Breakthrough Research on Congregational Engagement

by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min.
Religion and Social Trends Editor

Regular Tuesday Briefing readers already know that the engagement of its members is a fundamental key to the health of any religious congregation.

Today, at a Tuesday Briefing summit on religion in Washington, DC, Gallup will formally announce the debut of the National Congregational Engagement Index, a set of benchmark figures that reveal the current congregational engagement level of U.S. churchgoing residents. Hereafter, the Index will be administered on an annual basis; results will be explored in detail in Tuesday Briefing and other Gallup publications.

For the groundbreaking benchmark survey conducted October through November 2001*, Gallup measured engagement in congregation members of every faith throughout the United States. The survey and subsequent analysis determined that of all congregation members in the U.S., 26% are engaged, 56% are not engaged, and the remaining 18% are actively disengaged in their congregations.

What does the initial overall snapshot look like?

Engaged: 26%

These members are intensely loyal and have a strong psychological connection to the congregations they belong to. They are more spiritually committed, are more likely to invite friends, family members, and co-workers to congregational events, and devote more time and money to their religious organizations than those who are not engaged.

Not Engaged: 56%

These members may attend services regularly, but they are not psychologically connected to their congregations. Their connection is more social than spiritual. They donate moderately but not sacrificially to the congregation, and if they volunteer they only donate minimal amounts of time. They are less likely to invite others into the church and more likely to leave their congregations.

Actively Disengaged: 18%

These members usually attend services only once or twice a year, if at all. They are on the membership rolls, and can tell you which congregation they belong to, but may not be able to name their congregation's leader. Some members in this group may attend services regularly, but if that's the case, they are physically present but psychologically absent. They are unhappy with their congregations and insist on sharing that unhappiness with just about everyone.

Congregational leaders need to know which category their members fall into because the ramifications are huge in relation to outcomes such as life satisfaction, community service, inviting others, and financial giving. In the coming weeks, Tuesday Briefing items will investigate specific outcomes relating to the Index findings.

*Based on telephone interviews with 729 adult members of a church, synagogue, or other religious faith community, aged 18+, conducted October-November 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3.6%.

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