Editor’s note: This column is part two of a two-part series on faith-based social services. The writers — a black Baptist preacher who runs a faith-based workforce development agency and a Jewish professor who has spent the last 30 years studying faith-based social services — have worked together as friends and community partners for 14 years.
Sadly, President Obama’s faith-based efforts will be no more successful than President Bush’s. Obama changed the name of his policy initiative to Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, but in essence it is Bush’s initiative with a new name. Obama’s efforts do not get down into the depths of communities and strengthen existing partnerships, nor do they focus on ways to bring the other half of the community’s congregations, the ones not partnering, into partnerships.
We believe that any faith-based initiative – be it at the national, state or local level – must begin at the grassroots and bring stakeholders together in community partnership to solve, manage and prevent problems. We can and must do this better.
Here are three of many research-based keys to strengthening faith-based social services. If you want to start or advance a congregational ministry, find an agency to partner with that has a clergy member on staff.
(1) Agencies with clergy on staff, be they secular or religious agencies, have many more partnerships with congregations than agencies without clergy on staff. In fact, we found an 11-to-1 difference. These agencies were led or staffed by pastors without pews and people of faith in community ministry (as is our agency, Welfare Reform Liaison Project). Clergy know both the religious and secular social-service world, and they serve as a bridge to both.
(2) If you are in a faith-based or secular agency that serves the least of these, assume that people in congregations want to partner – and plan accordingly and methodically. We found that most congregational leaders want to partner with nonprofits and government to serve the least of these. But simply wanting to partner is different from developing a long-term successful partnership. So plan accordingly.
Welfare Reform Liaison Project’s first effort 13 years ago started by surveying potential partners, meeting them and developing long-term relationships. Today we have hundreds of volunteers from local congregations putting in thousands of hours of volunteer time, which makes our training efforts easier. We didn’t merely pray for these partnerships; we prayed and worked to develop and sustain them.
(3) Use data to guide your planning. We know that faith works, and faith-based social services operate better in broad-based, communitywide partnerships than going it alone. We never set out to measure faith in God. But from the beginning, we set out to measure our success in building successful partnerships with other community organizations.
By following our heart and the data, and ignoring the political hype and arguments about church versus state, we learned the truth about teaching people “how to fish.” No organization is an island in a community’s sisterhood of care.
The best faith-based social services are those that, when buoyed by faith and glued by partnerships, help others see the light and hear the call.
Odell Cleveland is president/CEO and co-founder of the Welfare Reform Liaison Project Inc. in Greensboro, N.C. Bob Wineburg is the Jefferson Pilot Excellence Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. They recently completed the book “Pracademics and Community Change: A True Story of Nonprofit Development and Social Entrepreneurship During Welfare Reform.” Learn more about them at http://vimeo.com/wrlp.