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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review: "Move"

TITLE: Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth
AUTHOR: Greg L. Hawkins with Cally Parkinson
PUBLISHER: Zondervan, 2011.

Back in 2007, one of the biggest news in evangelical circles is the confession of the MegaChurch pastor, Bill Hybels about the weaknesses of their Willow Creek Church. That day, after a 3-year long research, Hybels admits publicly about some problems with their Church growth model. Despite their numerical growth, their wonderful programming, and the powerful international ministry, the level of spiritual growth among their members and adherents are weak, even static. Growth in numbers or programs does not equal spiritual growth. The three 'shocking' facts are as follows:
  1. "Increased participation in church activities by themselves barely moved our people to love God and others more;"
  2. "We had a lot of dissatisfied people;"
  3. "We had a lot of people so dissatisfied that they were ready to leave." (18)


This book is an expanded treatment of that study called "REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey".  The basic premise of this book is that spiritual growth can be measurable. The study is based on questionnaires, interviews, and research on 1008 Churches, of different denominations, sizes, and locations throughout America, that represent more than 250,000 people. This is followed by 'eight discoveries' which set the framework for the book (18-20).


  1. It is possible to measure spiritual growth.
  2. Church activities do not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth.
  3. Lots of apathetic nonbelievers who attend church are unlikely ever to accept Christ.
  4. Even the most devoted Christians fall far short of living out the mandates of Christ.
  5. Nothing has greater impact on spiritual growth than reflection on Scripture.
  6. Spiritually stalled or dissatisfied people account for one out of four church congregants.
  7. There is no 'killer app' for spiritual growth.
  8. Leadership matters.

A) Book Structure

This book is arranged in three parts, where one moves progressively from taking a snapshot of the present (Spiritual Continuum), consolidating and clarifying the path that needs to be taken (Spiritual Movement), and then highlights the critical role of leadership (Spiritual Leadership).

In Part One, Hawkins begin with a picture of the outdated model of spiritual growth which comprises mainly of inadequate measuring tools that are based on a 'greater participation = greater spiritual growth'  formula (17).  These are activities like small groups participation, missions work, ministry work, service, stewardship, Bible studies, Sunday School classes and so on. The erroneous assumption is that with greater participation, one grows to love God and neighbour more. A better model is a 4-stage model which places people into 4 different categories, namely;

  • Those Exploring Christ: "I believe in God but I am not sure about Christ."
  • Those Growing in Christ: "I believe in Jesus and I am working on what it means to get to know him."
  • Those Close to Christ: "I really feel close to Christ and depend on him daily for guidance."
  • Those Christ-centered: "My relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in my life. It guides everything I do." (21)

Part Two is called Spiritual Movement which aims to help believers move to the next level, after taking a snapshot of their present spiritual condition. Movement #1(Early spiritual growth) moves people from exploring to growing,  to become more knowledgeable about Christ. Movement #2 (Intermediate spiritual growth), moves people from personal relationship to intimacy with Christ. Movement #3 (Advanced spiritual growth), moves people to replace any self-centeredness growth with sacrificial Christlike service.

Part Three is the engine that drives to bring together the best practices on MOVING the Church. This is the essence of the title of the book, to move people from where they are closer and closer to Christ. The four best practices for spiritually growing churches:
  1. They get people moving
  2. They embed the Bible in everything
  3. They create ownership.
  4. They pastor their local community.
Churches that manifest these best practices demonstrate one critical quality: Their leaders are overwhelmingly focused on discipleship.  Here lies the main thesis of the book.

"So while the process of spiritual growth is unique for each person and will always have an enormous Spirit-led component, the simplicity of the findings described in Move offer insights and strategies church leaders can act on with a high level of confidence that their decisions will make a difference in the lives of those they serve." (26)

My Comments

This book is a humbling corrective for those of us who are used to the old church paradigm that more active participation and church ministry means spiritual growth. For some of us, this truth is somewhat known inwardly, but seldom practiced outwardly. Thus, for this reason, this study verbalizes many of our inner suspicions, that spiritual growth has less to do with what Church is doing or planning to do, but more about Christ. Everything is about Christ, for Christ, with Christ, toward Christ through Christ.

I admit that at some point of the book, I begin to feel the book is becoming overly scientific in its approach, and too prescriptive in rushing to provide some solutions. Given that books like these should aim toward providing some insights on spiritual growth, I think there needs to be a healthy complement of spirituality alongside the multitude of data. On one extreme, one can be inundated with information overload. On the other hand, what if the assumption of a measurable form of spiritual growth is wrong?

The approach taken by the author and the Willow Creek group makes me wonder if this book is Zondervan's response to another quite similar Church study done by B & H Publishing and Lifeway Research, "Transformational Church." Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer in that book proposes a new 'scorecard' to DISCERN a missionary mentality, EMBRACE a culture of dynamic leadership, intentionality, and prayerful dependence, and ENGAGE the community in worship, community and mission. In contrast, "Move" proposes 4 best practices with a leadership overwhelmingly focused on discipleship.

  1. They get people moving
  2. They embed the Bible in everything
  3. They create ownership.
  4. They pastor their local community.

Both Transformational Church and Move begins with a study of Churches, the former with over 700 while the latter with 1008  Churches. Both recognizes the outdated paradigms for measuring spiritual growth. TC calls it the 3Bs (Bodies, Budgets, and Buildings) while Move is more focused on the erroneous 'greater participation = greater growth' model. Both are similar in terms of their movement toward more Christ-centered, more biblical, and a need for transformation of the entire Church culture. Perhaps, the most pertinent portion of both books is the need for leadership.

In summary, I feel that Move does a decent job in consolidating the massive amount of data over 3 years, to come up with the four best practices. The author also admits that the model for REVEAL is based on Rudyard Kipling's 'six honest serving men' called What, Where, When, How, Why, and Who (195). It reminds us that if a rather 'successful' church like Willow Creek is honest enough to look and admit their own weaknesses, what about the rest of us?

This is a great book for Church leaders to study, and learn about what spiritual growth really means. While we can be humble about our approaches to doing church, we need to be even more humble to acknowledge that ultimately, for the Church, it is the Holy Spirit who is the Prime Mover, and unless the Holy Spirit moves, everything else will be futile.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

This book is provided to me free courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. The comments above are freely mine.

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