The Driving Factor Behind Spiritual Health

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

Last week, we concluded our discussion of the nine measurable items that make up one of the two key components of a faith community's spiritual health: the spiritual commitment of its individual members. This week we begin a series on the other, more actionable key component of spiritual health: congregational engagement.

Congregational engagement is characterized by how strongly a person feels a sense of belonging within his or her congregation. In determining how much they feel they belong, members ask, in one way or another, "Am I valued by this congregation?" and "Do I make a meaningful contribution to this congregation?" In many cases, engaged members describe their congregations as extended families.

Gallup has developed, through careful research and thorough analysis, 12 survey items that provide a predictive indicator of a congregation's engagement level. Congregational engagement has a greater influence on outcomes desirable to any faith community -- such as serving others in the community and inviting friends and family to attend services with them -- than individuals' spiritual commitment or even adherence to core theological beliefs. To be sure, commitment and doctrine are important, but it appears that the maximum impact on outcomes is derived from increasing members' engagement levels. (For a discussion of religious outcomes, please see "Congregational Engagement: Serving and Inviting" and "Congregational Engagement: Life Satisfaction and Giving" in Related Items.)

These are the 12 items that best measure congregational engagement.

  1. As a member of my congregation, I know what is expected of me.
  2. In my congregation, my spiritual needs are met.
  3. In my congregation, I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best.
  4. In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my congregation.
  5. The spiritual leaders in my congregation seem to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone in my congregation who encourages my spiritual development.
  7. As a member of my congregation, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my congregation makes me feel my participation is important.
  9. The other members of my congregation are committed to spiritual growth.
  10. Aside from family members, I have a best friend in my congregation.
  11. In the last six months, someone in my congregation has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth.
  12. In my congregation, I have opportunities to learn and grow.

Copyright © 2001 The Gallup Organization, Princeton, N.J. All rights reserved.

In a 2001 survey of U.S. adults who were members of faith communities*, respondents whose answers indicated a high level of engagement were far more likely to spend two or more hours a week in volunteer service in their communities, invite someone to participate in their congregations and indicate satisfaction with their lives.

Engaged respondents also gave financially nearly three times more than those who were disengaged.

Perhaps the most crucial finding for religious leaders is that congregational engagement is far more likely to lead to spiritual commitment than the other way around. As the following graph shows, members who are engaged in their congregations are nearly three and a half times as likely to also be fully spiritually committed as those who are not engaged. And they are more than 40 times as likely to be fully spiritually committed as those who are actively disengaged (see "Breakthrough Research on Congregational Engagement" in Related Items).

In the coming weeks, we will examine in further detail each of the 12 items of congregational engagement and its implications for religious leaders.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 729 members of a church, synagogue or other religious faith community, aged 18 and older, conducted October through 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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