- freely available
Religions 2016, 7(9), 111; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7090111
Paradoxically, the ultimate ‘success’—of having a project adopted by an outside funder in the government or voluntary sector—was often regarded as a mixed blessing by congregations. Whilst they were glad to be relieved of constant anxiety about finding financial and human resources, they also resented their loss of control and were anxious about being pulled in to a more formal caring world…The affiliation brought essential contacts and expertise into the group but also created pressures to professionalization and formality. Additional…questions were raised about the extent to which [the activity] was still a congregational [italics in original] project (, p. 167)…Even though such sponsorship reflects project success and offers the possibility of expansion with less responsibility, it may take from the volunteers what they most value: the ability to control the project and run it according to their own preferences.(, p. 169)
[P]eople in the congregational camp are worried about the impact that such collaboration with government may have on the congregation as a place of worship. It is possible congregations will be forced to apply practices that are not well accepted by members and that will impinge on their religious freedom and sense of being. The experience of transforming volunteer programs into professional and paid ones is often accompanied by increased bureaucratization…and stagnation…[T]he spirit of volunteerism and enthusiasm in congregations may subside when some members are paid for the work that others formerly provided voluntarily…tensions may build between paid staff and the traditional volunteers, and the volunteers may withdraw.(, p. 7f)
2. Research Method
Well I really want [the congregational council] to own the decision where we go [with regard to the future of the Community Service activity]. I don’t believe it’s the [Parson’s] decision to head off in a certain direction [such as separate Incorporation] because ultimately…the longer they’ve been here the closer they are to going somewhere else…I think the [congregational council] have to own the decision [about] which way we are going…what we’ve got to do to pay our bills and all those sorts of things…three people shouldn’t be worrying themselves sick at night about everything.
In reality it is a fascinating thing, the issue of ownership…There’s a core group who believe in [the community service]. The [congregation] has, as the year progresses, more and more accepted [it] as being a ministry within the congregation, there to stay.
I think unless [congregational community services] enlist the active support of lay-people who take ownership then these activities…[are] fragile organisations, or organisms, subject to the priorities and gifts and self-esteem of the incoming clergy.
It is important to help [the Community Centre] struggle with this issue [of ownership]…If [the congregation] does not “own” the program, it “disowns” the program…Within the [Congregation], ownership has two strong foci of expression - in the clergy and in the volunteers. The [congregation] and the [congregational council] have still to come to terms with its existence, and some still view the [Community Centre] as a “[partner Agency] intrusion” into their program.
3.1. The Social Capital Congregations Provide to Their Linked Social Services
3.1.2. Staff and Board
3.1.4. A Community of Support
3.1.5. A Spiritual Base
3.2. An Observed Pattern of Development Potentially Leading to Disconnection
- In order to secure government funding and/or to meet formal funding requirements, congregational social services seek to appoint suitably qualified personnel who are either active members of the congregation or who are willing to move to the congregation’s locality and become active members of the congregation;
- If such persons are not available, congregational social services seek to appoint suitably qualified persons who, whilst not living locally and/or not members of the congregation offering the social service, identify with the faith perspective of the congregation and endorse it;
- If such persons are not available, congregational social services then seek to appoint suitably qualified persons who agree to abide by the values and ethos of the congregational perspective and social service goals even though not personally engaging with the faith perspective that generates them.
3.3. Strategies That Work to Maintain the Connection
- the emergence of a congregational vision that explicitly incorporates a specific social service as a component of congregational life and mission;
- formal structures of some sort between the congregation and the social service which indicate how the congregation will operate their social service whilst retaining the congregational link and responsibility;
- participation by congregational members in the defined decision-making structures related to the social service as board/committee members;
- announcements about the social service activities, needs, and progress made during the congregational community notices and/or weekly information sheet as part of each worship service along with a promotion of the link through congregational teaching in sermons which maintain an awareness of and reinforce congregational engagement;
- financial contributions to and fundraising for the social service as a part of the congregational budget arrangements along with some involvement by the congregational administrative and/or mission personnel in the social service’s own budgeting processes;
- a logo for the social service that explicitly articulates the congregational linkage with the social service included on all notice boards and church publications;
- provision of a pool of congregational volunteers to work within the social service as their ministry contribution to the congregational mission;
- staff for the social service being appointed from within the congregation as the ministry involvement of these qualified personnel;
- general congregational participation in the activities of the social service e.g., as participants in the craft group established for people with mental health issues or volunteers organized to provide the refreshments for a Coffee and Chat activity for users of the social service;
- congregational provision of buildings that meet the need of the social service, especially ones that have been redesigned to address the social service focus;
- prayer support for the work of the social service to express the faith perspective that the social service is indeed a ministry of the congregation.
3.4. Deterrents to Congregational Ownership Retention
- The complexity of fundraising was identified as a significant deterrent for congregational social services. These matters included the diversity and conditions of government and philanthropic funding requirements and sources. Such funders require the need for the retention of detailed records for programmatic expenditure, and the accountability requirements for reporting accurately on the utilization of funds received;
- The scale and complexity of current program delivery approaches involving complex management procedures to monitor and evaluate such programs including health and safety as well as risk management;
- The limited capacity in skills and personnel of a congregation to resource these management aspects of modern day social service delivery;
- The excessive dependence of congregational social services on retirees, women, and the unemployed for the personnel to staff congregational social services;
- The difficulties in providing adequate supervision and support for the staff that are found, whether paid of voluntary;
- The potential for burnout by highly motivated and committed staff who experience difficulty in drawing a boundary between their social service involvement and their general involvement in congregational life and ministry;
- The commitments of congregational members elsewhere than in social service delivery, such as family life, other aspects of congregational life, and their own work commitments;
- Lack of personal support for volunteers from key congregational leaders including clergy especially at crucial times such as illness;
- The inherent slowness to develop a specific program because of the series of meetings involved with doing so, or conversely the speed with which some leaders such as clergy, implement programs that reflect their agenda rather than an agenda the congregation feel able to resource.
- Establishing specific supervision and mentoring relationships with older people experienced in relevant aspects of congregational social services;
- Negotiating working partnerships with larger, more fully professionalized central church agencies able to offer administrative support such as with financial management and reporting, as well as with staff supervision and training relevant to the programs on offer;
- Ensuring that clergy recognize and respond with the necessary permissions and encouragements to support lay involvement and that they maintain a capacity and accountability to congregations with regard to their program visions and support for the program visions of congregational members;
- Strategically identifying that when actions are taken, such as to employ professional staff, the decision is made with intentional issues in mind. A relevant strategic purpose might reflect the importance of an appointment being actively linked to the congregational life and faith, or the importance of a position being a relevant blend of the less formal volunteer qualities of congregational culture as well as the more formal features of quality social service delivery;
- Ensuring that a congregation intentionally calls lay-people to and supports their training in the range of skills needed for the congregational social services including the knowledge, skills and formal professional recognition of key social service accreditation bodies;
- Maintaining due process when developing new social services and proper accountability processes when operating them, including seeking feedback from service users, congregational members, related community service providers, as well as use of a variety of evaluation strategies that assist service planning and development.
4. Contextual Changes in the Past Decade
Conflicts of Interest
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- 1A program of two congregations in the study which sells secondhand clothing and household items at very low cost affordable to low-income people.
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