Congregations as Caring Communities
The ideal of a “caring community” that many clergy and church leaders try to encourage among their adherents is rather different from the service model we examined in the last chapter. In the service model, congregations devote resources to service programs that are formal, specific, and often somewhat separate from the rest of the congregation. But, as many clergy see it, a congregation should be different from a service organization. In a service organization, people with resources help people who lack resources. Resources consist of professional training, organizational skills, being able to raise and channel charitable donations or government funds to worthy causes, or having the time in one's job description or the funds in one's portfolio to be helpful to people in need. The service-organization model suggests that congregations should serve their communities, much like the welfare department or the Red Cross, by raising funds and recruiting volunteers, organizing programs to help the needy, and finding ways to advertise the availability of these programs to the wider community. As we have seen, congregations often do some of this. Part of their ministry is to initiate or contribute to the support of service programs, such as homeless shelters, food pantries, clinics, and day care programs. Yet this is not the only or even necessarily the most important way in which congregations contribute to the needy and to the benefit of civil society.
The service-organization model certainly does not adequately capture the ways in which clergy and lay leaders think about the caring that takes place—or that should take place—in their congregations. As caring communities, congregations usually try to emulate some understanding about the first-century followers of Christ who came to be known for their love and support of one another. Sociologists would say that caring communities differ from service organizations in at least three important ways.