How do you study how committed people are to your religious group? Do you look to attendance? Financial giving? Volunteering? Serving on committees or teams?
One way to better understand this issue is to bring together a focus group from your congregation. Use a list like the one below, asking each participant to list their top 10 — in order — to share with the group. Using an easel and paper, then record the rank order given by each focus group member.
Some of the commitment expectations below may seem foreign to your religious organization — some activities are central to particular groups and foreign to others.
Then begin a discussion about what your congregation expects of its members. Finding a common ground can be useful in understanding a degree of congregational identity surrounding issues of commitment.
What are the expectations of your congregation? (Modified from Studying Congregations, p. 136).
- Sharing personal faith with friends and co-workers
- Attending services of worship (weekly? bi-weekly? daily?)
- Financially supporting the congregation
- Accepting the religious and personal doctrine of the group
- Maintaining a schedule of scripture study
- Praying regularly
- Performing concrete acts of service or charity for those in need
- Taking faith commitments and moral teachings seriously in forming views on public issues and voting for public officials
- Serving as a volunteer on a committee within the faith group
- Being clearly identifiable as a member of the group by wearing special clothing or adopting special practices in public
- Abstaining from certain practices (dancing, drinking alcohol, using tobacco)
- Avoiding non0religious activities during times of the week traditionally set aside for worship
- Participating in organized forms of religious education
- Reading denominational publications
- Being held accountable by religious officials for beliefs and behavior
- Taking on special spiritual disciplines during seasons of the religious year (Lent, Ramadan, Yom Kippur)
- Supporting community groups working for inter religious tolerance and cooperation
- Add others as applicable
Once you have a concrete list of items that are important to the focus group, you may want to include these questions of commitments on a questionnaire. For each activity, ask whether and how often each member or attender participates, whether they have a leadership role, and other related questions. You might want to ask whether individual members agree or disagree with particular issues, such as doctrinal or moral expectations. Summarizing these responses will provide a clearer picture of what it means to be a member of your community.