It is common today to hear about how important “engagement” is in the workplace, in education and volunteerism, but we don’t hear the term used regarding congregational life. Yet we are very aware of the presence of low engagement among some congregants who:
- have a sense of belonging t a congregation but attend worship sporadically
- attend worship but do not participate in congregational life mid-week
- do not take some part in the many ministries of the congregation
- appear to give low personal priority to their faith, and no priority to its development.
In the engagement literature it is generally thought that a person’s level of engagement in an organization is observable through one’s personal commitment, activity and involvement in the organization. From a faith perspective engagement is perhaps first a spiritual issue that leads to similar consequences. The Letter of James points to this relationship in a blunt manner: “So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17). His point is that a lively faith desires and endeavours to honour God by serving others in love. Jesus put it this way: those who drink of me—the living water—will see that “out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). Living in Christ and following him as a disciple means that we become sources of the same living water that flows from Jesus through us into the world. A person who lives faith in this manner is fully engaged in their faith. While the Holy Spirit activates and promotes such engagement, we have a role to play as well. And here the engagement literature suggests a few factors that encourage such engagement to happen:
- that how engaged a person will be with God and their faith, and the degree a person lives out that engagement in congregational life and the world, depends on that person's choice to do so and their motivation to do so
- that engagement rests in part on how a person sees and experiences their relationship with their faith community
-- that whole engagement, ultimately, depends on one's individual choice, a congregation (like all organizations) needs to have a culture that promotes engagement's growth.
So what does this mean? One purpose of congregational life and the congregation’s culture is to prompt and facilitate the growth of individual engagement: in relationship with God, in lived faith, and participation in faith community. For over a decade the Gallup organization (yes, that’s right: the people who do polling) has been heavily involved in helping congregations strengthen congregant engagement. Not surprisingly, they think an individual’s faith / church involvement can be measured by the answers they give to four central questions. Those questions are provided below, along with the positive answers that indicate engagement.
1. What do I get – spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically?
- as a member of my congregation, I know what is expected of me
- in my congregation, my spiritual needs are met.
2. What do I give - what valuable contribution can I make?
- in my congregation, I regularly have opportunities to do what I do best
- in the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my church
- the spiritual leaders in my congregation seem to care about me as a person
- there is someone in my congregation who encourages my spiritual development
3. Do I belong - how and where do I fit in?
- as a member of my congregation, my opinions seem to count
- the mission or purpose of my congregation makes me feel my participation is important
- the other members of my congregation are committed to spiritual growth
- aside from family members, I have a best friend in my congregation
4. how can we grow - how are we progressing spiritually?
- in the past six months, someone in my congregation has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth
- in my congregation, I have opportunities to learn and grow
The items given in bullet points can form an agenda for congregational development. The more the "climate" of a congregation helps people to experience these qualities of congregational life the more a congregation is doing in order to foster engagement in both faith and participation.
I have a small but growing collection of resources on congregant engagement. In particular:
- an article on how to become more subjective and personal when engaging congregants
- articles on how to use this perspective when inviting people to become involved in a congregational ministry, and to inform an approach to financial stewardship
- I also have a free resource to help congregations strengthen congregant engagement throughout the whole of congregational life. It was prepared for Jewish congregations.
If you want to know more about this important topic just drop me a line.