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Meeting Members' Needs: "How Can We Grow?"

Meeting Members' Needs: "How Can We Grow?"

by Albert L. Winseman

This is the fifth and final article in a series on the congregational engagement hierarchy.

This week brings us to the question at the top of the congregational engagement pyramid: "How can we grow?" To arrive at this question, the more basic questions of congregation members have already been answered. At the base level of the pyramid members ask, "What do I get?" They need to feel that they receive something of value before they can move to the next level of engagement, "What can I give?" Congregations must offer opportunities for members to give of themselves. The third level is represented by the question, "Do I belong?" Members need to feel valued by their congregations and they need to feel that that their personal mission connects with the mission of the congregation as a whole.

Once those needs have been addressed members begin to look around the organization and ask, "How can we grow?" Notice that the question is not, "how can I grow" because members must feel a sense of community -- a feeling that "we're all in this together" -- that only comes from being engaged.

To assess this level of the engagement pyramid, congregational members are asked for their level of agreement with the following items:

  • In the last 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.

In a 2001 Gallup survey of adult members of faith communities across the country*, the "opportunities to learn and grow" item received one of the highest percentages of "strongly agree" responses. That would suggest most congregations do a good job of offering classes, workshops, support groups and other opportunities for spiritual growth. But are the members of these congregations truly growing? Additional results show they may not be.

There is a wide discrepancy between the percentage of "strongly agree" responses to the "opportunities to learn and grow" and "progress in the last six months" items. Nearly twice as many people strongly agree that they have opportunities to learn and grow in their congregations (61%) than strongly agree that someone has talked to them about the progress of their spiritual growth in the last six months (32%).

That discrepancy suggests that while opportunities for growth are abundant, there may not be enough follow-up with members who take advantage of those opportunities. It also indicates that spiritual growth in congregations tends to be self-directed, with little guidance from the spiritual leaders on which opportunities might be most beneficial for each individual. Leaders are not challenging their members to grow, but are rather hoping their members will feel challenged to do so on their own. Many will not.

Key Points

  • All members need feedback to know how they are progressing spiritually. It is the leader's responsibility to ensure that this is happening for every member of the faith community. (See "In the Last Six Months, Someone in My Congregation Has Talked to Me About the Progress of My Spiritual Growth," in Related Items for suggestions.)
  • People come to faith communities expecting to grow. It is up to congregational leaders to provide opportunities for growth. (See "In My Congregation, I Have Opportunities to Learn and Grow," in Related Items.)
  • Beyond providing such opportunities, leaders should follow up and ask members about their experiences in classes, small groups, workshops, etc. Did they grow? What did they learn as a result of the experience? What difference did participating in the event make in their lives? This not only boosts participant motivation, it gives participants the opportunity to discuss the progress of their spiritual growth, and gives leaders valuable information about the effectiveness of the growth experience.

*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%.

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


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 Living Your Strengths, written to help members discover and use their talents and strengths in their congregations. Before joining Gallup, he was a pastor in the United Methodist Church for 15 years.

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