"As a Member of My Congregation, I Know What Is Expected of Me."

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

In last week's article, I listed the survey items that Gallup has discovered best measure the level of engagement that members have in their respective congregations. Understanding the significance of each of those 12 items is critical for growing a spiritually healthy congregation. This week begins a closer look at each of the items, starting with, "As a member of my congregation, I know what is expected of me."

Gallup's 2001 survey of members of faith communities* indicates that 60% of adult congregation members of all faiths strongly agree that they know what is expected of them. That's a pretty high percentage, and it should be: knowing what is expected of you, as a member of any organization, is a basic need. Clear expectations are the foundation for successful congregational membership.

Although the percentage of those who strongly agree that they know what is expected of them is high, a broader look at the data reveals another dynamic. On a related item, "In the last six months, someone in my congregation has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth," only 32% strongly agreed. This indicates that there is often little, if any, follow-up on members' expectations, and that expectations may be assumed rather than clarified. Most members, then, only think they know what is expected of them, because in many cases those expectations haven't been spelled out or followed up. Thus, there is a discrepancy between the number of people who perceive that they know what is expected of them and those who actually receive "spiritual growth checkups" to make those expectations clear and increase their sense of accountability toward them.

Key Points

Members need to know the "rules of the game" -- the expectations. If they don't, they will make up their own. And the rules (expectations) that members devise may not be in line with the mission, vision and values of your congregation.

The very first thing you, as a leader, must do to ensure congregational effectiveness is to clarify membership expectations. What do you want your members' lives to look like? What kinds of behaviors are consistent with being a member of your faith community? Do you want your members to be involved in community service projects? What about frequency of attendance? Should your members be involved in some kind of study, growth or support group? What do you expect in terms of financial support? These are all questions that can be answered by laying out clear membership expectations. Clear expectations lay the foundation for everything else your faith community is called to do and be. Without them, members will drift -- and eventually drift right out the door.

The SE25 items are protected by copyright of The Gallup Organization, Princeton, N.J. All rights reserved.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 729 adult 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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