Reasons to become followers of Christ can be different, but religious leaders and researchers agree that the church plays a key role in helping a person become a believer and a Christ-centered individual. In their work Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth, Hawkins and Parkinson focused on the detailed examination of the role of the church in spiritual development with reference to the results of the REVEAL survey that was conducted by the Willow Creek Association. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the key themes and messages of the book, evaluate the study results and conclusions made by the authors, and focus on the application of the ideas presented in the book to real-life situations.
Hawkins and Parkinson’s book is aimed to present the results of the REVEAL survey that involved about 250,000 people who represented more than 1,000 U.S. churches. The purpose is to answer the question regarding conditions that can influence the spiritual growth of persons in the context of their church life. In order to address this purpose, the authors discussed conclusions drawn with reference to the collected data, and the work is divided into three large parts. The first part explains what types of church attendees can be observed, and the role of the church is discussed with reference to each type. The second part of the book describes specific practices that can be followed in order to contribute to the person’s spiritual growth. In its turn, the third part is focused on the role of the church leadership in order to help the community representatives in their spiritual journey.From this point, each part of the books includes important messages that can be discussed in detail.
It is stated in the first part of the book, that all church attendees can be divided into such types as persons who explore Christ, individuals who grow in Christ, persons who are close to Christ, and Christ-centered individuals. Hawkins and Parkinson formulated the idea of the Spiritual continuum, according to which each church attendee can overcome all these stages in order to become a Christ-centered follower. The authors note that those individuals who explore Christ “remain unwilling or unready to fully join in.” If a person exploring Christ has only general beliefs, the Christ-centered person discusses his or her belief and the relationship with God as the central parts of life.
The second part of the book discusses the specific conditions that can make believers become Christ-centered. These conditions include personal spiritual beliefs, church practices, personal practices, and activities involving other persons. Hawkins and Parkinson concluded that church practices could influence the spiritual growth of a person only when an individual is at the first stage of his or her spiritual development and can be discussed as exploring Christ or growing in Christ. According to the authors, in order to achieve the higher goals, church practices are not enough, and the focus should be on the spiritual cooperation with other people to help them become followers of God.
In the third part of the book, Hawkins and Parkinson discussed the importance of church leaders in helping believers grow spiritually. The role of church leaders is assessed with the help of the Spiritual Vitality Index, according to which churches are compared in terms of their effectiveness to contribute to the individuals’ spiritual development. Different churches are assessed and marked according to the index with reference to such characteristics as the role of the church in the community’s life and the proposed practices. While following the results of the assessment, Hawkins and Parkinson identified the most effective practices that guarantee the church’s success, and they work to “get people moving,” “embed the Bible in everything,” “create ownership,” and “pastor their local community.” These practices seem to contribute to increasing the believers’ satisfaction and improving their relationship with Christ.
It is possible to state that, in their work, Hawkins and Parkinson tried to answer one of the most important questions related to the issue of personal spiritual growth: Can churches contribute to the spiritual development of an individual who is on his or her path to God? As a result, the additional question that is answered in this book is the following one: What particular features of churches can contribute to this spiritual growth? It is important to note that, answering these questions, the authors avoided biases while analyzing the survey data, and their conclusions can be discussed as rather unexpected. Thus, the authors concluded that “church activities do not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth,” and moreover, “nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than a reflection on Scripture.” The significance of these conclusions is the fact that they propose to discuss the church practices from a new perspective, and these ideas are based on the factual data and perceptions of the study participants. Hawkins and Parkinson do not avoid presenting desired and undesired results in the book, and the discussion of findings can be discussed as fair, logical, and relevant.
In addition, the book’s strength is in the reference to the numerical results of the study. In spite of the fact that researchers are inclined to criticize the methodology of the survey, the study results are important to discuss the role of churches from the other perspective, with the focus on measuring their actual impact on parishioners. In comparison to other works on this topic, this book demonstrates the unique approach to analyzing the complex problem of the spiritual growth while using the survey and quantitative methodology. In addition, the authors provided generalizations based on the data and discussed the paths for the steady spiritual growth. Thus, the reader can easily follow the content of the book and understand its basic ideas presented with the help of charts and figures.
The ideas presented in this book can be applied to the person’s real-life situations, and this statement is related to both parishioners and church leaders. It is important to note that a believer can use this book in order to answer the question about the stage at which he or she is now in relation to the personal Spiritual continuum and focus on those strategies that are proposed as the most effective ones in order to contribute to the spiritual growth. The problem is in the fact that even regular attendees of churches cannot evaluate the situation, and they cannot realize that more attempts should be made in order to speak about them as individuals who are close to Christ, and even more steps are necessary to become Christ-centered followers. These people can be dissatisfied and require assistance. This book is important to stimulate a believer to assess his path to God without focusing on biases and false hopes. As a result, the book can be used as a guide to making steps toward spiritual growth. These steps can include participation in church practices or volunteering among others.
Church leaders can also feel difficulties while assessing the situation in their church. The book is important to explain the progress of each attendee on his path to God and demonstrate practices that can be used by pastors effectively in order to make more people in their church close to Christ. When church leaders understand the needs of each parishioner and apply practices accordingly, it is possible to note that this church has many chances to be named among the best ones in the next surveys. Thus, each parishioner can have individual barriers that prevent him or her from becoming closer to God, and the leader’s task is to identify and address these barriers.
While speaking about the book’s value, it is important to state that Hawkins and Parkinson’s work is a good example of a book that can be used in church practice. The work is not the theoretical analysis of the problem of spiritual growth, but it is an evidence-based guide to be used in order to improve the situation in U.S. churches. The clear discussion of the trends in church life allows for developing a strategy of how to overcome the identified barriers and implement the approaches used by the most successful leaders in the majority of churches in the United States.
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Gallagher, Sally, and Chelsea Newton. “Defining Spiritual Growth: Congregations, Community, and Connectedness.” Sociology of Religion 70, no. 3 (2009): 232-261.
Hawkins, Greg, and Cally Parkinson. Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.
Krause, Neal, David Hayward, Deborah Bruce, and Cynthia Woolever. “Church Involvement, Spiritual Growth, Meaning in Life, and Health.” Archive for the Psychology of Religion 35, no. 2 (2013): 169-191.
Willard, Dallas. “How Do We Assess Spiritual Growth? A Leadership Interview with Dallas Willard.” Leadership 31, no. 2 (2010): 29-34.