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Numerous and diverse attempts have been made to measure religious and spiritual beliefs, practices, commitments, and attitudes. Each measure has a unique purpose, perspective, and operating assumptions and each contributes unique understanding to this rich and complex domain of life.
The Faith Maturity Scale (FMS), developed by Peter L. Benson and colleagues at Search Institute is a psychometrically robust construct that has been used in multiple studies of both adults and adolescents. Though primarily used with Catholic, Evangelical, and Protestant Christians in the United States and Canada, it has subsequently been utilized in and adapted for other religious traditions and cultures.
In addition to its scientific validity with adolescents, college students, and adults across denominations and cultures, its grounding in the perspectives of congregational leaders and members also gives it particular value for reflection and planning.
Rather than measuring faith itself, FMS focuses on what Benson, Donahue, and Erickson describe as "the degree to which a person embodies the priorities, commitments, and perspectives characteristic of vibrant and life-transforming faith, as these have been understood in mainline Protestant traditions." Thus, in this model, faith is a way of living, not just knowledge of or adherence to doctrine, dogma, or tradition. This distinction sets this scale apart from most scales of personal religiosity, which emphasize orthodox beliefs and ritualistic practices, or the process of spiritual or faith development, not the substance of faith as manifested in daily life.
At the core of the FMS is an understanding of faith as having "vertical" and "horizontal" dimensions, with faith maturity being the integration of the two (integrated faith). The vertical dimension emphasizes the self and its relationship to God or the divine, or the inward journey. The horizontal dimension emphasizes obligation and action on the human plane through acts of service and justice, or the outward journey.
In addition, the FMS identifies eight core dimensions of faith that underscore the multidimensionality of faith. A person of mature faith has the following attributes (as developed for the original Protestant Christian sample):
1. Trusts God's saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
2. Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security, and peace.
3. Integrates faith and life, seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of one's religious life.
4. Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, and discussion with others.
5. Seeks to be part of a community of believers in which people give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.
6. Holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural and religious diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
7. Advocates social and global change to bring about greater social justice.
8. Serves humanity, consistently and passionately, through acts of love and justice.
The original FMS included 38 items that examined these eight dimensions as well as vertical and horizontal faith. Subsequent analyses and studies have developed shorter scales (between 11 and 13 items) that highly correlate with the original 38-item scale. Some of these alternate measures do not include the Christian-specific items, making them appropriate measures across monotheistic religious traditions. Various studies using these condensed measures have found faith maturity to be related to emotional maturity, personal meaning, and prosocial behavior (even after controlling for the effects of personality), secure attachment styles, and a nurturing family environment. These findings suggest that the FMS offers unique insight into human functioning, not just a repackaging or "religifying" of existing constructs.
The original study of U.S. mainline Protestant congregations found that 64% of youth (grades 6 through 12) had an undeveloped faith (low in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions), with only 11% of youth having an integrated faith (high on both dimensions). In addition, faith maturity tends to decline (cross-sectionally) during adolescence. Subsequent studies with Evangelical Christian youth (Seventh-Day Adventist and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) in the United States found somewhat higher levels of integrated faith (22% and 25%, respectively). Among mainline Protestant adults in the United States, levels of integrated faith were found to increase from 16% among young adults (ages 20-29) to as high as 57% for older adults (age 70+).
Just as important as mapping faith maturity among youth and adults, the FMS has been used widely as an outcome measure for understanding congregational effectiveness (instead of focusing only on financial strength or numerical growth as signs of health) and other contributing factors. Various studies point to the importance of family religious practices in nurturing faith maturity in both youth and adults. In addition, a wide range of congregational variables are associated with growth in faith maturity, including a caring climate, a climate that encourages thinking, and programming that engages both youth and adults in effective educational practices. Thus, several religious bodies and organizations from a wide range of Christian traditions have utilized the framework as a tool for designing their strategies for education and nurture with children and adolescents, guiding curriculum and program development as well as being utilized in seminary education of clergy and religious educators.
In addition, the scale offers a tool for meaningful dialogue among young people and adults about multiple dimensions of their spiritual journey that move beyond discussions of belief or dogma. In doing so, it helps young people internalize spiritual and religious practices that both engage them in cultivating their relationship with God (the "vertical" dimension) while actively engaging in acts of compassion and justice in the world (the "horizontal" dimension). Thus, by articulating a multidimensional understanding of faith and the spiritual life that resonates with scripture as well as human experience, the FMS has become a valuable tool for enriching the religious and spiritual lives of children, adolescents, and adults.