A pastor who recently released a shocking study showing that 88% of Christians haven’t advanced past the “toddler stage” of spiritual development believes a lack of Bible engagement and community prevents people from experiencing even the most basic spiritual growth.
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Dr. Bill White, pastor of Christ Journey Church in Miami, Florida, and author of the book “Mature-ish: Your Mission from God, Should You Choose to Accept It,” told CBN’s Faithwire his study, which Grey Matter Research conducted, unveiled some “surprising” findings.
The research separated Christian spirituality into the same stages of development people go through as they physically evolve from birth through adulthood.
“Throughout the New Testament, you’ll find images offered like ‘newborn in the faith,'” White said. “So, I saw levels of development that were parallel to levels of human physical development.”
The preacher started to chart out spiritual development in the same way, beginning with a “newborn” and working through the godparent phase. Just 1.9% of Christians comprise the latter, the most advanced faith standing; a stunning 47% are at the newborn stage.
The stunning lack of spiritual maturity in many Christians plays out in various ways, including the types of prayers the faithful offer the Lord.
“We don’t just want to say prayers like a perfunctory ritual but to facilitate a relational conversation through an active ongoing prayer,” White said. “Like Paul says, ‘pray without ceasing’ — always be in communication, abide in Christ so that I’m living and breathing in this conversation with God.”
He said his research shows that believers tend to pray predominately in their time of need or when they recognize things they want. These “help me” prayers, White said, are on the more childlike side of the spectrum, as he argued that prayers deepen as people graduate into spiritual maturity.
“What we discovered was that a lot of believers, during a period like we’ve been through, are focusing on ‘what I need and what I want right now,’ and that’s when they pray,” he said.
White had no idea what to expect when he embarked on the study but said he wasn’t totally surprised by some of the findings, mainly due to the state of our culture.
“In a culture that has been steeped, as we have for so long, in self-absorption, it’s not surprising,” White said. “When Jesus says, ‘Deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me,’ that’s not an invitation that we immediately warm up to. We don’t understand it.”
White said people need to go deeper to understand what this truly means. He also argued believers sometimes need to see examples of what it looks like to follow Jesus’ calling.
“We don’t grow to that level without help. We need mentors. We need models. We need connection,” he said. “Personally, it’s not just something you read about in a book — you need to see it lived, and done, and then helped throughout.”
White said the people who reach the pinnacle of spiritual maturity appear to be those connected in discipleship relationships or mentoring groups — those who have others to love and listen to.
The study found that the two elements most holding Christians back from growth are people not being part of communities and not reading the Bible even once a month.
The survey results come as other research points to a habit crisis among Christians. With church attendance and Bible reading trending down, it’s no surprise fewer people can be counted among the spiritually mature.
As Faithwire recently reported, a survey released earlier this year by researcher and pollster George Barna of the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University found just 37% of U.S.-based pastors hold to a biblical worldview.
Another survey from Barna found just 2% of parents of preteens today hold a biblical worldview.
White argued that COVID-19 related restrictions and remote worship haven’t helped these dynamics.
“We wound up having some exchanges that were lacking — the visit of God’s spirit in the way that he promises to meet when we meet together,” he said. “And so now I think we’re needing to relearn some very valuable habits about gathering together.”
White said he’s hoping his data, as well as his book “Mature-ish: Your Mission from God, Should You Choose to Accept It,” help Christians engage in a transformational process that helps them live more closely aligned to their faith.
“My hope is that it will inspire and stimulate faith that takes action — actionable faith that will then result in a transformational reality,” he said.
For believers looking to understand the state of their own spiritual journey, White plans to publish a self-assessment tool this summer here.
The survey was conducted among 1,022 adults who subscribe to four ideals: the Bible is the highest authority, it is essential to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus as their savior, Jesus’ death on the cross is the only sacrifice able to remove people’s penalty for sin, and only Christ followers receive eternal life.
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