NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Research Lacking On Effectiveness Of Church Based Social Programs

April 24, 2001

Not long after assuming office, President George W. Bush proposed that the government assist religious institutions in efforts to help the needy. But experts say the stark fact is that there is little, if any, empirical evidence that faith-based programs actually work.

  • Moreover, little reliable research exists which might measure how well one approach performs better than another.
  • A body of research is essential to the project's success because it would be unconstitutional for the government to decide which religious programs to finance based on theology, favoritism or familiarity.
  • Also, the question remains as to whether religious or secular programs are more effective.
  • Organizations which have kept records have so far only tracked how many people they reach within a certain period or how much time they spent with clients.

"They'll hand you a three-page in-house report showing that they reached 1,300 people that year," says University of Pennsylvania professor Byron R. Johnson. "But what does 'reach' mean? That's not going to cut it."

In a study of Indiana's social services, Indiana University researcher David Rheingold found that religious programs are more likely than their secular counterparts to limit the clientele they serve. As a result, he says, "It's an extreme exaggeration to say that religious organizations are more effective."

Source: Laurie Goodstein, "Church-Based Projects Lack Data on Results," New York Times, April 24, 2001.


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