Faith-Based Service Organizations
The fact that congregations perform most of their service work either informally or in cooperation with other community organizations means that we cannot fully understand the social role of faith-based services by looking only at congregations. Nor can we understand the relationship between religion and volunteering if we consider only the volunteering that occurs within congregations or in response to appeals from congregations but fail to take account of the many other community organizations through which this volunteering is performed. We need to look beyond congregations to the wider variety of organizations and agencies that provide social services.
Many service agencies are not organized as local congregations but include some aspect of faith in their mission statement and regular activities. Such agencies may have been organized by religious people who felt called to address a particular need in their community (such as providing shelter for the homeless). They may receive funding from religious organizations, have clergy on their boards, draw volunteers from congregations, include prayers among their activities, or encourage clients to reflect more deeply about their own faith and perhaps even to become members of a faith community. These are what policy makers and scholars have in recent years come to refer to as “faith-based service organizations” or simply ”faith-based organizations.” The literature on these organizations, however, has often failed to distinguish between social services provided by congregations and services offered through more specialized faith-based organizations.1 Thus, we need to understand what this distinction is and how the two kinds of organizations complement each other.
Much of the interest in faith-based organizations has been generated by public policy debates over the appropriateness of channeling government