THE EFFECTS OF GROUP SIZE AND
PRESENTATION UPON MORAL DEVELOPMENT
An Experimental Research Proposal/Paper
Dr. E. M. Grill
In Total Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
at the Master's Level
Paul E Heimbach
14th May, 1996
Context of the Problem
A cursory review of contemporary North American media and the speeches of major United States political parties indicates a major concern with the current direction of American morality. Indeed, a report issued April 10, 1995 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching lists building character as a top priority. More importantly, research indicates that there is a major decline underway in measurable morality of those claiming membership in Christian (both Protestant and Catholic) churches, and claiming to attend on a regular basis (Barna, 1992; Bibby, 1994). Gallup surveys revealed that there was no statistical difference between churchgoers and nonchurchgoers in relation to racial prejudice and materialism (Gibbs, 1993). Various court rulings have removed the trappings of Christianity from the public school, redistributing one-third of the burden of moral education back to the home and the church (Reed, 1995). What is disturbing is that while there is a decline in levels of measurable morality, very little research has been conducted with the intent of ascertaining the reason(s) for such a decline.
The number of potential variables associated with moral decline, even in churches, is great. (Wells, 1993; Rutz, 1992) Possibilities can range from poor application of material presented to poor presentation of such material. (Rutz, 1992) Further, possibilities can extend to within the church bodies themselves, including but certainly not limited to simple lack of sufficient preparation and/or motivation for moral growth, personal problems or beliefs which stand in the way of such preparation and/or motivation, including past success despite severe moral failures, or a general sense that moral lessons on a given day or subject are simply not personally applicable (Gibbs, 1993).
Therefore, with the field of research as ripe as it is broad, it should be possible to do a series of empirical studies, with slowly broadening scope, to eventually research all of the potential variables. At first, however, an empirical study is needed which will include many of these potential variables in an easily managed format. It is hoped that if the reasons behind the church's decline in moral structure can be pinpointed, appropriate changes can be made. If the changes can be made, it is hoped that a metaphoric lynch-pin can be put back in place to halt, even to reverse, the decline of both church and global morality.
Statement of the Problem
While there are potentially many factors associated with a lack of moral growth within the church at large, there is one core dichotomy which addresses many of them, and therefore ought to be studied first. A basic study should place in dichotomy the way things are done now and the way things were done when the church began. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to determine whether a set amount of preaching to a group by one person is more effective than a group of similar size engaged for the same amount of time in a discussion of Biblical, moral growth and application of that discussion via a confidential disclosure of failures and successes in their lives to fellow group members.
Review of the Literature
Dr. Reginald Bibby helps us focus on the church as the primary locus for moral education. He notes that the decline in morals is more than simply a "social difficulty", seeing it as more like a "cancer in the system". More importantly, however, Dr. Bibby questions whether moral education for the general populace is a good thing. He concludes that "we've never heard of faith occurring because somebody thought it would reduce the crime rate, or further the cause of human rights. Politics and sociology have their limits." (Bibby, 1994) But this raises a similar question, on which a very large corpus of literature is to be found, literature far beyond the scope of this review, literature on the problem of just how much and what kind of morals ought to be taught in North American school systems. What is important about this corpus are the two points it inherently raises: first, that if the schools need to become involved, something has gone wrong, but second, and very important, that smaller groups, in the region of twenty to thirty, in very homogeneous groups, might learn morality better than in groups of 100-300, with great statistical variance.
To what might we attribute the decline of the popularity of the church in North America and of the effectiveness of its moral suasion? Three primary writers in the field sum up the three main potential sources under study here: theology, structure, or a mix of both. David F. Wells thinks that much of the problem can be attributed to, very basically, the trivialization of, or even the disappearance of, what he defines as solid theology, which has been replaced by what he sees as a kind of "cliche theology", due at least in part to the upsizing of congregations on this continent (Wells, 1993). James Rutz, on the other hand, attributes the problem solely to the size of the modern congregation, saying that any group so large cannot follow all of the Biblical commands, insisting instead that all laymen be given an active role (Rutz, 1992). Barna takes a route between the two, keeping the structure, but suggesting ways to make that structure look and act more friendly, and be more responsive to the needs of the those wishing to use it. More importantly, however, Barna's proposals focus on the growth of numbers, rather than the more difficult to quantify growth in moral development. Therefore, even though each writer reaches separate conclusions abut the problem, all have a common denominator -- group size.
