Congregations, Communities and Leadership Development Project

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Sun, 09/01/1996
End Date: 
Mon, 01/31/2000

Ron Sider and associate Heidi Rolland Unruh directed this study to explore the relationship between churches’ focus on spiritual transformation, or evangelism, and social action in order to understand the role faith plays in church-based outreach programs and ministries. Analysis of fifteen Philadelphia-area Protestant churches led the team to conclude that churches approach personal and social transformation in at least three ways: (1) some churches do not include explicit evangelism as part of their social outreach, (2) others structure evangelism and social ministry along parallel although not intersecting tracks, and (3) other churches intentionally connect spiritual and social transformation in their outreach ministries. <p> Sider and Unruh chose the fifteen churches from among a larger list of 145 congregations actively engaged in community outreach. The fifteen churches underwent intensive case study in three phases over a 30-month period. Sider and Unruh chose these churches based on such factors as theological orientation and denomination, ethnicity, location, size, age, the number and type of programs offered by the church, and the church’s mission priorities as cited by the pastor. Findings were shared through a variety of published articles and conferences. <p> Preliminary interpretations of the study’s findings led the research team to the following conclusions: (1) terms like “liberal” and “conservative” play a diminishing role in describing a church’s social activism, (2) researchers need to re-assess the theological variables that affect evangelism and social activism, (3) non-theological or contextual factors also affect a church’s involvement in social outreach programs, (4) studies of church-based programs should include attention to spiritual dynamics, and (5) government and social agencies need to understand the public’s perception of faith-based social activism and its implications for public policy.