Friday, August 29, 2008

Maslow and the church

In the 1950s renown psychologist Abraham Maslow boiled down volumes of research into a list of needs and desires that people try to fulfill:

Transendence: help others realize their potential.
Self actualization: realize our own potential, self-fulfillment, peak experience.
Aesthetic: symmetry, order, beauty, balance
Learning: know, understand, and mentally connect
Esteem: achieve, be competent, gain approval, independence, status
Belonging: love, family, friends, affection
Security: protection, safety, stability
Physical: hunger, thirst, bodily comfort

These were first shown as a hierocracy with filling each need in an order, starting with physical and as we have each need met we move until we fulfill our transendence need. Subsequent research has shown that it isn’t so much a hierocracy but rather having these needs met simultaneously.

Let’s say that Maslow was right in diagnosing the basic human needs and that these 8 cover the majority of our worries and fears. Let’s say that no matter what the culture is we humans have the same core needs. It may look different in context but basically we are all the same with our plight as humans.

I was reminded of Maslow recently in reading through made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath and started thinking of how this would apply to Christianity and the church.

I have read many books on outreach and evangelism in the church, in thinking back over these readings I have read many on the church filling one of the specific aspects. Such as the need to belong or for meeting the physical need. Is it possible for a church to be cognizant of fulfilling each of these aspects? There are individual churches that may be real good at one or two of these while neglecting others. Maybe churches should only focus on or two of these.

Are we happy and content with the types of people who come or are involved with our churches? I have talked to many pastors who are trying to reach a different age group or niche group. The most common age group of people they are trying to reach is the 20/30 something family. The question is, is the church even coming close to meeting the felt need of this age group? Being in this age group I would say the number one need is someone to watch and protect my children. We went to a church that there two rooms of children church one for anyone under two and the other for ages 3-6th grade. My kids were frightened and didn’t want to go back because they were with much older kids.
Or churches that don’t have a strong musical base, is it because they don’t embrace the aesthetics’?

The question is, was Maslow right with his evaluation about people? If we were to look at the life of Jesus and the way he recruited people he used many of these needs to draw them in. The interesting part of American Christianity is that we have thought the draw for so long to Christianity has been the fear of hell. Yes, there are some people who want the thought of eternal security. This may be why the churches are filled with same types of people, those who want safety. What about the rest of us, what about those who want to have their adventure quota filled? What about those who want to invest in others? There was a place in Jesus life for those who had these other needs and I believe there is a place in the church for them also, but we need to challenge and present Christianity in away that is more appealing than join so you can escape hell.

31 comments:

Rich Schmidt said...

Great thought, Ben, re: Maslow's needs hierarchy and churches meeting the various needs people experience.

BTW, if ours is the church with the 2 rooms for kids, you'll be glad to know that we have a consistent pre-school group now, too. :) So there's nursery, pre-school, and elementary. Still, K-5th grade is quite a span... but we won't be able to specialize any further until we're in a new building! We're doubled up already! :)

I hope you guys are doing well!

Ben Polhemus said...

thanks Rich,
actually it wasn't your church I was refering to.
I am back in the area.

Jeffrey said...

Good stuff Ben! In nursing school we had to identify which category our client's need(s) fell into and then act accordingly. We were taught to meet the physical needs first (airway etc.), then safety and security, love and belonging, and then self actualization. It's interesting to see how different missionary group approach their ministry. For centuries third world countries have been filled with missionaries, such as the British, Spanish, and later Americans, who meet the basic physiological needs like food, water, shelter, and clothing. Then on the other side you have people like K.P. Yohannan in India whose approach is strictly evangalism. Good stuff.

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