At the core of this study lies an institution which has been rather a sacred cow since the Fourth Century CE, the institution of a Congregation meeting once or twice each week to take moral nourishment from one man. Do we risk adding a variable when we remove our subjects from that congregation and place them in their own groups? Similarly, is there any value which might be inherent in keeping people in large groups where only one man is responsible for their growth? In answer to the first question, Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler, & Tipton (1986) found that the relationship of the Western individual to society is marked by a tension between individual autonomy and commitment to the community. For the bulk of the population, they found this tension to be safely held. On this basis, we can assume that individuals would at least understand a reduction in the size of their community, so long as their perceived duties to it are not changed. In answer to the second question, a small article in Christianity Today questioned the potential harm of video evangelism in India and other parts of the globe, noting that technology may impede the growth of the gospel in the context of a culture (1991). The writer suspects there is not much difference between one man on delivering unchallenged opinions from a pulpit and from a video box. In light of such findings, this writer believes that such a risk is minimal, and taking it, beneficial.
The problem of lecture over against group discussion as a means of learning has been tackled in other studies. Thomas and Roberts (1994) note that California's Framework documents list "Develop group interaction" as one of their primary goals. While it is impractical to list all of the Californian recommendations, it is worthwhile to note that it is not possible to develop any of them using a pastor/lecturer-congregation model alone. One model aimed at teachers of young children, which might be applicable here as well, given Christians nomenclature as "little children", makes an interesting contribution to this area. Shaw and Cliatt (1982?) note that "despite the importance of creative thinking, teachers ... tend to ask ... short, simple questions with easy answers. As a result, children become 'responders rather than inventors'". Given that in the congregational lecture situation, most pastors are taught at best to ask rhetorical questions, if any, what are they doing to their congregations? This does introduce another possible variable into the equation, one which will be addressed below.
One other possible variable in the lecture versus discussion question is that of age. Y. Sell and T.J.B. Kline (1995) note in a study of 18 under-25 year olds, and 18 over 39 year olds, that when
... they were trained in problem solving by either a cooperative or by a traditional lecture technique, ... older subjects did not score as well on the problem solving task ... age consistent groups completed the task equally quickly regardless of training; and age inconsistent groups completed the task more quickly when cooperatively trained .
Given this finding, the emphasis on membership time being within ten years should be more important than ever, but also reveals a limitation on the study when compared to true biblical models of mentorship and study of the Word. Lastly, in a similar vein, where age was not an issue, a study on nurses by Schmidt, Arndt, Gaston, and Miller (1991) notes that "educators can select ... alternative teaching methods to traditional classroom teaching without sacrificing quality education ...". In this study, quite a bit depended upon attitudes toward computers, and with those who worked well with the new technology, the scores showed that there was a greater lean to the group teaching's effectiveness. Such results reinforce the need for a homogenization toward younger people in this first survey.
Probably the greatest problem of this study lay in deciding just which values to concentrate on during the study. Several different studies offered different suggestions, creating the image of great disarray in the field. In an effort to discover if there is common ground, a 1993 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallop Poll of 1,306 adults asked what values should be taught in public schools. The values that a significant majority of those polled agreed should be taught were honesty, 93%; democracy, 93%; acceptance of people of different races and ethnic backgrounds, 93%; caring for friends and for family members, 91%; moral courage, 91%; the golden rule, 90%; and acceptance of people who hold different religious beliefs, 87% (Sharpe, 1994). California's curriculum calls for teaching "the civic values that undergird the nation's constitutional order and promote cohesion across all groups in a pluralistic society." (Thomas and Roberts, 1994) The Josephson Institute of Ethics (1996) defines ethics in terms of moral duties and virtues which flow from six core ethical values. These are Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Justice/Fairness, Caring, Citizenship. H.A. Smit found that the older Christian Reformed church populations became, the more they went to church, but the less they liked their preachers (1994), which of course begs the question of why they were going to church at all, and what those preachers were preaching. It is this researcher's feeling that the great bulk of the above mentioned qualities and many other similar and unmentioned qualities can be subsumed in the Biblical Ten Commandments.
The last question involves criteria on which results ought to be based. Augusto Blasi (1980) notes bluntly that "the study of moral development would use action as the final criterion". Diane Berreth and Marge Scherer (1993), in an interview with Amitai Etzioni, the founder of communitarianism, also address actions when they address the topic of "hidden curriculum", in which every action taken in front of a group has a subtle moral message. Such actions are impossible, one suspects when very few actions are possible, and when those few which are are rarely, if ever, transferable to the real world, as is the case in a lecture preaching situation. Etzioni's theory, then, suggests that a group in which an end survey finds Biblical cohesiveness and good relationships would be a good test of effectiveness.
