First in a two-part series
Congregation leaders often ask me, "If I were to do one thing to help the members of my congregation become more engaged, what would it be? What is the one thing I need to know?" Generally, my answer to that question is, "The one thing you need to know is that there is more than one thing you need to know."
But the good news is, there are specific things leaders can do to improve the engagement levels of their congregations. One excellent tactic is to work on ensuring that all members have opportunities to do what they do best as active participants in their congregations.
Engagement Drives It All
Gallup research has established that members' average level of engagement with their congregation is the single most important driver of the congregation's overall spiritual health (see "Congregational Engagement Stable Amid Turmoil" in Related Items). Members who are emotionally engaged are more spiritually committed, more satisfied with their lives, volunteer more hours in their communities, invite more people to congregational events, and give more financially to their congregations than members who aren't engaged. But only 28% of members of U.S. faith communities are engaged, which leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Doing What I Do Best
Gallup uses a simple 12-item survey to measure the strength of engagement in a congregation (see "The Driving Factor Behind Spiritual Health" in Related Items). One of those items in particular -- "In my congregation, I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best" -- has a strong impact on engagement, according to data Gallup collected in two large -- and very diverse -- congregations.
St. Gerard Majella is a large Roman Catholic parish in the northeastern part of the country. St. Andrew's is a suburban, mainline Protestant church in the Midwest. Each of these congregations boasts a high percentage of engaged members relative to Gallup's national figures from surveys of church attendees. Among St. Gerard's general membership, 41% are engaged, 44% are not engaged, and 15% are actively disengaged. Thirty-eight percent of St. Andrew's members are engaged, 49% are not engaged, and 13% are actively disengaged.
Both of these congregations have been actively working to promote emotional engagement among members in their congregations, so it's no surprise that their numbers are relatively high. But a deeper look at the data reveals that the "do best" question is strongly linked to overall engagement in all congregations. In each case, engaged members are nearly twice as likely as the general membership to "strongly agree" that they regularly have the opportunity to do what they do best in their congregation: At St. Gerard's, 71% of engaged members strongly agree that they get to do what they do best; at St. Andrew's, the percentage is 64%.
This powerful relationship between having the opportunity to do what one does best and engagement is evident in almost every congregation that I've worked with. So how do the leaders of St. Gerard's and St. Andrew's ensure that their members are able to do what they do best? Stay tuned -- next week's column will discuss specific strategies these successful congregations have used to make members feel they are leveraging their strengths in the service of the church.
SE25 items are protected by copyright of The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ, 2001. All rights reserved.