"The Other Members of My Congregation Are Committed to Spiritual Growth."

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

This is the ninth in a series exploring the 12 items that best measure congregational engagement.

Last week, we looked at a key element in the makeup of a congregation: its mission. Congregations, by their very nature, should be mission driven. They also, by their very nature, should be committed to the spiritual growth of their members. If there is no spiritual element in a faith community, what makes it different from the Rotary Club or other secular organizations that serve their communities? The connection to "something beyond," the mystical component of congregations, is what sets them apart from other service organizations.

According to a 2001 Gallup study*, less than half (47%) of congregation members strongly agree with the statement, "The other members of my congregation are committed to spiritual growth." This could indicate that the members perceive an insufficient emphasis on spiritual growth within their congregations. Or perhaps members are unsure about what "spiritual growth" really is. Either way, this is a serious cause for concern.

People are not looking for homogeneity in their congregations. The "homogeneous unit principal" -- the assertion that people choose to go to churches where everyone else looks, thinks, talks and acts like them -- was a foundational element of the Church Growth Movement of the 1970s, but it is hopelessly out of date in 2002. Americans live in a multicultural society, and they -- especially those in their teens, 20s and 30s -- expect their congregations to look like the world they live in. And it's not just cultural diversity that they expect and appreciate, but spiritual diversity as well. While agreement on the central tenets of the faith expression is critical, the ways in which spirituality is expressed are individual things.

But while members don't expect everyone's spirituality to be like-minded, they do expect a like-minded commitment to spiritual growth. They want to feel their fellow members are as committed to spiritual growth as they are.

In addition, members' perceptions of their fellow members' commitment to spiritual growth is a key factor in their likelihood to invite others to the congregation. According to the 2001 Gallup survey, 69% of congregational members who strongly agree that their fellow members are committed to spiritual growth also strongly agree that they have invited someone to participate in their congregation in the last month. It appears that members who perceive a commitment to spiritual growth in their congregations want to invite others to experience that growth for themselves.

Key Points for Spiritual Leaders

  • Does everyone define "spiritual growth" in the same way? It is hard for people to strongly agree with this item if everyone's definition of spiritual growth is different. You have to make the definition clear. What do you expect in terms of personal prayer or meditation? Attendance at congregational events? Small-group or class participation? Service to others? Clarity on the expectations will help members make their own commitments, and see commitment in their fellow members.
  • Are your members clear about the mission of your congregation? This issue was dealt with in greater depth last week (see Related Items), but it is highly relevant to this item as well. Spiritual growth should play some part in a faith community's mission statement. If your members understand that the congregation is mission-driven, then they know that their fellow members are committed to the mission as well.
  • Are you following up on your members' progress? If members know that someone will be talking to them about the progress of their spiritual growth on a regular basis, they will be far more likely to work on achieving that growth, and to perceive that other members are as committed to spiritual growth as they are.

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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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/6757/The-Other-Members-Congregation-Committed-Spiritual-Growth.aspx
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