stage 3 group can not make a 20 percentile point gain, for that take them to 110% (and this isn’t the movie Spinal Tap).

In short, if we accept the causal logic of Follow Me, its own data suggests that weekend service attendance provide substantial movements across stages of the spiritual continuum—much different than the “brutal” and “shocking” discoveries of Reveal. In a way this is anti-climatic, almost as if Follow Me is saying “never mind” about Reveal’s best-known finding.

Next: The gap


Anonymous said...

I read "Reveal" but not "Follow Me". Why do they have such different results in this topic? Different samples?

Also, I like your "Spinal Tap" reference. It made me laugh.

John W.

Brad Wright said...

I'm glad that somebody got the reference!

It's kind of interesting that they got such different results because the data are pretty much the same. Not sure why...