The Commitment Circle

Ever since first learning about the “Commitment Circle” from the Center for Parish Development,1 I’ve been delighted to present it to local church leaders. It helps us understand different levels of involvement in the church at different points of people’s lives, without laying guilt on other people or ourselves for not getting everyone involved.

Based on ongoing research, the Center discovered four primary segments of people in North American churches. The “Creatives” usually constitute about five percent of a congregation. They’re the ones who unite their personal goals with the goals of the church, and they bring their personal creativity to the church planning process. They often chair all the committees and give generously of their time, energy, abilities and money for the church’s ministries.

The “Responsibles” are usually 15 to 20 percent of the people and are very active. They commonly fill the rest of the committee positions. Together with the Creatives, they give about 75 percent of the church’s budget. They identify with the congregation and come to all-church events. The “Responsives” can make up 20 to 30 percent of the congregation. They attend church infrequently, depending upon their family agendas. They give about 25 percent of the church’s income, and may come to an all-church event if you contact them five ways and offer to personally bring them.

The “Dormants” may be very active in other aspects of their lives, but are “asleep” at this time related to the congregation. They might have been Creatives in the past, before they had a falling-out or moved to another state or province. They may be family members of a Creative. They probably come to church only for baptisms, weddings or funerals, or for personal care during a crisis in their lives. Those who visit them need to feel personally called to a one-on-one relationship, building personal trust over a long time.

The good news about being aware of the Commitment Circle is knowing we can work where it’s most fruitful, tailoring our message to people’s different commitment levels, without implying that they’re not as involved in church life as they “should be.” We can expand from our strengths as a faith community, without trying to do everything for everyone. And the best news of all is knowing that positive change is possible, one person, one family at a time. We can change the percentages by increasing the number of Creatives, then Responsibles, and so forth, around the circle, as we work on one relationship at a time.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub