Reprinted with permission from the Independent Sector

The vast majority of America's 353,000 religious congregations provide services to their communities beyond religious worship and education, according to a new report released by Independent Sector. These services cover the entire spectrum of nonprofit activity, from basic human needs to the environment, health, and arts and culture.

Nearly all congregations provide services beyond spiritual programs, including 92% in human services, 90% in health programs, 74% in international activities, 53% in education programs, 50% in arts and culture programs, and 40% in environment programs.

Nine out of ten (92%) congregations rely on volunteers for their activities. While the majority of volunteer hours in churches, synagogues, and mosques focus on religious worship and education, approximately 43% are spent on congregations' other programs.

Congregations also invest significant financial resources in these programs. Forty percent (40%) of congregations reported that programs addressing social needs were one of their top three expenses. These included day care centers, drug recovery programs, homeless shelters, food kitchens, and gifts to disadvantaged families at holiday time.

Many religious groups offer programs directly through their congregation, while some collaborate with other organizations to provide services, including other nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and business.

"This new report makes clear that this nation's religious congregations occupy a unique place in American society in the range of services they provide and the ways in which they are both independent and collaborative," said Susan K.E. Saxon-Harrold, Ph.D., Vice President, Research, Independent Sector.

Increased Demand
Congregations have seen an increased demand in recent years, and their first priority is to serve people in need. As a result, 41% of congregations opened a new program, 40% worked additional hours, and 39% added capacity to their existing programs. If they could not serve the increased need, 64% of congregations referred people to other organizations. In rare instances, 10% of congregations put people on waiting lists while 19% of congregations turned people away. For only 19% of congregations, faith or affiliation with a religion was a prerequisite for gaining access to programs or activities.

Speaking Out
Religious congregations also engage in activities that influence public policy. Thirty-five percent (35%) participated in coalitions with other organizations. A similar percentage of congregations sent a representative to personally meet with elected or appointed public officials. More than 27% of congregations actively supported issues by writing editorials or letters to the editors, and 16% bought advertising time or space in some type of commercial media for advocacy. These efforts by congregations cover the entire spectrum of social issues.

How Congregations Are Funded
The study estimates that total revenue of religious congregations was $81.2 billion in 1996. Three-fourths (79%) of all revenue comes from charitable contributions by individuals. Collections made during religious services were the source of 58% of individuals' contributions to congregations. Other sources of revenue to religious congregations came from "earned income," such as dues and program fees (12%) and school tuition (4%). The remaining 5% is from a variety of sources such as denominational funding and foundation support. Less than 0.03% ($20 million) of congregational revenue came from government.

Religious Congregations' Place in the Nonprofit Sector
The nation's 353,000 religious congregations represent nearly one-fourth of all nonprofit organizations. Religious congregations engage 45 million volunteers, nearly half of the total 109 million Americans who volunteer. Congregations employ approximately 1.3 million paid staff, or 11% of employment within the nonprofit sector. Sixty percent (60%) of average household contributions goes to religious organizations.

About the Report
The report, titled America's Religious Congregations: Measuring their Contribution to Society, presents new analysis from two national surveys conducted by Independent Sector in 1998 and 1993, as well as data from its biennial survey Giving and Volunteering in the United States, 1999.

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