The two sets of three stages
Stages 1-3 and stages 4-6
There is a divide between the first three stages and the second three. There is a crossing over point.
(The following paragraphs are heavily influenced or even quoting the material at theocentric.)
Most, if not all, contemporary evangelical models of growth climax at stage 3. For example, the “Purpose Driven Church” model assumes that a person is spiritually mature when they are part of the “committed core” – serving in and through the church according to their gifts.
But it is entirely possible (and indeed, quite probable) that many people minister for selfish reasons. Church activity is not an indicator of maturity. Busyness in church activities does not automatically lead to spiritual growth.
The church is generally best at working with people in stages 1 through 3, so the fact that the highest number of people is in stage 2 fits with how the church sees itself. This raises some issues through, as to what and how the church relates to people beyond stage 3.
Many people leave the church when they experience stage 4 or ‘the wall’, since there are few resources or programs available for them, and they feel estranged when the faith they held dear does not work for them any more.
In his book, Exit Interviews, William D. Hendricks demonstrates that most of the dechurched (those who formerly attended or even served in a local church but have since left church-life altogether) have not lost faith in God. They have lost faith in the church. They have “grown disillusioned with the church and other institutions of Christianity” and have “lost the energy and enthusiasm they once had for programs of spiritual development.” Consequently, they “are now looking elsewhere to meet their deepest spiritual needs” (Exit Interview, 11).
The dechurched leave primarily because they are disillusioned with the church. They claim it is stunting their growth.
The church has a stunted model of spiritual formation that leaves little room for questions, doubts, and rediscovery.
The overall map, then, can be divided into two sections of 3 stages; with a shift from 3 to 4 taking place in the midst of crisis, and the necessity of having to ‘go through the wall’. This is understandably the sticking point for many, often resulting in people bouncing back and forth. Moving toward position 4 but retreating to position 3. There is a cost, a death involved in making that transition.
The latter stages (4-6) have less of a clear map in them as the individual’s journey will make a greater difference to their experience.