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What is a Church-Based Social Ministry?

From the Congregations, Communities and Leadership Development Project
Directed by Ronald J. Sider and Heidi Rolland Unruh

The extent and scope of churches' involvement in providing social services has become a matter of significant public interest. However, defining a church-based ministry for measurement purposes may be challenging, particularly when a partnership is involved. Should a program be counted if the church provides occasional volunteers, but has no administrative responsibilities? What if the church's only form of involvement is financial support? What if only the pastor is involved? In our study, we defined a set of criteria for counting church-based social ministries.

Necessary (but not sufficient) condition:

* The church claims the ministry; the church is aware of and identifies with the ministry

Sometimes a group of members may be involved in a social service program, without the awareness or the ownership of the church's leadership. To be counted, the church as a corporate entity must recognize the ministry as its own. This is not a sufficient condition, however, because a church may claim a ministry without actually providing substantive support. Thus one or more of the following sufficient conditions must also hold.

Sufficient conditions:

* The church initiates, organizes or gives leadership to the ministry; the church is a formal sponsor or institutional affiliate of the ministry

* The church contributes a significant or regular portion of the budget for the ministry, either through its own funds or through grants procured by the church

* The church provides staff or recruits regular volunteer participants for the ministry

There are several other less intensive ways a church might support a social service program. No one by itself is sufficient, but if two or more criteria are met in combination, then the program may be counted as a church-based ministry.

Partial sufficient conditions:

* The church provides space to the ministry (for free or at a discount)

* The church provides the ministry with occasional funds or in-kind goods or services (e.g. use of equipment), but is not a major funding source

* The church has an organized system for referring clients to the ministry

* The pastor is involved in the ministry in an official capacity as a representative of or spokesperson for the church (as opposed to involvement solely as an individual or as a community leader)

Thus these would not be counted as church-based ministries, if they were the only form of involvement:

* providing meeting space to AA groups

* letting the local elementary school's after-school program use the church's van

* having the pastor serve on the board of a community development organization

* organizing an annual clothing drive for a local homeless shelter

The following would be counted:

* sending teams monthly to Habitat for Humanity work projects

* collecting canned food for the food pantry where the church often refers persons seeking aid

* opening the church's basement to a new day care, and allowing the day care to use the church's office equipment for free

* contributing $200 monthly to an elder care facility

There are many ways that churches contribute to the well-being of their communities, and all are important. There are, however, different levels of investment. This system for counting ministries recognizes that some kinds of support rise to the level of being truly church-based.


For more information and a full list of reports, please visit this project's index page.




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