Faith-based Initiative

New study described by Sightings – Faith based social services dont change actual congregation but operate independently of congregations. However, they do not operate independently of governmental services, they are grafted into them. There are actually not that many people that care for people for free except in time of emergency and they all rely on government funds.

The Faith-based Initiative and Congregational Change– Martin E. Marty

“Did the Faith-based Initiative Change Congregations?” asked astute sociologists of religion Bob Wineberg and Mark Chaves last April. The answer: No. Chaves, based at Duke University, follows up with a revision in The Christian Century (June 1), “Congregations Say No to the Faith-based Initiative: Thanks, but No Thanks.” He is referring to the Congress-launched program to tap the energies and genius of religious organizations, “including congregations, to meet social needs.” Recognizing that the program had been controversial from the first, often on grounds coded as “church-state relations,” Chaves analyzed follow-up studies to see whether the tapping had been productive. Again: No.

Chaves is anything but an anti-institutional, anti-congregational muckraker, doomsayer, or secular snob. His career is devoted to assessing what role crucial institutions like congregations (parishes, mosques, synagogue) can and do achieve. We can picture him having hoped that this innovation would work. “Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Services and Jewish Family Services” do work big time, he notes. It’s hard to imagine American voluntary life without such large agencies, something the “spiritual but not religious” or “religious but non-institutional” citizens don’t often notice. But, once more, “did the faith-based initiative have any impact on congregations? Did it prompt congregations to get more involved in providing social services?” Again, No! and No!

Failure followed because those in charge worked with false assumptions. One was “that congregation-based social services represent an alternative to the social welfare system.” No, they don’t. Chaves: “The reality is that there is no such alternative system in the religious world.” Congregations are not an alternative; their social services depend on “the current system.” “It is much more common for a congregation to plug into an existing program than to start a new one.” False assumption two: that “congregations represent a vast reservoir of volunteer labor.” Do they? No. Most congregations are small, internally diverse, peopled by believers who can’t all be mobilized to serve.

Bob Wineberg and Mark Chaves, “Did the Faith-Based Initiative Change Congregations?” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (March 2010).
Mark Chaves, “Congregations Say No to the Faith-based Initiative: Thanks, but No Thanks,” Christian Century (June 1, 2010).

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