Saving Souls, Serving Society: Understanding the Faith Factor in Church-Based Social Ministry

Synopsis

Recent years have seen unprecedented attention to faith-based institutions as agents of social change, spurred in part by cuts in public funding for social services and accompanied by controversy about the separation of church and state. The debate over faith-based initiatives has highlighteda small but growing segment of churches committed to both saving souls and serving society. What distinguishes faith-based from secular activism? How do religious organizations express their religious identity in the context of social services? How do faith-based service providers interpret theconnection between spiritual methodologies and socioeconomic outcomes? How does faith motivate and give meaning to social ministry? Drawing on case studies of fifteen Philadelphia-area Protestant churches with active outreach, Saving Souls, Serving Society seeks to answer these and other pressingquestions surrounding the religious dynamics of social ministry. While church-based programs often look similar to secular ones in terms of goods or services rendered, they may show significant differences in terms of motivations, desired outcomes, and interpretations of meaning. Church-basedprograms also differ from one another in terms of how they relate evangelism to their social outreach agenda. Heidi Rolland Unruh and Ronald J. Sider explore how churches navigate the tension between their spiritual mission and the constraints on evangelism in the context of social services. Theauthors examine the potential contribution of religious dynamics to social outcomes as well as the relationship between mission orientations and social capital. Unruh and Sider introduce a new vocabulary for describing the religious components and spiritual meanings embedded in social action, andprovide a typology of faith-based organizations and programs. Their analysis yields a framework for Protestant mission orientations that makes room for the diverse ways that churches interrelate spiritual witness and social compassion. Based on their observations, the authors offer a constructiveapproach to church-state partnerships and provide a far more objective understanding of faith-based social services than previously available.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • New York
Publication year:
  • 2005