Anyone who’s kicked around in the field of congregational growth for more than about ten minutes has encountered the concept that there are several kinds of growth. As outlined by Loren Mead in More Than Numbers: The Way Churches Grow, they are numerical growth, organizational or organic growth (appropriate changes in structure–e.g., a 75-member church needs different structures than a 250-member church), missional or incarnational growth (how well people live out the mission of the congregation day to day), and maturational or spiritual growth (he also calls this “growth in wisdom”). To our detriment, we tend to focus overmuch on numerical growth, for a variety of reasons, a major one of which is that it’s the easiest to measure.
Since other kinds of growth are important as well, though, it’s important to measure them too. I have been thinking about ways one might measure the maturational or spiritual depth of a congregation and its members: the extent to which the congregation “challenge[s], support[s] and encourage[s] each one of its members to grow in the maturity of their faith, to deepen their spiritual roots, and to broaden religious imaginations”; members’ growth in wisdom. What if we randomly sampled a group of members each year and asked them some questions that would reveal the maturity of their spiritual lives? Or followed several over the course of several years, in a longitudinal survey? What questions might we ask?
What do you think of these?:
I have a regular spiritual practice. (y/n)
I have people at church with whom I can talk about spiritual or religious matters. (y/n) How many? _____
I have people outside church with whom I can talk about spiritual or religious matters. (y/n) How many? _____
In the past month, I have had conversations after church, and/or outside church, about an issue that was talked about in the service. (y/n/I haven’t gone to any services)
Participating in my small group gives me insight and inspiration. (y/n/I’m not in a small group)
I have called upon members of the congregation to help me in some way in the past month.
I have responded to a request for help from other members of the congregation in the past month (examples: brought a meal for our Baby Cafe or Get Better Bistro, gave someone a ride, followed up with someone who shared a sorrow at Caring and Sharing).
I ponder deep questions ___________ (frequently / occasionally / rarely / never).
Things I learn in church help me in my relationships outside church (frequently / occasionally / rarely / never).
In the past month, I have had an experience one might call transcendent, spiritual, or powerfully meaningful at church. (y/n)
In the past month, I have had an experience one might call transcendent, spiritual, or powerfully meaningful outside church. (y/n)
What else would you ask to discern wisdom or spiritual depth? Does your congregation have a process for measuring maturational growth?
As a side note: although Mead is an Episcopal priest and the organization he founded to strengthen congregations, the Alban Institute, is non-denominational, putting his terms into a search engine turns up mostly Unitarian Universalist sites. I’m curious what that’s about.