Meeting Members' Needs: "What Do I Get?"

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

This is the second article in a series on the congregational engagement hierarchy.

Gallup research shows that its 12 question items measuring members' engagement in their religious congregation address some basic, inherent human needs. These items can be organized into an engagement hierarchy, represented in the pyramid below, the levels of which reflect four basic questions about those needs. The foundation of the pyramid has members asking, "What do I get?" Measurement of this level is gauged by ratings of the first two items of engagement:

  • As a member of my congregation, I know what is expected of me.
  • In my congregation, my spiritual needs are met.

Some have suggested that even asking such a question seems inappropriate, reflecting a rather "consumerist" attitude toward one's congregation, and that individuals shouldn't focus on what they will receive, but rather what they can contribute. But it's a simple fact of human nature that individuals will be more willing to give their time and attention to -- and become engaged in -- organizations from which they feel they receive something valuable. Receiving -- spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally -- establishes the motivation for giving of oneself.

How does asking about expectations tap into the question, "What do I get?" Members need to know what is expected of them if they are to develop a strong sense of belonging within their congregations. Clarifying expectations creates a sense of stability, assuring members that they are valued. One of the ways members know that they are receiving something of value from their congregation is that they are able to answer, "What do I get?" with, "A clear set of expectations." (See Related Items.)

Regarding the second question item, meeting members' spiritual needs should be a foundational purpose of every faith community; it is the spiritual element that separates congregations from service clubs and other organizations that do "good works" in their communities. However, just as individuals have different spiritual needs, so too do faith communities have different ways of meeting those needs. Effective leaders know the strengths and uniqueness of their congregations, and listen to their members to determine their individual spiritual needs (see Related Items).

Key Points

Providing members with fulfilling answers to the "What do I get?" question establishes the foundation upon which the rest of the engagement hierarchy rests. Successful leaders pay attention to the basics, clarifying members' expectations and addressing their specific spiritual needs. But while a strong foundation is crucial for success, congregational engagement is created only when that foundation is developed in order to establish the rest of the hierarchy.

Next week -- A look at level two of the congregational engagement hierarchy, "What do I give?"

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

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