The Willow Creek Association of churches in the US carried out a survey, much like the one we have been asking people to do, in 1000 churches. These churches were of all sorts of different sizes and from varying denominations. For a few weeks I have been pondering the results of that survey for us as a church. In doing that I came across a statistic that is so serious in its implications that it has literally given me sleepless nights. I have lain in bed thinking it over and over.
Here is what they discovered
25% of those surveyed, that is one in four, were either stalled in or dissatisfied with their spiritual growth. In a way its even more serious than it initially sounds because that figure of 25% grew higher in proportion among people who had been believers for a longer length of time or were very active in serving in the church. It found many of these people were on the verge of giving up on church and leaving.
Now do you realise why I have been lying awake thinking and pondering? I see my calling and gifting as primarily a teacher / preacher and yet it seems like there is a good chance the teaching and preaching of people like me is not helping a sizeable and important section of the church.
I have to face up to the sobering reality that if they found the same issue, in roughly the same proportion, in a sizeable percentage of those 1000 churches then the likelihood is that it is also true for Westlake too, to some degree.
There is a very good chance that around one in four of us, with that proportion growing among people who have been part of Westlake for a considerable length of time or are very active in serving, are not growing in our spiritual lives and / or are dissatisfied about. Some of you maybe ready to walk away from Westlake or church in general.
Just let that sink in.
Maybe you don’t need to, maybe you recognise that you are in that 25% group.
I want to share with you some of my late-night ponderings about this
Obviously, this was my first question.
Why are so many people stalled or dissatisfied with their spiritual life?
INTRANSIGENCE …. I think there are some people who are stalled spiritually because they are intransigent. They refuse to grow. They wont stop doing the things that prevent them from growing. They won’t put the effort into doing the things that would help them grow. They can’t be bothered to grow if it means more than turning up on a Sunday for an hour or so.
IGNORANCE …. What also becomes clear from this survey and many others is that simply consuming sermons and serving at church doesn’t in itself grow Christians. Spiritual growth happens when people take responsibility for their own spiritual development and are committed to certain spiritual habits that enable growth. This process has been called spiritual formation. The problem is that many people who are involved in church just don’t know this and don’t know the habits that would help them grow.
INEFFECTIVENESS …. This is a bitter pill for me as a church leader to swallow but it seems like a lot of what we do as a church has been ineffective in helping people understand what spiritual growth is all about and actually helping people to grow spiritually. The truth is that we have not been very good at ongoing discipleship. Perhaps at some point in the past our structures did work well. I know that some of what we do does help Christians grow, especially newer believers. However, it appears that churches need to rethink how they effectively disciple people.
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Although all of this is worrying, strangely I have to say that I am also excited about it. I am not excited about people being stalled and dissatisfied in their walk with God. What excites me is that if we understand this problem, we have the chance to address it. That is just what we are determined to do as a church.
HERE IS HOW
VISION 20/20 …. We launched Vision 20/20 last week. Its not about strategic planning or being trendy and having a “vision.” Its not our latest church fad that will fade soon. Its about a determination to become a community that challenges, equips, and inspires people to grow in their relationship with God wherever they are in that relationship. It’s a vision for a Church that is serious about spiritual formation. Vision 20/20 will inevitably mean some changes for us as a congregation, but I want to promise you it will never be change for the sake of change. Change to keep up with some church fad. Any changes we bring in will be designed to try and help us be more effective in helping more people grow in their faith. I need to be clear about one thing, the status quo, with a high proportion of people stalled in their spiritual development, isn’t an option for us a church any more.
SPIRITUAL ASSESSMENT …. As part of VISION 20/20 we have asked everyone to complete a spiritual assessment online. This is to help us as a church see the areas that we need to focus on in particular to help people get “unstalled” in their relationship with Christ. If you haven’t done this yet, please do it will provide us with the vital information we need to address this problem.
DISCIPLESHIP PATHWAY …. One of our initial priorities is to create our discipleship pathway. You’ll be hearing a lot about this but basically it is about trying to create pathways to help equip and encourage people to come to faith, connect with the community of faith and grow in their faith. This I think is the biggest challenge we have faced in recent years. We are going to have to look at what is being effective in other places. Think about our unique context and needs here. Develop and test things. Fail and try again. We are going to keeping doing that till we know we are being effective.
SOUL SHAPING AND SOUL KEEPING …. This issue is so important we want to try and start addressing it right away, which is why we are going to focus on spiritual growth this fall. There will be a series of messages called SOUL SHAPING starting this Sunday thinking about how we grow spiritually. We are encouraging everyone to read John Ortberg’s book SOUL KEEPING and to get involved with a small group that will be studying it. This book has some really good clear practical teaching on how to cultivate our relationship with God. …. Get unstalled, get involved.
OVER TO YOU
I want to promise you that as a church we are going to do everything we can to help you grow in your faith. However ultimately you have to take responsibility for that relationship. I can’t remember who said it but its true. “You are as close to God as you really want to be” In the end it will be your choice to stay stalled or dissatisfied in your relationship with the Lord if you are at the moment and that will cost you what the New Testament describes as “life and life to the full.”