The Spiritual Maturity Index (SMI) is a general measure of religious ma­turity that conceptualizes the construct as a continuous developmental process. Derived from evangelical Christian theology, the SMI is “marked by qualities that are similar to psychological maturity” (Ellison, 1984). Ellison conceives of the maturing person as exhibiting autonomy (not basing faith be­liefs on the consensus of others), keen perception of reality, and creativity in every­ day life. He suggests that the spiritually mature person does not rely on support from others to maintain beliefs but devel­ops those beliefs through critical self-re­ flection.

Ellison sees religious practices and be­liefs as an integral part of life’s daily activi­ties. Ellison believes spiritual maturity, un­ like the closely related concept of spiritual well-being, implies meeting attitudinal and behavioral criteria not suggested in the con­cept of well-being. The spiritually mature person is self-principled and is able to enter into many full relationships with others. Hence, maturity reflects interdependence as well as a strong sense of self.

Spiritually mature persons are willing to make sacrifices for the welfare of others as well as cope with suffering and pain. Such individuals define their personal identity in relationship to closeness and communion with God. They tend to be conscientious regarding regular devotional time with God, seeing it as essential for spiritual growth. Self-principled and autonomous, these per­ sons actively use their gifts and talents and are committed to cultivating and expressing the classic Christian virtues and disciplines.


The SMI consists of 30 self-re­ port items, logically derived, and scaled on a 6-point Likert-style format with reverse scoring on 12 items due to negative word­ing. The respondent circles the letters corre­sponding to the phrases which most ade­quately describe one’s attitude. These phrases are “strongly agree” (SA), “moder­ately agree” (MA), “agree” (A), “disagree” (D), “moderately disagree” (MD), “strongly disagree” (SD). Eighteen of the 30 items, if marked in the strongly agree direction, are said to be indicators of mature spirituality. Face validity of the scale is quite high be­ cause items are directly related to Ellison’s conceptualized quality of spiritual maturity.

Practical Considerations: The instrument is easily self-administered and takes 10 minutes or less to complete. The scoring key in­dicates the nature of each item. They are scored from 1 to 6, with the higher number representing the more favorable direction (i.e., maturity). The total score is the sum of the scores obtained on all items, making the range of scores 30 to 180. No items are in­cluded as a check for social desirability or other response biases. The instructions indi­ cate that there is no “right” response in an attempt to diffuse a social desirability ten­dency. Other than four sentences of instruc­tion at the top of the instrument, no other special guidelines are provided.


Several studies re­ port group means and standard deviations without further explanation of how these are interpreted. Mack et al. (1987) report a mean of 138.1 (SD = 16.8), using a sample of 319 adult Sunday School attendees from the same church. Buhrow et al. (1987) re­ ported a mean of 140.73 (SD= 17.78) based on 117 students from three seminaries. Bas­ sett et al. (1991) report results from 84 Catholic and 131 Protestant college stu­ dents. Their mean scores were 128.45 and 140.26, respectively (no SD reported). The heterogeneity of the combined samples is quite restricted, and norms have not been established to aid interpretation.

Unfortunately, there has been no signifi­cant work on standardization. No manual is currently available, so it is difficult to know how best to administer, score, or interpret the measure. Further work needs to be done for the SMI to be used with confidence for a variety of applications in religious or educa­tional settings. The SMI may be useful for research purposes, however.


Buhrow et al. (1987) report that “a portion” of the initial seminarian sample participated in a retest six months later, but no results were reported. The researchers re­ ported an internal consistency coefficient of .87 (Cronbach’s alpha). Bassett et al. (1991) reported the same statistic with a value of .92.

Validity: Much of the research with the SMI has yielded moderately significant correlations with Ellison’s Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS). Ellison (1984) initially hy­ pothesized and found this relationship (r = .57, p = .001) based on the assertion that both were actually measuring different as­pects of spiritual health. Bufford (1984) also found this relationship (r = .62), spawning several papers and dissertations exploring that relationship further (Boliou et al., 1987; Cooper, 1986; Davis et al., 1987; Mack et al., 1987; see also Bassett et al., 1991). Some studies correlated the SMI with other religiosity measures. Several factor analytic studies consistently yielded a single domi­nant factor that accounted for much of the variance. For example, Bassett et al. (1991) combined items from several religiosity scales, including the SMI and the SWBS, and found confirmation of a single factor that “looked like (it) measured the extent to which personal commitment was manifested in belief” (p. 90), consistent with Gorsuch’s (1984) suggestion that religious measures tend to tap a general factor of religiosity. Construct validity appears quite weak since it is not measuring a discrete dimension sep­arate from the SWBS.

Using known groups, Buhrow et al. (1987) found only modest support for this construct. No gender differences emerged. Those who “profess Christ as Savior” ver­ sus those who only “follow Christ’s teach­ings” were discriminated by the instrument. Further research requires greater hetero­ geneity in the samples and more studies on criterion-related and content validity. Per­ haps further refinement of the theoretical construct itself, and its behavioral domain, would yield items that discriminate better.

Spiritual Maturity Index

Instructions: Please circle the choice that best indicates the extent of your agreement or dis­ agreement with each of the following statements. Please note that there is no “right” response; your response should honestly describe your personal experience. Do not choose an answer that would make you look “spiritual” if it is not true of yourself. All responses will be confi­dential; please do not put your name on the questionnaire.

  • SA = strongly agree
  • MA= moderately agree
  • A= agree
  • D = disagree
  • MD = moderately disagree
  • D = strongly disagree
  1. My faith doesn’t primarily depend on the formal church for its vitality.
  2. The way I do things from day to day is often affected by my relationship with God.
  3. I seldom find myself thinking about God and spiritual matters during each day. (R)
  4. Even if the people around me opposed my Christian convictions, I would still hold fast to them.
  5. The encouragement and example of other Christians is essential for me to keep on living for Jesus. (R)
  6. I feel like I need to be open to consider new insights and truths about my faith.
  7. I am convinced that the way I believe spiritually is the right way.
  8. People that don’t believe the way that I do about spiritual truths are hard-hearted. (R)
  9. I feel that a Christian needs to take care of his or her own needs first in order to help oth­ ers. (R)
  10. My faith doesn’t seem to give me a definite purpose in my daily life. (R)
  11. I find that following Christ’s example of sacrificial love is one of my most important goals.
  12. My identity (who I am) is determined more by my personal or professional situation than by my relationship with God. (R)
  13. Walking closely with God is the greatest joy in my life.
  14. I feel that identifying and using my spiritual gifts is not really important. (R)
  15. I don’t seem to be able to live in such a way that my life is characterized by the fruits of the Spirit. (R)
  16. When my life is done, I feel like only those things that I’ve done, as part of following Christ will matter.
  17. I believe that God has used the most “negative” or difficult times in my life to draw me closer to Him.
  18. I feel like God has let me down in some of the things that have happened to me. (R)
  19. I have chosen to forego various gains when they have detracted from my spiritual wit- ness or violated spiritual principles.
  20. Giving myself to God regardless of what happens to me is my highest calling in my life.
  21. I don’t regularly study the Bible in depth on my own. (R)
  22. I actively look for opportunities to share my faith with non-Christians.
  23. My relationships with others are guided by my desire to express the love of Christ.
  24. I don’t regularly have times of deep communion with God in personal (private) prayer. (R)
  25. More than anything else in life I want to know God intimately and to serve Him.
  26. Worship and fellowship with other believers is a significant part of my Christian life.
  27. It seems like I am experiencing more of God’s presence in my daily life than I have previously.
  28. I feel like I am becoming more Christ-like.
  29. I seem to have less consistent victories over temptation than I used to. (R)
  30. On the whole, my relationship with God is alive and growing.

(R)-reversed-scored item


Ellison, C. W. (1984). Personality, religious ori­entation, and spiritual well-being. Unpublished manuscript, Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY.

The SMI may be obtained from the author: Craig W. Ellison, Ph.D., Alliance Theologi­cal Seminary, South Highland Avenue, Nyack, New York 10960

Subsequent Research:

Bressem, M. R. (1986). The relationship be­ tween individual differences in imaginal abilities, Christian imaginal frequency, and Christian spiritu­ality (Doctoral dissertation, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary). Dissertation Abstracts Interna­tional, 48-12, 3714B.

Colwell, J. C. (1986). A correlational study of self-concept and spirituality in seminarians (Doc­ toral dissertation, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary). Dissertation Abstracts International, 47-1/, 4645B.

McPherson, S. E. (1990). Studies in optimal religious functioning, personality traits, religious ori­entation, and spiritual maturity (Doctoral disserta­tion, Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psy­chology). Dissertation Abstracts International, 49-12, 3757A.

Pramann, R. F., Jr. (1987). Commitment to spouse and God: The relationship among measures of marital commitment and spiritual maturity (Doc­ toral dissertation, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary). Dissertation Abstracts International, 48-12, 3717B.



Barker, G., DeWitt, J., Godwin, A., & Spotts, S. (1987). A construct validity study of the SM I: A sys­ tematic replication. Unpublished manuscript, West­ ern Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR.

Bassett, R., Camplin, W., Humphrey, D., Dorr, C., Biggs, S., Distaffen, R., Doxtator, I., Flaherty, M., Hunsberger, P., Poage, R., & Thompson, H. (1991). Measuring Christian maturity: A compari­ son of several scales. Journal of Psychology and Theology, /9(1), 84-93.

Boliou, N. (1988). Spiritual maturity: A review of construct and research. Unpublished manuscript, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR.

Boliou, N., Chapman, S., & Davis, K. (1987). An empirical examination of the Spiritual Maturity Index and Spiritual Well-being Scale in an Evan­ gelical church population. Unpublished manu-

script, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR.

Bufford, R. (1984). Empirical correlates of

Spiritual Well- Being and Spiritual Maturity Scales. Paper presented at the meeting of the Christian As­ sociation for Psychological Studies, Dallas, TX.

Buhrow, W., Calkins, P., Haws, J., & Rost, K. (1987). The Spiritual Maturity Index: A study of re­ liability and validity. Unpublished manuscript, Al­ liance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY.

Cooper, R. L. (1987). An empirical examination of the construct validity of the Spiritual Maturity Index. Dissertation Abstracts International, 47, 4645B. (University Microfilms International, 87- 04712)

Davis, W., Longfellow, D., Moody, A., & Moynihan, W. (1987). Spiritual Maturity Index: Construct Validation. Unpublished manuscript, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR.

Ellison, C. W. (1984). Personality, religious ori­ entation, and spiritual well-being. Unpublished manuscript, Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY.

Gorsuch, R. L. (1984). Measurement: The boon and bane of investigating religion. American Psy­ chologist, 39, 228-236.

Mack, K., Stone, K., Renfroe, W., & Lloyd, K. (1987). Spiritual well-being and maturity construct. Unpublished manuscript, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, OR.