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Reveal: Part One

Over the last month or so, Willow Creek’s Reveal has been fodder for many a blog post. Like many others, I’m intrigued by the new agenda—and somewhat uneasy.

First up, just what is Reveal? Here’s what I picked up from the website and the two current videos explaining the project:

In 2oo4 the senior leadership of Willow Creek decided to find out how well their programs were helping people become better disciples of Christ. Between 2004 and 2006, they surveyed about 20,000 people in 30 or so congregations about their spiritual lives, their relationship to Christ and “what was helping them grow” in that relationship. What they found out was described by Willow Creek leader Bill Hybels' as “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing” and the “wake up call of my adult life.” You can hear Hybels and Willow Creek pastor Greg Hawkins describe the experience and the program that’s developed from the survey findings here.

What were the results of the surveys? That increasing levels of participation in church programs do not predict if someone is growing as a disciple of Christ (a term they define as being characterized by increasing love for God and increasing love for other people). This is significant for Willow Creek leadership because, according to Hybels and Hawkins, they were basing the way they do church on the assumption that encouraging people in increasing levels of church partipation would help people become disciples (or increase their love for God and others).

How did they come by these results? First, they broke people up into segments aligned (based on how intimate they were Jesus and how important Jesus was to them) on a “spiritual continuium” staring with:

--Exploring: Believe in God, but aren’t not sure about Jesus
--Growing: New and growing in their relationship with Jesus
--Close to Christ: Focus on their relationship with Jesus daily
--Centered on Christ: Relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in their life

They also include another group off the continium which they call “Stalled:” those who believe Christ exists, have a personal relationship with him, but aren’t growing. (There’s also apparantly another group called “Dissatisfied” but I didn’t hear anything about that on their two videos.)

They discovered that in the first group (those exploring Christianity) church programs receive high ratings. But then the numbers progressively decline, becoming “scarily low” (according to Hybels) in the “fully devoted” group, those who are centered in their relationship with Christ. Focus groups made up of folks in that group, says Hybels, revealed that they felt like they weren’t "being fed," wanted "more meat" from the Word and wanted to be "challenged" more.

But underneath those comments, Hybels and Hawkins think there’s another issue: as church leaders, they failed to help people become “self-feeders.” What do they mean by that? They failed to teach people to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth and “spiritual practices” (I’m assuming they mean the spiritual disciplines). These folks, say Hybels and Hawkins, are expecting the church to feed them when they should be self-feeders by the point they read the third group.

So what now? Hawkins says they are fundamentally rethinking the way they do church—taking out a clean sheet of paper and starting from scratch. Hawkins says they need to begin asking different questions, like: Are the things we doing helping them grow in their intimacy with Christ? What do they need? What’s working? What’s not working? They’re also inviting other churches to participate with them in conducting 500 more surveys of churches. And it looks like they’re beginning a “customized personal spiritual growth plan” program to help congregants become self-feeders. This, says Hybels, will “up the level of responsibility” so people can grow because “even the church can’t meet all their needs.” There’s also a book attached to the project that explains the survey results in more depth (which I haven’t read).

Next up: This blogger’s take on Reveal.


Makeesha said…
is it bad that I find this sad and simultaneously comical?
Carmen Andres said…
mak, i too had a mixture of feelings as i listened to hybels and hawkins. i was joyous that a big voice was picking up on some of this. i was almost incredulous that it was so mind-blowing to them (but, then, i must admit that a couple of years ago i was in their shoes and this was mind-blowing to me too). and i was sad because the program language is still soaking their conversation. but, then, it took a great deal of time for it to finally soak into me (and it's still soaking) what this God-thing is all about: living in a love-dripping relationship with the Father, walking with Jesus and walking with and loving others as we go. That it is so simple--yet so life and world transforming--blows me away still.
Makeesha said…
agreed. I certainly have grace for the process - as Sr. Joan Chittester has said, the church is enormous and made up of so many people at so many places, often, the change we are a part of is merely a seed.

I find it comical because of the program language and the time frame because it's such a huge institution and now, in order to figure out what to do they've instituted more programs...there is a book out there called orbiting the giant hair ball, WC is not orbiting it, they ARE the hairball and they just cannot change because it's too big. And maybe that's ok, I guess...I just can't help but feel almost sick about the whole thing.
Carmen Andres said…
i'm with you on the mammoth institution thing. when my son was small we used to watch a video called "i dig dirt" which featured a lot of earth moving machines. one was so large (the size of a house) that it took ages to move and position. that's a bit how i've come to see large institutions over the last couple of years. i've become somewhat skeptical on the abilities we have to change any system or institution that has gotten large and already is moving with a momentum. not that all institutions or systems need changing, just that if it's off track it's like trying to change the direction of one of those huge earth movers.
susie said…
carmie--listening to I think Hawkins' podcast--- I am struck with his comment, those who love God the most are the most dissatisfied with church and are thinking about leaving.
We are not alone.
But whatever is going on? People have been going to church for thousands of years. Has this ever happened before? Why is it happening now?
I am impressed that Willow would to do such a survey and be able to look at results that must be devastating to them. And that they would make the process public! I wouldn't have thought a large institution by its nature would do that, even if it is a church. Maybe they will be able to come up with a solution that is wonderful and helpful. I find the whole thing not sad but exciting.
Carmen Andres said…
susie, aye, we are not alone, though it sure feels like that in the everyday sometimes. folks like dallas willard et al have been talking about a new reformation being underway for decades, as are the emerging church folks now. it is something to see, this breath of God moving across the world - i imagine it but a hint of the power of creation but breathtaking nonetheless.