This is the third of a six-part series on my musings about belonging and engagement as individuals and as a parish. Last week I wrote about the way we consider our parish to be thriving – after all, by any measure (Mass attendance, sacraments, ministry, offertory, etc.) we are indeed thriving. We are people who “believe in, sign up, show up, and chip in,” – and so our instinct is to say that believing, volunteering, attendance, and contributing are all things that lead to a sense of belonging and engagement in the faith community. As was noted last week, it turns out these are well-studied things and, in fact, it is belonging that leads to increased believing, volunteering, spiritual growth, and financial support. It raises the question: what are the indicators that individuals and the parish community have a sense of belonging?
This question was studied by George Gallup in the early 1990s and later enhanced by others in the Gallup organization in early 2001. They first sought to measure the spiritual commitment of individuals and the parish as a whole (referred to as engagement) as a prelude to describing the milieu of belonging. Their work discovered that there were nine statements that best described people who are spiritually committed and have a sense of belonging to their parish:
- My faith is involved in every aspect of my life.
- Because of my faith, I have meaning and purpose in my life.
- My faith gives me an inner peace.
- l am a person who is spiritually committed.
- I spend time in worship or prayer every day.
- Because of my faith, I have forgiven people who have hurt me deeply.
- My faith has called me to develop my given strengths.
- I will take unpopular stands to defend my faith.
- I speak words of kindness to those in need of encouragement.
The list has to give each one us pause: “My gosh, someone who is all those things is a super-saint or something!” Maybe. But isn’t this what Christ calls us be in the world? Can you imagine the power and joy of a parish in which each parishioner possessed these attitudes and behaviors?
These nine measures are the ones that differentiate levels of spiritual commitment – but they also give some insight into how one’s sense of belonging impacts individual commitment. The studies showed that 18% of people with a faith/church affiliation are spiritually committed. But in parishes in which there is a strong sense of belonging, almost 39% of individuals are spiritually committed. What is it about belonging that so strongly affects individual spiritual health and commitment? And how do we tap into that for all of us so that we are truly part of a greater purpose than just ourselves? That is a parish I want to be part of!! How do we build that sense of belonging in our parish?