"The Spiritual Leaders in My Congregation Seem to Care About Me as a Person."

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 members feel toward their respective congregations. The fifth congregational engagement item, discussed below, is "The spiritual leaders in my congregation seem to care about me as a person."

In a 2001 study of congregational members throughout the United States*, Gallup found that six in 10 of those members "strongly agree" with this statement. Among the 12 items that best measure congregational engagement, this item has the highest percentage of "strongly agree" responses, with 62%.

An effective and healthy congregation is one in which people feel safe -- safe enough to experiment, to make mistakes, to challenge, to share information and to support one another. Members of healthy congregations are also better prepared to give their spiritual leaders the benefit of the doubt when it comes to decisions about spiritual matters. None of this can happen if individuals do not feel cared about. Relationships are the glue that holds all great congregations together. Leaders set the tone, creating a climate in which members feel valued.

In addition, members who feel that their spiritual leaders care about them are far more likely to invite others to take part in their faith communities. In the study mentioned above, 85% of those who strongly agreed that their spiritual leader cares about them also said they had invited someone to participate in their congregation in the last month. Members of congregations in which caring is evident want to invite others to experience that caring.

There are no easy steps to follow in relationship building; you cannot force relationships. However, there are some things you can do to create a climate that fosters caring relationships:

  • Do not fake it. Caring must be sincere.
  • Tell people you care -- don't assume that they know.
  • Individualize. Make it a priority to get to know your people.
  • Be consistent. Consistency leads to trust, and trust is the foundation of caring.

Members of faith communities want to know that they are valued, not just for what they can do, but also for who they are individually. When you show an interest in your members' interests, ask about their hopes and dreams and tell them, "I care about your spiritual growth," they will feel valued. And feeling valued is an important component of engagement.

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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