"In My Congregation, I Regularly Have the Opportunity to Do What I Do Best."

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

This week I continue my discussion of the 12 specific items that Gallup has discovered best measure the level of engagement members feel toward their respective congregations. The third congregational engagement item, which I will discuss today, is "In my congregation, I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best."

Gallup research has discovered that members who regularly have the opportunity to do what they do best within their faith communities are more engaged with the congregation than those who do not. This is significant because engaged members tend to be more satisfied with their lives, give more in terms of both dollars and volunteer hours, and are more likely to invite others to participate in their congregations. Highly engaged members are also more spiritually committed than those who are not engaged or actively disengaged. A key ingredient in engagement is having the opportunity to do what one does best.

In a 2001 study of congregational members*, Gallup found that most people do not strongly agree with the statement, "In my congregation, I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best." In fact, among the 12 items that best measure congregational engagement, this item has one of the lowest "strongly agree" responses.

In the majority of faith communities across the country, individuals' talents and strengths are largely unrecognized. This adds up to a huge loss of human potential that otherwise could be tapped for the transformation of society.

Finding the right fit for people in their congregations -- helping them do what they do best -- is not just a nice, charitable idea with far-flung, ethereal consequences. It's a practical management objective that is powerfully linked to outcomes that are good for the organization. An analysis of Gallup data shows that those who strongly agree that they have the opportunity to do what they do best in their congregations also volunteer more hours of service in their communities and are far more likely to invite others to participate in their congregations.

Overwhelmingly, members who have found the right fit in their congregations are the best ambassadors for their faith communities, inviting others to "come and see" while at the same time reaching out in concern and service to their communities and the world. Leaders who help members discover their talents and strengths -- and then help them find the right fit to use those talents and strengths -- are creating stronger, healthier congregations.

The notion of focusing on talents and strengths goes against the conventional wisdom for congregations. In most congregations, there is a perception that there are jobs that "anyone can do." Many congregations use the "fogged-up mirror" approach to recruiting: If you hold a mirror up to a person's nose, and the mirror fogs up (indicating the person is breathing), then he or she qualifies for the job. This approach demeans the job, diminishes talent, and discourages excellence.

For example, consider the role of "greeter." A typical perception might be: "Anyone can be a greeter; all you have to do is stand there, shake hands and make people feel welcome. Besides, it's a great way to get to meet people." For those who have the natural talent for making others feel welcome, it's a great fit. But for individuals who are less outgoing and do not have the talent or inclination to meet new people and make others feel welcome, greeting is not enjoyable, and trying to perform this duty might make less outgoing individuals feel like failures.

Key Points

If congregational leaders view all jobs and roles as important and meaningful when performed with excellence, and understand that everyone has unique talents and strengths, then they can create a culture that values and encourages each person's uniqueness and the contributions that members make to their congregation.

Helping members to do what they do best is not only good for the congregation -- it is good for the individuals as well. Gallup research has shown that individuals have the most room for growth in their areas of greatest strength. Strengths-based organizations take that concept seriously. Imagine what can happen in your congregation when you unleash that human potential.

*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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