Religion and Social Trends

The "Bottom Line" on Congregational Engagement

Over the past 12 weeks, we have examined each of the 12 items that best measure the engagement among members of faith communities. These measurements are important for one very significant reason: more than any other factor, engagement drives a congregation's spiritual health. Only a quarter of the members in most U.S. congregations are engaged*, which means nearly three-fourths aren't really sure why they are there -- or if they want to be there at all.

If congregation members are not engaged, they (and the rest of the congregation) don't make any real progress. Members may throw themselves into an activity out of a sense of duty, not because they have a particular passion or strength for the activity or project. These members may be busy, but instead of forward, they are headed nowhere.

But when members are engaged, they get somewhere -- and the congregation moves forward. Faith communities across the country are not making the progress they would like because on average only 26% of their members are engaged -- thus, they're only using about a quarter of the human power available to them. ).

In addition, engagement drives spiritual commitment, not vice versa. Spiritual commitment, as discussed in an earlier series (see "How to Measure Spiritual Commitment" in Related Items), reflects a personal depth of spirituality and is measured by responses to nine items measuring both attitudes and behaviors. Gallup research indicates that only 17% of U.S. members of faith communities are fully spiritually committed -- that is, they "strongly agree" with all nine items. However, an analysis of the data shows 41% of those who are engaged are also fully spiritually committed. That percentage drops to 12% for those who are not engaged, and a mere 1% for those who are actively disengaged.

The evidence is clear: if congregation leaders want to promote the spirituality of their members and enable their congregations to move forward and make a difference in their communities and the world, they need to focus on improving their members' engagement levels.

Key Points for Spiritual Leaders

If you want to focus on the three actions that would be most likely to improve the engagement level of your members, you should:

  • Clarify the expectations of membership and then follow up on them. Members need to know the "rules of the game" -- the expectations. If they don't, they will make up their own. Clear expectations lay the foundation for your faith community's mission. Without them, members will begin to lose interest and perhaps eventually leave the congregation. Follow-up is critical to your success with expectations. All members need feedback to renew their sense of purpose and to let them know how far they have come in their spiritual journey. As a spiritual leader in your congregation, it is your job to help them see the signs of progress.
  • Help members discover which roles best fit them, and then provide opportunities for them fill those roles in the congregation. Finding the "right fit" not only helps individuals grow, but also empowers them to reach out. 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.
  • Create a climate of caring. Relationships are the glue that holds great congregations together. Leaders set the tone, creating a climate in which members feel valued. Members of faith communities want to know that they are valued both for what they can do and who they are. When you show an interest in your members' interests, ask about their hopes and dreams and tell them you care about their spiritual growth, they will feel valued. That feeling is a critical component of engagement.

*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%.

As Global Practice Leader for Faith Communities, Dr. Winseman leads Gallup's research and consulting services that assist faith communities in helping their members become more engaged. He is a co-author of the new book, Living Your Strengths, written to help members discover and use their talents and strengths in their congregations. Before joining The Gallup Organization, he was a pastor in the United Methodist Church for 15 years.
Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/6958/Bottom-Line-Congregational-Engagement.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030