World magazine recently highlighted the impressive impact of the community outreach of one urban congregation in Manhattan. This inspiring story is just one example of the uniquely powerful effectiveness of indigenous faith-based service in neighborhoods burdened by enormous financial and societal problems. At a time of cutbacks in government services, the faith community remains as a longstanding bulwark of support and outreach to those who are in need.
As research throughout the last decade has shown, religious practice has been linked to a greater likelihood of charitable outreach. Church attendance is associated with an increased likelihood of volunteering—both through organized programs and informal acts of compassion. In fact, this association holds true even on the macro-level: National-levels of church attendance are linked to an increased likelihood of volunteerism among citizens.
In addition, religious observance is even linked to increased volunteerism that is not church-related outreach. Likewise, church attendance, religious commitment, and church membership are associated with a greater likelihood and higher level of charitable donations.
Like the powerful impact of the relatively small congregation of the Manhattan Bible Church documented by World, faith-based communities throughout the nation have proven the effectiveness of personal, heartfelt outreach in restoring the lives of individuals and their families.
In fact, faith-based initiatives have a unique capacity to elicit personal responsibility and a sense of hope among those served, because assistance is often provided by those who personally experienced and surmounted similar challenges. For example, the referee who coordinates basketball games for at-risk youths at the Manhattan Bible Church is an ex-offender whose life was transformed through similar outreach.
Rather than simply providing handouts, faith-inspired outreach typically focuses on rebuilding the sustaining, foundational relationships that can bring long-term restoration. Such outreach provides an exciting, effective paradigm for addressing the conditions of those who are most in need and creating an avenue for those who were once dependent to become agents of transformation themselves.