Wednesday 15 July 2009

The Barna Group Research on Spiritual Maturity

A colleague has directed me to a recent study from the Barna Group on how church members and leaders struggle to define spiritual maturity. A summary of their findings can be found here. Although the research was conducted in the USA, it’s not immediately apparent that the situation in the UK would be much different.

The results of the study suggest that while people aspire to be spiritually mature, they do not know what that looks like, and church leaders are often not clearly defining the goals or the outcomes of that process.

Five Challenges
The study shows five significant challenges when it comes to facilitating people’s spiritual growth.

1. Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules.

2. Most churchgoers are not clear what their church expects in terms of spiritual maturity. 
3. Most Christians offer one-dimensional views of personal spiritual maturity.

4. Most pastors struggle with feeling the relevance as well as articulating a specific set of objectives for spirituality, often favoring activities over attitudes.

5. Pastors are surprisingly vague about the biblical references they use to chart spiritual maturity for people.

Five Opportunities
The research also identifies a number of opportunities that can be leveraged to address the problems related to spirituality maturity.

1. Christians and pastors have clarity about the major boundaries that must be addressed to tackle the problem.

2. While most Americans are relatively content with their spirituality ‘as is’, millions aspire to grow spiritually.

3. Compared to older believers, Christians under the age of 40 are less satisfied with spirituality and less ‘rule oriented’.

4. Pastors realise they need more help when it comes to assessing spiritual health.

5. Pastors tend to be harder on themselves than are congregants.


David Kinnaman, who directed the research project, suggests several implications of the study (my summary):

• the need for new types of spiritual metrics (e.g., a renewed effort on the part of leaders to articulate the outcomes of spiritual growth, relational engagement and accountability), whilst recognising that ‘spirituality is neither a science nor a business’.

• the need for ‘a renewed emphasis on discipleship, soul care, the tensions of truth and grace, the so-called “fruits” of the spiritual life, and the practices of spiritual disciplines’.

• the need to weed out good products from bad products in the area of spiritual formation which water down, over-promise, or are counter-productive.

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