"In the Last Month, I Have Received Recognition or Praise From Someone in My Congregation."

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

This week, I will continue my discussion of the 12 specific items that Gallup has discovered best measure the level of engagement that members feel toward their respective congregations. The fourth congregational engagement item is "In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my congregation."

In a 2001 study of congregation members*, Gallup found that only a little over a third of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, "In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my congregation." Among the 12 congregational engagement items, this item had the second-lowest percentage of "strongly agree" responses.

Leaders often operate according to the maxim that "no news is good news" -- in other words, they don't offer feedback to their members unless they are doing something wrong. But Gallup research -- and basic psychological and social theory -- runs contrary to that approach. Human beings hate to be ignored. We are wired to need attention. We thrive on reaction. That is why the "no news is good news" approach is so wrong for congregation leaders. If we do something that we feel is worthy of praise and consistently hear "no news," we soon give up on that behavior and try something else to get a reaction of some kind. "No news" kills behaviors that many religious leaders are looking for within their congregations.

What are the behaviors you want to see in your members that reflect a spiritual maturity? In order to reinforce those behaviors, recognize and praise those who display them. But be careful: people can sense "faked" praise. Be generous with praise, but first and foremost it must be genuine.

Recognition should also be appropriate to, and valued by, the individual toward whom it is directed -- it isn't "one size fits all." Different people like to be praised or recognized differently. You may like to be praised in public, but that doesn't mean that everybody does. Not everyone enjoys the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet -- some may prefer one-on-one recognition, in the form of a few kind words and a pat on the back. Others may prefer a written note, congratulating them on a job well done.

Forget the golden rule; do not treat people as you would like to be treated. Instead, treat people as they would like to be treated, bearing in mind who they are and what they have done. If you do not know the kind of recognition individuals like, ask them.

Spiritual leaders need to create a "culture of praise" within their congregations -- an environment in which praise is immediate and predictable. Make sure all your leaders -- paid and unpaid -- understand that a culture of praise is in effect in your faith community. Congregations in which praise is frequent will always have a higher level of engagement than do congregations in which praise is rare.

The SE25 are protected by copyright of The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ, 2001.

*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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