Notes from a Common-place Book: Rudderless Christianity posts an interesting report from the Willow Creek Community Church, which I gather is an evangelical megachurch somewhere in the USA.
The most disturbing and widely publicized finding of “Reveal,” Willow Creek Community Church’s years-long exercise in consultant-directed self-analysis, was that a significant percentage of the members who have profited most from its ministry, have moved forward along its continuum of measurement for spiritual growth (tithing, serving, and evangelizing), are dissatisfied and thinking of leaving.
A more amenable result to the church, of course, would be that the dissatisfied are the less rather than the more mature Christians, but Willow Creek has discovered that the more advanced a person becomes by its own measures of spirituality, the more likely it is he is thinking of going elsewhere.
I found this interesting because it confirmed something I discovered that we first joined the Orthodox Church back in the mid-1980s. It seemed then that some of the best and most effective and enthusiastic people in the Orthodox Church had taken a detour through the Rhema Church, or Christian City, or the (then) Hatfield Baptist Church — all of them Neopentecostal megachurches.
And someone used an image that seemed to fit this situation — that the Orthodox Church was like a ladder with the bottom four rungs missing. It was not very good at teaching the basics of the Christian faith, at least not in the South Africa of the 1980s, and probably not today either. And so many Orthodox Christians, who had been brought up in Orthodox families, went on a detour to the neopentecostal mega churches, which were like a ladder that had the bottom four rungs, but nothing further up. Only after they had been to the neopentecostal churches for the milk did they appreciate the treasures of Orthodoxy and come back for the meat.
As children they had gone to church and heard services in Greek, led by expatriate priests from Greece or Cyprus or Turkey, who could often speak little English. So they had gone to church and dutifully kissed the ikon of Christ without knowing who he was. And then they had gone to one of the neopentecostal churches and had personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and then things that had been an incomprehensible jumble of impressions began to fall into place. And when they had climbed the bottom four rungs of the ladder maybe three or four times, they felt the need to go higher, and returned to Orthodoxy, and perhaps began to read The Ladder of St John Climacus, and to go “further up and further in” as C.S. Lewis puts it.