Spiritual life is a property of a single person – normally a Christian believer in the context of church growth modelling. It may also be seen as a property of a church, represented as an average group of believers acting together as one.
Spiritual life is that aspect of a believer’s life that helps them gives them a greater understanding and practice of the spiritual aspects of the Christian faith. The primary consequence of that life is that a believer is better able to pass the faith on to unbelievers. A second consequence is that the believer is better able to build up the spiritual life of the church, that is, other believers.
In a dynamical model, spiritual life is also understood by effects and its causes within different model elements. Specifically, spiritual life can be understood by its effect on the dynamics of a church growth model and how aspects of that model generate or impede spiritual life. For example, the more spiritual life, the more the conversion rate, is a particular effect of spiritual life. Likewise, the more active believers, the more spiritual life is generated, is an example of one of its causes.
Before going further, it is worth examining spiritual life in the light of the sociological concepts of human capital, social capital, religious capital, and spiritual capital.
According to the sociologist James Coleman, physical capital is a collection of material things that aid production, such as tools and machines (Coleman, 1988). The concept of capital suggests it is understood as an accumulation. That is, at any given time, there is a particular amount of physical capital that may be “added to” or “subtracted from” – a bit like financial capital. Likewise, Coleman (1988) describes human capital as those changes made in humans that bring about skills and abilities that enable them to act in new ways, making them more productive. Human capital is also an accumulation. Like spiritual life, it is possessed by a single person and people acting as a coherent group.
James Coleman introduced social capital as a productive resource made available to an individual person and generated by people in their network of relationships. To quote (Coleman, 1988): It is not a single entity but a variety of different entities, with two elements in common: they all consist of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain actions of actors – whether persons or corporate actors – within the structure. As such, social capital is productive, like other forms of capital. What is different with social capital is that it is not lodged in the individuals themselves but in the network of relations between people. Thus, social capital is less tangible than human capital. One example is the trust that exists within a social group that allows individuals to function more effectively.
There are aspects of social capital that are like spiritual life. For example, the production of spiritual life in a church depends on a well-functioning community of people, their unity, mutual trust, and effective organisation. Unlike social capital, spiritual life can be possessed by an individual. However, it may be that the spiritual life of the group is more than the average of the individuals. That is, the relationship between the individuals contribute to the spiritual life of the group. As spiritual life will only be used in aggregate dynamic modelling, its use as an attribute of an individual person is essentially irrelevant.
Coleman sees social capital as something that can help create human capital. Thus, more social capital gives more effective people. This causal link is similar to how spiritual life makes believers more effective in conversion into the church. Similarly, the production of social capital within a functioning community is like the production of spiritual life by a church. Thus, both concepts have similar cause and effect relationships.
Social capital was popularized by the work of Robert Putnam and investigated in such areas of collective action as volunteering, neighbourhood watch schemes, and civic participation (Putnam, 2000). Thus, social capital is more than one accumulation. For example, Richard Dudley’s model of social capital includes variables for trust, the network of relationships and the strength of societal norms (Dudley, 2004). Nevertheless, spiritual life will be represented by a single variable unless there is compelling evidence to do otherwise.
The sociologist and economist Larry Iannaccone introduced religious capital to explain patterns of religious belief and behaviour among groups of people (See Iannaccone and Klick, 2003). This capital enhances religious activity, grows as a result of past religious involvement, and has the greatest value in a religious setting. He used it to explain the prevalence of conversion at a young age and the tendency of people to marry within their religion. In one sense, religious capital is a form of social capital within a religious context. In another sense, it is a parallel concept, dealing with social aspects of a religious community not present in wider society. For example, Stark and Finke (2000) removed friendships from the definition of religious capital as it was included under social capital. Viewed this way, a church may generate social capital and religious capital.
Spiritual life is not really a form of religious capital, though it bears similarities. Although religious activities may help produce spiritual life, more is needed, a spiritual aspect that comes from outside the group of believers. Spiritual life involves something that is God-given. Spiritual life is linked with the nature of revival. Hence the link between such life and conversion. Whereas religious activity may well produce some recruitment to the church, it cannot enable a genuine conversion and a change of heart in someone who has not embraced Christianity. This distinction between religious capital and spiritual life needs to be borne in mind in potential measures of the latter.
Religious capital concerns resources that are specific to a religious organisation. People invest in these resources for various reasons, but the beneficiary is a church or denomination. Clearly, it is rational for people to invest in these resources if it is assumed they share a common belief that such organisations should succeed. Spiritual capital takes this concept further by considering resources that assume the existence of God and other supernatural phenomena to justify their production. For example, people invest time in personal prayer, believing that not only are they personally improved, but there are also benefits for all the people and situations for which they pray. There is no benefit to any religious organisation unless a God exists who answers prayer and bestows those blessings. Spiritual capital is that which is built in the “economy” of a worldview that includes God.
There have been problems defining spiritual capital (Iannaccone and Klick, 2003; Palmer and Wong, 2013; Woodberry, 2003). Some authors do not distinguish religious capital from spiritual capital. Some think the definition is too poorly defined. Others treat spiritual capital as a subset of human and social capital, viewing it in purely secular terms. Some researchers are braver and include personal relationships with God in the definition.
How to measure spiritual capital is also an issue. For example, should prayer be measured by its quantity – for example, how long people spend in prayer; or measured by its quality – its effect on the person? Should such measures include possible responses by God? There is no clear answer to such questions.
An alternative approach is to limit spiritual capital to activities that are explicitly focussed on spiritual matters, prayer, scriptures, evangelism etc., and exclude those common with other types of organisations, management training, community contacts and the like. Such spiritual resources will make a church more distinct from other kinds of organisations, emphasising the central spiritual beliefs of the church. It is this view of spiritual capital that leads to the concept of spiritual life.
In dynamical modelling, spiritual life is that aspect of spiritual capital that affects the dynamics of growth and decline in the church. It captures those particular works of God’s Holy Spirit that make believers more effective in conversion, building the spiritual life itself, and combatting secular and humanist tendencies in the church and wider society. Thus, as stated earlier, spiritual life is understood by its dynamic causes and effects, yet at the same time may be identified with works of the Holy Spirit in the church. Such works of the Spirit are described in the Acts of the Apostles and seen throughout the church’s history, particularly in times of revival. This definition of spiritual life will enable a model to represent the revival growth of the church, and its interaction with wider society, in terms that the church itself understands. Measures will be chosen from known conditions within the churches and according to the application of the model.
This work has significantly benefited from the research of Howells (2015).
Coleman JS. (1988). Social Capital in the Creation of Human-Capital. American Journal of Sociology, 94, S95-S120.
Dudley RG. (2004). The Dynamic Structure of Social Capital: How interpersonal Connections Create Communitywise Benefits. Paper presented at the 22nd International Conference of the Systems Dynamics Society.
Howells L. (2015). Dynamics of Church Growth and Spiritual Life. M. Phil. thesis of the University of South Wales, Pontypridd, UK.
Iannaccone L, Klick J. (2003). Spiritual capital: An introduction and literature review. Paper presented at the Spiritual Capital Planning Meeting.
Palmer DA, Wong M. (2013). Clarifying the concept of spiritual capital. Paper presented at the Conference on the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Putnam RD. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community: Simon and Schuster.
Stark R, Finke R. (2000). Acts of faith: University of California Press.
Woodberry RD. (2003). Researching spiritual capital: promises and pitfalls. Paper presented at the Spiritual Capital Planning Meeting