About 70% Of Churches Provide Health Services

Armen Hareyan's picture

A groundbreaking survey of more than 6,000 American congregations reveals that churches spend a significant amount of time, energy and money in the ministries of health care.

The Congregational Health Ministry Survey, conducted by the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that a majority of churches are ministering to their communities by providing health care ministries. As the number of uninsured Americans reaches 47 million people, congregations are supplying health education and direct health care services. Many are advocating on behalf of public policy issues related to health care.

According to the survey, about 70 percent of responding churches provide direct health services, with 65 percent offering health education programs within their community. The survey defines direct services as provision of medical care to individuals by trained health care professionals.

"It is not surprising to find that churches see health care as a part of their faith mission and mandate," said Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, deputy general secretary of the NCC for Research and Planning, who supervised the survey. "The results of this survey confirm a higher energy for health care than we might have thought, however, and show that effective health care ministries are being developed by congregations of all sizes to meet the urgent needs of their communities."

NCC leaders say that results of the survey will provide important information for denominational structures, ecumenical agencies, health officials and national policy makers.

"With our national health care system cracked and breaking, this survey shows that churches across the country are doing their best to fill the gaps," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Faith communities have a long and important tradition of providing health services to the most vulnerable in our nation. Now that one in seven Americans has no insurance, and therefore has difficulty accessing needed health care, the work of our churches has never been more important. The bottom line, however, is that they cannot shoulder this burden alone. The health care crisis is a national problem that needs national, bipartisan solutions."

The survey released today found that:

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-- Reporting congregations each have an average of 13.07 health-related activities. The sample of 6,037 responding congregations reported a staggering total of 78,907 health ministry programs.

-- Nearly 300 African American congregations responded to the survey, reporting the same creativity and variety of health care ministries as the total sample.

-- Most reporting congregations provided health care ministries to members and non-members alike.

-- The results indicate that 51 percent of responding congregations offer direct financial support to individuals who need help paying their medical bills.

-- Public policy advocacy was provided by 35 percent of the reporting congregations. Advocacy is accomplished through preaching, group discussions, voter education, communications with government and health care providers and other activities.

-- Direct services reported include counseling, 12-Step Programs, emergency medical funding, mental health counseling, and even the professional support of a parish nurse or health minister.

-- Education programs include providing information on the prevention of disease, maintaining the health of senior citizens, medical programs, and ways to overcome diseases ranging from obesity to HIV/AIDS.

"Local congregations are demonstrating that the volume and scope of health care needs are enormous. They have shown an incredible ability to leverage health care services in extremely creative, innovative and cost-effective ways," said Rev. Lindner. "They know their communities and they respond to their specific needs."