The vast majority of the 353,000 religious congregations in the U.S. are in the business of providing social services in addition to worship, a new study says.
Nearly all congregations provide services beyond spiritual programs, said Independent Sector, a research and advocacy group that released the study on the same day President Bush announced a controversial new plan for government to help faith-based charities deliver social services.
The study spelled out congregations’ big social and economic impact in their communities and in the nonprofit sector.
Sara Melendez, president of Independent Sector, stood by Bush’s side as he signed executive orders for his faith-based strategy, and a new agency to administer the strategy, which has drawn support from many religious groups, as well as criticism from experts who fear it could lead to a dangerous breakdown in the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
Among all congregations, 92 percent offer programs in human services, 90 percent in health services, 74 percent in international activities, 53 percent in education, 50 percent in arts and culture and 40 percent in the environment.
Ninety-two percent of congregations rely on volunteers for the activities, with 43 percent of their hours devoted to programs other than religious worship and education.
Forty percent of congregations reported that social programs represented one of their top three expenses.
Congregations also reported a rise in demand for social services and said they speak out on social issues.
Total revenue of religious congregations was $81.2 billion 1996, with three-fourths of all revenue coming from charitable contributions from individuals.
Congregations represent nearly one-fourth of all nonprofits in the U.S. and involve 45 million volunteers, or nearly half of the 109 million Americans who volunteer.
They employ 1.3 million paid staff, or 11 percent of the nonprofit workforce.