Congregations as social service providers: Services, capacity, culture, and organizational behavior

Ram A. Cnaan, Jill W. Sinha, Charlene C. McGrew

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Social welfare is traditionally discussed as a mixture of public, private, communal, and familial enterprise. Indeed, most textbooks and programs focus on the changing balance between these four circles of care. In the United States, a fifth and recently prominent circle of care exists and plays a major role, namely congregation-based social service provision. In this article, we first explain why faith-based care is so paramount in the United States, including a short discussion about the political developments in faith-based efforts. We then show the scope of congregational involvement in social service provision based on a large study of congregations. The rest of the article is dedicated to key administrative challenges regarding this mode of social service provision with a focus on their capacity, cultural characteristics, and organizational behavior. The latter topic is divided between start-up of new projects by congregations and issues related to running social programs in congregational settings. We conclude with a summary and discussion about the place of congregations as social service providers in the American welfare arena.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOrganizational and Structural Dilemmas in Nonprofit Human Service Organizations
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9780203050774
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Address correspondence to: Ram A. Cnaan, PhD, Professor and Director, Program for the Study of Organized Religion and Social Work, University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Locust Walk, D-19, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6214 (E-mail: The authors wish to thank the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Buford Foundation for technical and financial support that were necessary for the completion of this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Administrative challenges
  • Alternative social services delivery
  • Congregations
  • Faith-based social services
  • Welfare-mix

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (all)
  • Business, Management and Accounting (all)


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