Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Review of Willow Creek's Follow Me (Reveal): Conclusion

(Part 13 in a series)

The book Follow Me: What’s Next for You? is the sequel to Willow Creek’s surprise best-seller of last year—Reveal.  Follow Me incorporates additional data collected from 200 churches, as opposed to seven churches in the original Reveal.  In many ways, Follow Me is similar to the original Reveal, but it does place a greater emphasis on explaining the movement from one stage of spiritual growth to the next.  It also invokes the concept of a “gap”, which it defines as the difference between what church-goers want in a church and how satisfied they are with it at their church.

As with Reveal, Follow Me should be commended for asking important questions.  All church leaders should want to know how Christians grow spiritually, and Follow Me focuses us on that issue.  It also demonstrates the relative ease of collecting data, for in a relatively short period of time this study collected data from 80,000 people. 

As with Reveal, Follow Me uses a cross-sectional study design, meaning that it measures respondents’ attitudes, beliefs, and identities at a single point in time.  This type of data is a reasonable starting point for a survey study, but they don’t lend themselves to studying processes over time, such as spiritual growth.  Follow Me asks what changes people over time, but its methods are well suited for measuring change over time.  As such, the analyses are open to a variety of causal interpretations and aren’t as convincing as other, more powerful research designs would be.

 The inherent causal ambiguity of cross-sectional designs is apparent when one compares the causal assumptions of Follow Me versus Reveal.  Reveal concluded that progress on the spiritual continuum, i.e., identifying Christ as more central in one’s life, predicts increased spiritual attitudes and behaviors, e.g., reading the Bible, loving others, loving God.  Follow Me takes the same concepts and flips around the causal order.  It speaks of spiritual attitudes and behaviors as predicting movement on the spiritual continuum.  

Follow Me presents the idea of a gap between what church members want and what they think they get from their churches.  This concept is probably more complex in practice than it is presented in Follow Me, for example, sometimes churches might want to create a gap and other times they might want to fill a gap.  Still, it represents a useful approach for Churches to plan their activities, and regardless of how any given church chooses to respond to such gaps among their members, the churches should certain be aware of them. 

In the conclusion of Follow Me, the Reveal team tells of their future plans for research, research including longitudinal studies and comparisons across types of churches.  I assume that they will continue to ask practical, important questions about spiritual growth, and these more powerful research designs will allow them to address these questions with a greater certainty and, presumably, accuracy. 

Future plans sound exciting.  In doing so, pick practical, actionable questions but use the most power methods available.  Good things are in store for the Reveal ministry of Willow Creek, and I’d like to conclude this review as I did my review of the original Reveal:

“I hope that this series has been helpful to the authors and readers of Reveal. In academics, critical attention is a form of flattery indicating that the discussed work —it indicates that one thinks a work is worth consideration. I believe that Reveal will be looked back upon as an important step in the American Christian Church discovering the value of empirical data.”


Andy Rowell said...

Brad, I posted a bit of sociology research at Out of Ur today.

Megachurch Misinformation

Mega or missional? The stats say both are doing well.


Andy Rowell said...

I just read all of your posts.

If someone wants to read all of the posts about "Follow Me" they can just search in the top left hand corner with the words Follow Me and they will find all the posts.

Search for Follow Me at Bradley Wright's blog

I want to say here and now that I agree with everything that Brad wrote.

I will eventually post my review but in the meantime let me underline Brad's point.

The Reveal and Follow Me studies look for factors that are highly correlative in spiritual growth.

However, none of these "discoveries" are in fact at all surprising.

I have summarized their conclusions below in my own words.

Here are their Reveal conclusions paraphrased by me:
• that people who report their commitment to God at high levels spend about as much time in church activities as those who report a medium level of commitment to God.
• Personal spiritual practices correlate with a Christ-centered life.
• A church’s most active evangelists, volunteers and donors come from those who report a high level of commitment to God.
• More than 25 percent of those surveyed described themselves as spiritually stalled or dissatisfied with the role of the church in their spiritual growth.

Here are the Follow Me conclusions:
They found that people who self-report being closer to Christ correlates with more knowledge of Christian beliefs, more practicing of Christian behaviors, and appreciating the Bible more.

However, I think the raw data (not interpreted this way) would be very interesting. If church leaders get access to the raw data and were able to interpret it in ways different from how it is explained in the Reveal and Follow Me books, that could indeed be very fruitful.

In the absence of that I would recommend, a number of consultants who do this kind of church self-assessment.

I love Willow Creek. Churches need not and should not make radical changes in church strategy without looking very carefully at what the data really says.

Alan Roxburgh

Church Innovations
Patrick Keifert

Easum Bandy & Associates
Bill Easum, Tom Bandy, Bill Tenny-Brittian

Alban Consulting

You might also want to look at the following books by two of the consultants listed above:

The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World (J-B Leadership Network Series) by Alan Roxburgh, Fred Romanuk (Hardcover - April 7, 2006)

We Are Here Now: A New Missional Era by Patrick Keifert (Paperback - Jan 1, 2007)

Finally, this is a reputable look at doing church self-assessment:

Studying Congregations: A New Handbook by Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Jackson W. Carroll, Carl S. Dudley, and William McKinney (Paperback - Sep 1998)

Andy Rowell
Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) Student
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

Andy Rowell said...

Brad, we are continuing to argue sociology at Out of Ur.

The post is at:
I filled in some of the footnotes that they deleted at my blog: