Connecting Faith and Service
(Adapted from "Research Briefs from Related Projects Connecting Faith and Service," Baylor University School of Social Work and partners.)
Community service volunteers are perpetually in constant demand and seemingly short supply. Yet church congregations—or more accurately, individuals volunteering within congregations—consistently provide valuable aid. For every church member assisted by a church program, four community members receive services from the same program.
Why do churches hold such potential as incubators for volunteers? The answer lies in the interactive, dynamic relationship between faith and service.
First, faith motivates service. Christians are commanded in the Bible to serve others in love, and the efforts of Christian volunteers are a visible demonstration of obedience to God. Moreover, church efforts are not focused on the needs of the congregation alone; an average 17% of congregations' budgets go to community ministries. In their capacity as "social utilities," churches provide valuable community resources, from tutoring children to feeding the homeless, in response to their belief system.
In turn, service magnifies faith. Research performed on faith-motivated community volunteers suggests that regularly volunteering in social services positively affects a person's faith. Specifically, there are three significant effects of consistent volunteer work on volunteers themselves:
- Volunteering increases a volunteer's church involvement. Those who are personally involved in various aspects of community ministry are also more dedicated in exercises of personal faith, including more frequent worship attendance and increased financial giving.
- Volunteering tests and strengthens faith. Volunteers who participate in community ministry once a week score higher on measures of faith than do congregants who attend church services more than once a week.
- Volunteers who encounter social, economic, racial, physical or political diversity in their ministry engage more deeply in faith practices over time. Experience with a wide range of backgrounds and practices can broaden and even unsettle a volunteer's social perspective, which in turn can cause the volunteer to invest more deeply in practices of faith such as generosity, prayer, worship, and studying scripture.
Once a church member steps into the role of volunteer, the continuous cycle between more significant faith practices and motivated service can develop the volunteer into a reliable human resource, dedicated to serving the community in ongoing, meaningful ways.
- adapted from a series of Research Briefs from Related Projects to be released by Baylor University School of Social Work as part of a 30-month research project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The research reported in this brief was conducted in another research project led by Baylor University and funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc., "Service and Faith: The Impact on Christian Faith and Congregational Life of Organized Community Caring (2000-2003)." The research team consisted of Diana Garland, Dennis Myers, and David Sherwood (Baylor University); Paula Sheridan (Whittier College); Terry Wolfer (University of South Carolina) and Beryl Hugen (Calvin College). For more information on this project, contact Diana Garland (Diana_Garland@baylor.edu).
— Statistical information on congregational budgeting:
Chaves, Mark and William Tsitsos (2001). "Congregations and social services: What they do, how they do it, and with whom." Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 30 (4): 660-683.
- Reporting on present-day congregational involvement in social service:
Cnaan, Ram A. (1997). Social and community involvement of religious congregations housed in historic religious properties: Findings from a six-city study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.
Cnaan, Ram A., Robert J. Wineburg, et al. (1999). The newer deal: Social work and religion in partnership. NY: Columbia University Press.
Cnann, Ram A. et al., (2002) The invisible caring hand: American congregations and the provision of welfare. New York: New York University Press.