I expected that group interaction would produce greater moral growth than pastoral preaching.
Rationale for the Hypothesis
I based my expectations on two basic assumptions: that moral growth and character development, unlike the bulk of personal education today, involves both logic AND emotion. Secondly, no two individuals are the same. If the first of these two is assumed, then preaching, which rarely engages more than logic, at best does half of the job. If the second is assumed, then general pronouncements are the best for which a preacher can hope. If both of these assumptions and their results are true, than a preacher is reaching only part of his audience each week, and then only engaging their logical facilities. A group setting, on the other hand has the potential to engage both emotion and logic, and can localize problems by asking significantly more probing questions.
Operational Definitions of Variables
measurable morality : the possession by an individual of some measure of mental knowledge of and emotional conviction about a set of moral principles. Includes motivation to act on and amount of action on such knowledge and convictions.
moral principles : For our purpose, the Judeo-Christian "Ten Commandments".
character development : a noticeable, quantifiable, positive change in the moral composition of a human being.
moral growth : a noticeable, quantifiable growth in measurable morality.
preaching : a style of conveying moral information to a group of people, which for our purposes will involve use of the lecture format typical in the majority of American churches, in which the preacher picks a moral topic and tries, by means of logic, to enlighten the target audience on its meaning. No public opinion is solicited, nor is time given within the session for introspection.
group discussion : as opposed to preaching, a process in which there is no central lecturer. One or a few central facilitators may emerge, but by and large, all members have equal say with regard to all issues discussed. All individuals are encouraged to share with the group anything they consider pertinent. Introspection and opinion are actively solicited.
confidentiality : used as generally defined in the counseling community, i.e. absolutely NO information leaves the room in which it is publicly divulged.
application of principles : process involving active assessment of the proximity of the individual's actual state of conviction and practice to the moral standards as established either by the preacher/lecturer, or by group discussion. This will show in a faith which influences the way the subjects live their daily lives.
Self-proclaimed evangelical Protestant : whatever the people involved deem it to be. I've deliberately left this wide open so that doctrinal variables do not skew results. I would assume the phrase to include, however, the standard list of doctrinal requirements, e.g. inerrancy, eternal salvation, the Trinity, etc.
Significance of the Study
Largely noted above, but essentially a wish to get churches to increase their effectiveness in a day when that effectiveness is sorely needed. I hope also to set the stage for further studies of each of several elements which had to be subsumed in this study. I also hope, tangentially, to set the stage for conclusions about the effectiveness of even larger-scale preaching on national morality. (If preaching is less effective than group work in a 12 person group, than how much less so in groups of 120, or 1200, or 12 million?)
Two groups of twelve individuals, at least half of whom should be married or who possess marriage experience. Subjects should all be self-proclaimed "evangelical Protestants", to minimize any possible doctrinal conflicts. They should have attended the survey church for one to ten years. This would obviously not be the case for the second control group composed of the moral nonchurched. Care should be taken with this last group, however, to see that they at least are inclined toward Christianity, at least for this survey.
The independent variable in this study will be the presentation of moral issues, either by lecture, or by small group discussion.
Experimental Group #1 : This group will sit for two hours, twice a week, for twenty-seven weeks, under a lecture format. During this time, lecturees will listen to sermons on the Ten Commandments, created at the discretion of the lecturer. The lecturer will distribute, and use, the version printed in the appendix to this proposal. The same amount of time should be spent on each commandment. To keep other variables to a minimum, neither group will be especially encouraged to talk about the lectures outside of the meetings. Each group will, however, be encouraged to research the commandments with whatever time and materials they feel necessary to feel prepared.
Experimental Group #2 : The second group will meet for two hours per meeting, two meetings a week, for twenty-seven weeks. This group will also discuss the Ten Commandments. The group will distribute, and use, the version printed in the appendix to this proposal.
Control Groups : Because moral growth may just be a natural part of life, especially with the number of books available both on the current secular and religious markets, two other groups of ten to twelve will be created as well. The first will consist of persons selected from another congregation studying something different. The second control group will be selected at random from self-described moral nonchurchgoers from the surrounding community. If this study goes well, its small sample size could be increased by creating multiple clusters comprised of these four groups.
