Public Release: 

Preliminary Results Of National Congregations Study Are In

American Sociological Association

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. - Preliminary results of the National Congregations Study (NCS) show that approximately two-fifths of congregations would consider applying for government money to support their social service programs. More than half of US congregations indicate that they would not be interested applying for such funding.

Fewer than 5 percent of religious congregations in the US receive government funding for their social service activities, the preliminary findings also show. Mark Chaves, the principal investigator in the study, will present these and other preliminary findings at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Monday, August 24 at 4:30 at the San Francisco Hilton.

The study addresses several important questions raised by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (welfare reform) and its "charitable choice" provision, which encourages states to involve faith-based organizations in the public anti-poverty effort.

"The 'charitable choice' provision has received a lot of attention", said Chaves. "Until now, however, no one has had any idea how much interest there is among congregations in participating in social service delivery in this capacity."

Partly as a result of the charitable choice provision, several states have begun programs designed to encourage congregations to apply for government grants and contracts. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has created a new Center for Community and Interfaith Partnerships. More such initiatives are on the way and legislators and advocates are actively seeking ways both to implement and to expand the "charitable choice" provisions.

"It is not too much to say that there is a social movement afoot to increase the amount of public money for social services run through congregations and other religious organizations," said Chaves.

"Proponents see the potential for great expansion in religious organizations' involvement in social service provision, and they foresee positive outcomes. Opponents see great danger-to religious organizations, to our social welfare system, and to public aid recipients."

Until now, proponents and opponents alike had limited empirical ground from which to assess certain key questions relevant to this issue. The NCS's preliminary findings suggest that the majority of American congregations are not interested in taking advantage of opportunities offered by "charitable choice" initiatives. At the same time, a large minority of American congregations *are* willing to consider turning themselves at least partly into publicly funded social service providers.

The NCS is the most comprehensive national study of American religious congregations ever to be conducted. It is based on a nationally representative sample of approximately 1200 congregations that is of unprecedented quality and scope. A key informant-usually a minister, priest, or rabbi--from each participating congregation was interviewed for approximately one hour about the social composition, practices, and programs of the sampled congregation. Response rate for this effort was close to 80 percent.

These data were collected in the spring and summer of 1998. Data collection has only very recently been completed, and the results released here are from initial analyses of a preliminary data set. These results should be treated as preliminary. They are intended to introduce the NCS, and to indicate the wealth of knowledge that will be forthcoming from this study in the coming months.

Data collection for the National Congregations Study was supported by a major grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., and by smaller grants from Smith Richardson Foundation, Inc., The Louisville Institute, The Nonprofit Sector Research Fund of The Aspen Institute, and The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. NCS data were collected by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, in conjunction with NORC's General Social Survey.

Over five thousand participants are expected at the ASA Annual Meeting, August 21-25 at the San Francisco Hilton and Towers Hotel for hundreds of sessions and presentations on topics including immigration, affirmative action, families and children, health care, and welfare. Journalists are invited to register in the media office, located in rooms 1-2 Union Square on the 4th floor of the San Francisco Hilton, 333 O'Farrell Street.

Contact ASA's public information office at (202) 833-3410 ext. 320, or in the ASA media room during the annual meeting at (415) 923-7549.

The American Sociological Association, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and to promoting the contributions and use of sociology to society.


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