Back in the fall of May 2003, a large mega-church outside of Chicago started to ask questions. Was their church truly touching hearts? Were the programs offered helping people to grow in their relationship with Christ? Was spiritual maturity evident in the congregation?
Two members, Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, wanted to find answers to these questions. They employed a research firm. They led an effort to do a deep dive into the spiritual lives of the church. Their study was published in the book, Reveal. They determined that people have different levels of spiritual maturity. They identified four stages where people are:
- Exploring Christ
- Growing in Christ
- Close to Christ
They sensed that people can move from one level to the other. They had three hypotheses about these movements from one stage to another.
- Assumption: There is a migration path for spiritual growth based on church activities. Finding: This was found to be partially true. Neither church activities nor serving others is a driver to spiritual growth. Overwhelmingly, spiritual migration is dependent on a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ.
- Assumption: The most effective evangelization evangelism tool is a spiritual conversation. In this respect, churches should focus on developing a “small group model.” These will encourage these spiritual conversations. Finding: This was the biggest surprise of the study. Spiritual conversations are important. The most effective outreach strategy was to feed and motivate the most spiritually mature, or “Christ-Centered,” members. They are the best evangelists, the best ministers, and the most generous donors.
- Assumption: Spiritual relationships with others (or “spiritual friendships”) are a key driver to spiritual growth. Finding: Meeting the need for community and genuine spiritual relationships is crucial to spiritual growth. Yet, organized efforts to create these environments were only partially effective. Small groups only helped people in the early stages of spiritual growth (“Exploring Christ” and “Growing in Christ”).
We have found similar results in Catholic-land. People in the more mature stages of spiritual growth are not motivated by small groups. They are looking for two things. (1) To be challenged in their faith and (2) to be held accountable for their faith.
Greg Hawkins and Callie Parkinson took the Reveal study a step further. Several years later, they increase the scope of their study. They surveyed hundreds of churches. The included numerous denominations. The examined churches of various sizes. The study encompassed the entire United States. In 2011 they publish their findings in a book called Move.
The evidence of four levels of spiritual growth was seen nation-wide. Yet, two outlier groups were also identified. The first were people who were “dissatisfied.” The “dissatisfied” had developed a significant spiritual maturity. Their needs were beyond what their church was offering. The church which had done the original study was focussed on “seekers.” The primary tool of the church had been a small-group model. Seekers are people in the early stages of spiritual development. A small-group model is very effective for them. The “dissatisfied” were not fed by small groups. They enjoyed what they were hearing during the Sunday homilies. They simply were not challenged by it. These individuals needed something that held them accountable for growing in their faith. Their church did not offer that.
The second group was people who were “stuck.” Many of them had attended church for 20, 30, 40 years or more. They seemed loyal. The study showed that they had no intention of leaving the church. The problem was that these people had not progressed in their spiritual faith. they didn’t attend any small group. They didn’t study, much less, read the Bible. This was an interesting fact for members of a Bible-based congregation. They hadn’t read a spiritual book. They had not attended a conference. They didn’t watch any spiritual videos. In short, for year, they had done little to nurture their faith and relationship with Christ.
The study revealed insights into people who were stuck. “Stuck” people had some aspect of their life that was in darkness. They had a serious addiction or were in an illicit non-marital relationship or were involved with some kind of criminal activity. Somewhere, there was an aspect of their life that they had not addressed or dealt with. As a result there, a spiritual battle was in play. A boundary between them and their relationship with Jesus Christ was in place. People who were “stuck” would have to address the issue. They could then break through this spiritual boundary. Only then would their spiritual maturity begin to grow.
Why is this important? Look at this week’s Gospel reading from John Chapter 11. I found Verse 44 especially interesting: “The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them ‘untie him and let him go.’“
Lazarus came out. He could obviously move. But he was still tied up hand and foot. He was only partially free. It wasn’t until Jesus instructed others to untie him that he was totally set free.
People in the “stuck” category are Lazarus. They come to Church. they listen to the Word. They might help others. They might be “nice people.” But there’s something in their life that needs to be addressed. It’s something serious. It’s something that needs some extra grace, and movement of their human will, to decide to get unstuck and to move.
In what area of your life are you Lazarus? In which area of your life are you “stuck?” Where do you need the extra grace? Have a conversation with the Lord. He wants to totally unwrap all of us.