The dependent variable in this study will be the growth of measurable morality, and of the groups' ability to create, in the words of Eddie Gibbs, "a faith which influences the say people live their daily lives" (Gibbs, 1993). As a result of several global studies on what he calls "nominality" in Christianity, Gibbs has developed a scale for nominality rating, which breaks out quite nicely the growth we are seeking to quantify:
very weak <---------> very strong BELIEF 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 KNOWLEDGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 PRACTICE: PUBLIC WORSHIP 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 PRIVATE DEVOTION 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 EXPERIENCE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 CONSEQUENCE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Prior to the start of the study, the researcher will gather data on the pastors of all congregations whose membership is between 125 and 250, numbers representing the average size of churches in North America. Important data will include level of education, years in ministry, and political leanings, with the idea of finding a cluster of pastors who are as similar as possible. Two pastors will then be picked at random from a group of basically similar pastors. Visits will then be made to each church for the purpose of obtaining membership lists or directories.
This study will be conducted over the course of approximately one-half of one calendar year (actually 27 weeks). During the course of the first week, about one half of the membership of two congregations will be surveyed via phone as part of a "special survey". Such a practise will hopefully eliminate any bias which might be formed from suspicions created by a survey conducted within church walls. This survey will include data on length of membership, and enough other data to establish a statistically similar group of about 30 members in the control church, and about 60 in the Focus church. From this group in the control church, invitations will be sent in order to procure membership in a "Bible Study Group". It is hoped that at least twelve acceptances will be received. To the group of sixty in the Focus church, invitations will also be sent, again with the solicitation to form a Bible study group. From the hoped for twenty-four responses, two groups will be created at random, but with respect for marital units. One group will be the lecture group, and the other will become the discussion group. The same survey will be conducted in order to select the "moral nonchurched" group, which will also comprise twelve people.
The survey mentioned above will include questions about how well the person surveyed feels they are adhering to each commandment, and about how solid they feel their faith is, using the nominality rating above.
As noted, each group will meet twice each week for two hours each meeting. This creates exactly fifty time slots. These fifty slots will then be apportioned, five slots, or ten hours, to each commandment. During each of these slots, the lecture group and the discussion group will have different tasks. Each group member will be encouraged to study on their own time, but no opportunity will be offered to share the results of this research with the balance of the group, nor will sharing be encouraged on outside of lecture sessions. The pastor, however, will lecture as he sees fit, bringing in as much background material as necessary to provide the appropriate understanding of each commandment. He should apportion his time equally between studies related to back-ground, meaning, and application. Whether he apportions his time three ways in each session or across all five is his decision. To avoid bias from a variable noted in the review above, the pastor will be encouraged to ask between five and ten short, rhetorical questions during each session, but to keep them simple. He should be reminded that this is a lecture, and discussion should be minimal. Willingness to ask questions should be a sought data point in the selection interviews.
In the discussion group, on the other hand, while each member will be encouraged to research the appropriate material, exchanges of information will be encouraged during each session by apportioning as much time as is necessary for all to share their findings, while allowing each member a minimum amount of time. This time will be equal to their fraction of one-half of the two hour time. This ought to prevent one person from dominating the discussion. As with the lecture group, time should be apportioned among the three areas of background, meaning, and application. Again, questions here will be fitting to the group: questions which can be answered in the time allotted, and which induce creativity in the real world.
The survey taken during the last week will be largely similar to the one taken twenty-six weeks previous, with a few added questions. First, those surveyed will be asked about the amount of time each week they felt they spent 1) thinking about, 2) applying, 3) talking to others about the research they did. No group would be asked to actually keep such records, unless the request can be made is such as way as not to engender suspicion.
With Etzioni's ideas in mind as well, each group will be asked to rate the growth of their relationships with each of the ten people in their test groups in the course of a year, since such groups are necessary for the fulfillment of many Biblical mandates. In the case of the Discussion group, this will be easy to assess, since all will know each other. With the two church groups, each member will be asked, as at the beginning, if they know Persons A through G, and how well, on the usual 1 to 10 scale. Assessment will be based not only on closeness of relationships, but upon willingness to help in two fictional situations, one minor, (such as moving furniture or babysitting in a pinch) and one serious, such as lending money or assistance in a serious emergency.
Standard statistical analysis will be applied to the differences noted on the one to ten scales involved in the survey.
