Religious-Based Social Service Provision: Findings from Local Studies—Greensboro

Cnaan, Ram A. [, Robert J. Wineburg, and Stephanie C. Boddie]. “Religious-Based Social Service Provision: Findings from Local Studies—Greensboro.” In The Newer Deal: Social Work and Religion in Partnership. Ram A. Cnaaan. With Robert J. Wineburg and Stephanie C. Boddie. Pp. 212-228. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

This essay presents findings from two studies in Greensboro, North Carolina on the role religious congregations play as social service providers in their community. The first study (1989) describes the kinds of social services provided by 128 of the major white and black religious congregations during the Reagan/Bush era of the late 1980s. The second study (1992-1995) examines the relationship between the religious community and the public and private nonprofit agencies during the early years of the Clinton Administration. Both studies categorize the social and community service provision of religious congregations as: (1) in house services, these being social services that congregations offer where their place of worship is located, such as counseling or food pantries; and (2) outreach assistance, or those services that congregations offer to community-service providers, including money, volunteers and facilities. The underlying assumption of these studies is that religious congregations contribute much more to social and community services than is generally acknowledged by social work practitioners. <p> Major findings from the two studies indicate that: (1) in the Greensboro area, a strong relationship between religious congregations and social service agencies has developed over time, as congregations provide volunteers, money and facilities to agencies and agencies serve as conduits for religious institutions and people who want to help; and (2) the combination of in-house and outreach services created by religious congregations to meet new and ongoing needs demonstrates that organized religion is more than an adjunct service provider. Both studies underscore the fact that organized religion functions over time as the “social glue” that holds communities together through its social service provision, though this does not mean that public programs should be replaced by a faith-based system of services.