Finding congregations: Developing conceptual clarity in the study of faith-based social services

Charlene McGrew, Ram A. Cnaan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The need to assess the effectiveness of faith-based social interventions is pressing. On the one hand, politicians and pundits claim that faith-based organizations are impressively successful and inexpensive. On the other hand, critics claim that faith-based organizations lack the capacity to carry out social services. However, rigorously-collected empirical data is just beginning to appear and is still in short supply, particularly congregations. In this paper, we discuss some critical methodological and conceptual problems that arise from years of academic neglect of faith-based social service provision. We demonstrate how our attempt to create a comprehensive account of congregation-based social services in Philadelphia necessitated defining even such basic terms as 'congregation' and devising novel methods for identifying and gathering information from congregations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-37
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Faith-based interventions
  • Faith-based social services
  • Faithbased organizations
  • Program effectiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Finding congregations: Developing conceptual clarity in the study of faith-based social services'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this