Limitations and Generalizations
Group size is small, which affects random sampling. I hope, in the next study, to be able to break things out a bit more. Once again, if the practices involved in this study work, and the results seem significant, the study is structured so that it can be reproduced over a wide area, with potentially dozens of clusters of the four experimental groups. This study also does not attempt to encompass several hybrid models, such as the substitution of multi-media presentations for preaching, or the simultaneous use of both lecture/preaching and small group discussion.
Barna, G. User Friendly Churches . Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991.
Barna, G. The Barna Report . Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1992.
Bellah, R., Madsen, R., Sullivan, W. M., Swidler, A., & Tipton, S. M.. "Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American Life." New York: Harper Collins, 1986.
Berreth, D. and M. Sherer. "On Transmitting Values: A Conversation with Amitai Etzioni". Educational Leadership . Nov. 1993. pp. 12-15.
Bibby, Reginald. "The churches taught people to be good -- who does it now?" Vol. 21, Alberta Report/Western Report, 02-21-1994. p. 36.
Blasi, A. "Bridging Moral Cognition and Moral Action: A Critical Review of the Lit erature". Vol 88, No. 1. Psychological Bulletin . July, 1980.
Gibbs, Eddie. In Name Only : Tackling the Problem of Nominal Christianity . Whea ton, IL: Victor Books, 1994.
Josephson Institute. "The Six Pillars of Character". Site on the World Wide Web, sponsored by MidLink, Http:// longwood.cs.nk/cc.pillars.html. 1996.
Lawton, K.A. "Is High Tech Preaching Good for the Gospel?", Christianity Today , November, 1991. pp. 52-53.
Reed, Gay. "Looking in the Chinese Mirror: Reflecting on moral-political educa tion in the United States", Vol. 9, Educational Policy, 09-01-1995, p. 244+.
Rutz, J. H. The Open Church . Beaumont, TX: The Seed-Sowers, 1992.
Sharpe, R. Efforts to promote teaching of values in schools are sparking heated debate among lawmakers. The Wall Street Journal , 1994, May 10. p. A20.
Schmidt, S. M.; Arndt, M. J.; Gaston, S.; Miller, B. J.. "The Effectiveness of Comput er-Managed Instruction Versus Traditional Classroom Lecture on Achieve ment Outcomes". Computers In Nursing . July/August, 1991.
Sell, Y. and T. J. B. Kline. "Age, Cooperative Vs Lecture Training, and Group Com position: Some Preliminary Findings of Effects on Performance." Psy chological Reports . 1995, July 17.
Shaw, J. M. and M.J.P. Cliatt. "A Model for Training Teachers to Encourage Di vergant Thinking in Young Children". Vol. 20, No.2. Journal of Creative Be havior . 1985.
Smit, H. A. "Preaching Good, Issues a Bore, Survey Finds". The Banner . Vol. 129, Num.26., 1994, July 18. p. 12.
Thomas, G. and C. Roberts. "The Character of Our Schooling". The American School Board Journal . May, 1994. pp. 33-35.
Wells, D. F. No Place for Truth . Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993.
The Ten Commandments as translated directly from
by Everett Fox.
As recorded in Exodus 20:3 to 14
3 You are not to have and other gods
before my presence.
4 You are not to make yourself a carved-image
or any graven figure
that is in the heavens above, that is on the earth beneath, that is in
the waters beneath the earth;
5 you are not to bow down to them,
you are not to serve them,
for I, YHWH your God,
am a jealous God,
calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons, to the
third and the fourth generation
of those that hate me,
6 but showing loyalty to the thousandth
of those that love me,
of those that keep my commandments.
7 You are not to take up
the name of YHWH your God for emptiness,
for YHWH will not clear him
that takes up his name for emptiness.
8 Remember the Sabbath day, to hallow it.
9 For six days, you are to serve, and are to make all your work,
10 but the seventh day
is the Sabbath for YHWH your God:
you are not to make any kind of work,
(not) you, nor your son, nor your daughter,
(not) your servant, nor your maid, nor your beast,
nor your sojourner that is within your gates.
11 For in six days
YHWH made the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in it,
and he rested on the seventh day;
therefore YHWH gave the seventh day his blessing, and he
12 Honor your father and your mother,
in order that your days may be prolonged
on the soil that YHWH your God is giving you.
13 You are not to murder.
You are not to adulter.
You are not to steal.
You are not to testify
against your fellow as a false witness.
14 You are not to desire
the house of your neighbor,
you are not to desire the wife of your neighbor,
or his servant, or his maid, or his ox, or his donkey,
or anything that is your neighbor's.
Back to Top of Study:
Back to Main Page...