As discussed in previous columns, congregational engagement is characterized by how strongly a person feels a sense of belonging within the congregation. Gallup has discovered 12 items that best reflect the strength of engagement. The sixth congregational engagement item is, "There is someone in my congregation who encourages my spiritual development."
In a 2001 study of congregation members*, Gallup found that nearly six out of 10 (59%) congregation members strongly agree with this statement.
This item speaks to the need for congregation members to feel that they make a meaningful contribution. If the leaders of a faith community take an interest in the members and encourage their development, it sends a very powerful message. It tells members that they have something valuable to contribute, and that others want to help in their development so that they can contribute more. When leaders help congregation members grow, it affirms to those members that they are worth the effort.
Similar to last week's item ("The spiritual leaders in my congregation seem to care about me as a person"), this item also appears to be closely linked to the likelihood to invite others to participate in a congregation. Eighty-six percent of those who "strongly agree" that there is someone in their congregation who encourages their spiritual development also "strongly agree" that they have invited someone to participate in their congregation in the last month. A possible explanation is that those who are effectively mentored also make the best mentors. Because these individuals have someone encouraging their development, they may be looking for ways to encourage spiritual development in others -- and that encouragement may well include inviting others to come and see what is happening in their congregations.
How can you help your members in their spiritual development?
- Challenge your people to deepen their relationships with God -- make spiritual growth a priority. Make belonging to a growth group, Bible study, service/mission group, etc., part of the expectations of membership.
- Give constant feedback -- "hold up the mirror" so that others can see their talents and strengths and find the right fit within the congregation. Spiritual development means helping people discover and obtain what is right for them. Most people need help with this, and you can do that by helping them reflect on their talents, strengths and gifts -- and whether they are living them out to the fullest in their present roles.
- Be creative in helping people find their callings. Not every person can fulfill his or her calling exclusively through roles within the faith community. In fact, there are greater opportunities to discover one's calling outside the walls of the congregation. You should ask your members three questions when helping with their spiritual development:
-- What are your talents and strengths?
-- What do you love to do?
-- If time and money were no object, what would you do for God?
Creative spiritual leaders will help their members turn their dreams into callings.
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%.