Relationship Between Human Service Agencies and Religious Congregations in Greensboro, North Carolina

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Sat, 08/15/1992
End Date: 
Wed, 01/31/1996

Robert Wineburg, Associate Professor and Chair of the Social Work Department of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, conducted a three-year study of the relationship between the religious community of Greensboro and the agencies that comprise the community’s social service network. Justification for the study arose in response to federal policy changes in the Reagan/Bush Administrations that shifted more responsibility to local agencies for meeting community needs. While studies during the eighties and nineties revealed the active role of congregations in social service organizations, very little focused on understanding how secular- and religiously-based non-profit organizations used the resources of churches to accomplish their work. The study aimed to assist scholars, social workers, and congregations understand how best to integrate the religious community into the web of the local service community. <p> Wineburg structured his study in three phases. During the first phase he enlisted the help of The South Eastern Jurisdiction of Urban (Ministry) Workers to create a questionnaire that was mailed to 193 social service organizations in the Greensboro area; 147 of these were returned for analysis. Wineburg aimed was to determine how these agencies used volunteers, money, and facilities of local religious congregations. The second phase aimed to deepen the quantitative knowledge of Phase One with an intense study of six local agencies that maintained strong relationships with the religious community. These agencies were the Greensboro Urban Ministry, Triad Health Project, the local affiliate of the American Red Cross, Triad Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, the Greensboro Episcopal Housing Ministry and the local affiliate of the National Black Child Development Institute. The third phase sought to understand and disseminate the data uncovered in the first two stages. <p> The study uncovered some important findings. Phase One demonstrated a deep and interdependent, though often hidden, relationship between the religious and social services communities that especially developed during the eighties and nineties. During the Reagan/Bush period interactions between the two communities changed from an incremental to a more comprehensive relationship, from social agencies primarily utilizing congregational facilities to depending on volunteers and financial support from religious congregations. Phase Two revealed that the relationships between the two communities were characterized as logical, developmental, well organized, pragmatic, dynamic, at times contractual and most always reciprocally rewarding. A community spirit was created between the social service and religious communities built on a commitment to voluntarism and helping other people. <p> Because so many of the Greensboro agencies were affiliated nationally, Wineburg deduced that his findings could be applied in other communities as well. Questions remained as to what effect government pressure on religious communities to contribute more resources might have on their volunteer spirit.