NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Churches As Social Service Agencies

October 25, 1999

A new report finds that surprisingly few churches are engaged in social services work. The Alban Institute in Bethesda, Md., reports that America's 300,000 houses of worship function primarily as centers of spiritual experience and for teaching social skills.

  • While 71 percent of all U.S. congregations have fewer than 100 "regularly participating adults," only one-third of the total provide food for the needy.
  • Providing shelter for the homeless is also a ministry in one out of five congregations.
  • Three percent offer tutoring, 2 percent work with substance abuse, and 1 percent operate job programs.
  • Only about 10 percent of congregations have staff who devote at least 25 percent of their time to social services.

While the 1996 welfare reform law allows religious congregations to provide social services using government funds, the study found that most congregation leaders do not know about that provision and only one-third said they would take government funds.

Source: Larry Witham, "Churches Not Ready for New Welfare Role," Washington Times, October 23, 1999.


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