Previously, we explored how belonging to a faith community affects an individual's spiritual commitment. Now we drill a little deeper into age and gender variables to examine differences in spiritual commitment among both the general population and members of faith communities.
According to a Gallup Poll conducted in November and December 2002*, spiritual commitment generally increases as age increases -- that is, younger people are less likely to be fully spiritually committed than older people. Likely reasons for this include a number of "stage of life" issues. Younger individuals are less inclined than older individuals to think about their own mortality; younger people are more concerned with "making their way" in the world and are more focused on material success than older people are; questions of "ultimate meaning" are more prevalent among older adults than younger adults. It is interesting to note the influence of congregation membership on spiritual commitment does not vary by age category. In other words, members of faith communities in every age group are more apt to be fully spiritually committed than non-members; the commitment gap between members and non-member remains consistent in every age group.
What does that mean for congregation leaders? An individual's spiritual needs change over time. Leaders need to guard against "one-size-fits-all" spiritual growth programs, and instead consider the needs of members in various stages of life. Young adults are starting to make life and career choices, and need to know how spirituality fits into the equation. Adults in midlife are dealing with career changes, adolescent and young-adult children, and aging and dying parents -- and are searching for spiritual answers to these competing demands. Older adults are looking back at life and evaluating its meaning -- as well as facing eternal questions about the future -- and their spirituality will reflect this perspective.
Women are about twice as likely as men to be fully spiritually committed, both in the general population (17% to 8%) and within faith communities (22% to 11%). Culturally, it may be more acceptable for women to explore the inner life of spirituality -- hence the higher proportion of spiritually committed women. Once again, one's status as a congregation member or non-member has little influence on this trend.
Does that mean our culture discourages the exploration of spirituality among males? Perhaps -- in a January 2002 Gallup Poll**, men were more likely than women to identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious," by a margin of 38% to 28%. The key is to help both women and men discover their talents and strengths and make use of them in their congregations (see "Religion and Gender: A Congregation Divided" in Related Items).
*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adult members of a church, synagogue, or other religious faith community, aged 18 and older, and 500 non-members, conducted in November and December 2002. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±2.6%.
**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,008 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 11-14, 2002. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3%.