We have the same people turning up every time! Mary has been the ministry coordinator for so long, but no one else wants to take it on. No one seems interested in what is being offered. These are just some of the concerns raised by good people passionate about involving their communities.
It may be cold comfort to appreciate that the challenge of engagement is not isolated to the Catholic Church. As a soccer coach, there are always challenges of engaging parents to help with set up of grounds, to bring children to training and to even turn up in time for matches. It is no different in our workplaces. Many employees just turn up, with a 2012 US Gallup State of American Workplace, Employee Engagement, indicating only 30% of workers were showing up engaged and enthusiastic about their work.
The work of Gallup identifies three types of employees:
- Engaged: working with passion and experiencing a strong connection to their company. They are full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas, fully committed.
- Not Engaged: Employees are essentially turning up, just getting through the day, but not passionate about their work.
- Actively Disengaged: Employees are not just discontent but acting out their frustration, undermining the work of their colleagues.
This surveying has also been applied to US Christian congregations, with actively engaged members having stronger faith commitment, are more involved in community service and/or ministries, more likely to invite others, and contribute more money to the congregation.
Gallup suggests congregations respond to four key questions to increase engagement in faith communities. The questions are: What do I get? What can I give? Do I belong? and, How do we grow?
They are explained by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min., Religion and Social Trends Editor for Gallup as follows:
When new members join a faith community, they first ask, “What do I get?” in an attempt to decide if belonging to this organization is worth their investment of time, effort and self. If they determine that they will receive enough value from joining, they will then ask, “What can I give?” and look for ways that their unique talents can contribute to the congregation. From there they will ask, “Do I belong?” as they look for signs that they are valued. When they know that they receive something of value from belonging, that they make a meaningful contribution to the life of the congregation, and that they are valued, they will then look for signs that the organization’s members are growing in their faith. Recognizing this process is vitally important for congregation leaders intent upon improving engagement levels among their members.
In short, our faith communities will be strengthened if we are able to identify what it is that our people are seeking, particularly those engaging in sacramental preparation and new to our communities. Once these needs are met, the movement turns to how we are engaging people’s gifts, and so on. Sometimes, we are pushing people to sign up to ministries, when their initial needs are not met. Equally, if engaged parishioners have no opportunity to share ideas, or take on leadership roles, they may move elsewhere.
Pastoral Planning assists with all these steps and many resources are available both from our own dioceses and nationally. We also do well to learn from the Catholic Church’s national Pastoral Research Office. This body spends much time exploring the questions of what makes our communities stronger, and backs up their approaches through tools such as the National Church Life Survey. Stewardship is another significant offering, inviting parishioners to engage out of their giftedness, not out of the parish’s needs to plug holes.
Perhaps, most importantly, is the recognition that those we seek to engage are first and foremost individuals with their own joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams. Following in Jesus’ footsteps, if our first question is: “What are you looking for?” and our second offering is the invitation to “Come and see” we may go further in encountering the other on their terms, and in honouring their own story.