From the results of the initial church survey, we discovered new insights into what spurs individual spiritual growth.
The findings were based on new in-depth research tools that hadn’t been used in church surveys before. The results were so intriguing that the survey tool was then offered to six other churches to see if the data would be similar . . . or different.
Of all the insights we’ve gained in analyzing the data from the Spiritual Life Survey, the centerpiece discovery of REVEAL is the Spiritual Continuum. This is a key framework for understanding how people grow spiritually.
The surprise to us was that this Spiritual Continuum did not emerge as something dependent on church involvement.
When we began our research in 2004, we thought that we would find a direct link between church activities and spiritual growth. We thought our most mature, “sold-out” Christ-followers would also be the most involved in church activities—attending services, participating in small groups, volunteering, etc.
Our hypothesis was that if Christ were at the center of their lives, the church would be front and center, too. So we expected to see results looking like.
Chart 1: If increasing participation in church activities (such as attendance at services and participation in small groups) drives spiritual growth, we would see a direct linear correlation (shown above) between low-medium-high levels of participation and low-medium-high levels of spiritual growth.
Instead, we discovered results that looked like Chart 2:
Chart 2: The research showed some increase in spiritual behaviors as participation in church activities increases, but very little correlation between low-medium-high levels of participation and increasing "love for God, love for people."
We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active.
This led us to discover a Spiritual Continuum centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ, which was much more predictive of spiritual growth (Chart 3):
Chart 3: This framework emerged as the most powerful predictive description of how people grow spiritually. That means attitudes and behaviors associated with spiritual growth increased in lockstep with movement along the continuum.
Charts 4 and 5 demonstrate the powerful nature of this continuum. Virtually all spiritual attitudes and behaviors measured in our research increased significantly from one stage of spiritual maturity to the next.
Chart 4: The percentage of people who “very strongly agree” with spiritual attitude statements about surrendering the most important aspects of life to God rises significantly across the Spiritual Continuum, and especially in the Close to Christ and Christ-Centered segments. This demonstrates a spiritual heart shift from a self-centered identity to an identity defined by a relationship with Christ.
Chart 5: The frequency of tithing, serving and evangelism rises dramatically across the Spiritual Continuum, illustrating the outpouring of spiritual behavior associated with increasing spiritual maturity.
We also discovered a high percentage of people who fell into two groups who were struggling with their spiritual lives:
- 1. The Stalled:
- More than one in five in total (22%) said that they “have stalled spiritually.”
- 2. The Dissatisfied
- Almost one in five in total (17%) expressed a level of dissatisfaction with their church’s role in helping them grow spiritually
Chart 6 shows that those who are stalled exist in all segments across the Spiritual Continuum, but most of them fall within the first two segments of spiritual growth.
Chart 6: The highest percentages of people who say “I have stalled spiritually” fall in the Exploring Christ and Growing in Christ segments. This means that becoming stalled is much more likely to occur at the earlier stages of spiritual growth.
Those who are dissatisfied with the church’s role in their spiritual growth also exist in all segments across the Spiritual Continuum (Chart 7).
Chart 7: The people who are dissatisfied with their church’s role in their spiritual growth are distributed fairly evenly across the four spiritual segments. In total 17 percent of those surveyed expressed some level of dissatisfaction.
We are particularly concerned about those in the more mature spiritual development segments (Close to Christ and Christ-Centered) because the dissatisfied are the most likely to express that they may leave the church (41%) and these more mature segments represent our best evangelists, volunteers and donors (see Chart 5).
There is an overlap between the stalled and dissatisfied groups, which is not surprising (Chart 8). Unhappiness can turn into a magnet for greater unhappiness. Someone who is stalled could blame their circumstances on the church. Likewise, because the church is so central to the early stages of spiritual growth, it’s possible that dissatisfaction with the church could cause someone to stall out spiritually. So, not unexpectedly, our two most disillusioned spiritual segments share common characteristics and, to some extent, feed off each other.
Chart 8: There is an overlap between the 17 percent dissatisfied people and the 22 percent who are stalled. Seven percent of the total sample is both stalled and dissatisfied. Adding together the highlighted sections of the stalled and/or dissatisfied shows that 32 percent (the sum of 15, 7 and 10 percent) of the total sample fall into these groups.
In summary, in 2004 REVEAL discovered a spiritual continuum of four segments that capture the spiritual journey. We learned so much and were so intrigued with the findings that in 2007 we tested the survey with approximately thirty additional churches. We then surveyed 500+ churches to build our database and enrich our discoveries about what drives…and what derails…spiritual growth.
The survey is now available for churches to use to gain insight on their own congregations. You can also read more about REVEAL’s findings in its two books: REVEAL: Where Are You? published in August 2007 and its companion, Follow Me: What’s Next for You? published in July 2008.