Social work with religious volunteers: activating and sustaining community involvement.
Social workers in diverse community practice settings recruit and
work with volunteers from religious congregations. This article reports
findings from two surveys: 7,405 congregants in 35 Protestant
congregations, including 2,570 who were actively volunteering, and a
follow-up survey of 946 volunteers. It compares characteristics of
congregation volunteers and nonvolunteers. Volunteers tended to be
married, older, more highly educated, longer term congregational
members, and to score higher on all measures of faith maturity and faith
practice than did nonvolunteers. Volunteers perceived their involvement
as meaningful, important, and challenging. A large majority of
volunteers (80 percent) reported changes in faith, attitudes and values,
and behavior as results of their volunteer work. Findings provide
insights into how religious individuals begin and continue to volunteer
in service settings and how congregations promote high levels of
community service among their members. These findings have implications
for effective social work practice with congregation volunteers.
KEY WORDS: community service; congregations; faith-based organizations; voluntarism; volunteers
Volunteerism (Demographic aspects)
Social case work (Demographic aspects)
Religious institutions (Social aspects)
Garland, Diana R.
Myers, Dennis M.
Wolfer, Terry A.
|Publication:||Name: Social Work Publisher: National Association of Social Workers Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 National Association of Social Workers ISSN: 0037-8046|
|Issue:||Date: July, 2008 Source Volume: 53 Source Issue: 3|
|Topic:||Event Code: 290 Public affairs|
|Product:||Product Code: 8660000 Religious Organizations NAICS Code: 81311 Religious Organizations SIC Code: 8661 Religious organizations|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
Even as the call for volunteer involvement in many arenas of
community service is increasing (Grube & Piliavin, 2000), research
studies report a decline in volunteerism among those long known for
their service: older women (Gallagher, 1994; Phillips, Little, &
Goodine, 2002), long-term service volunteers (Macduff, 2004), and
retirees (Caro & Bass, 1997). Social work administrators have
difficulty attracting sufficient volunteers for caseloads that include
people who are marginalized, such as intravenous drug users and people
with chronic mental illness (Marx, 1999). In the face of this decline in
volunteerism, religious congregations continue to incubate and offer
significant volunteer resources to their communities (Chaves, Konieczny,
Beyerlein, & Barman, 1999). Social workers have a growing body of
research that describes the extent of involvement of congregations in
social service provision (Cnaan, Wineburg, & Boddie, 1999; Wineburg,
2001). Few studies help social workers understand the motivations of
congregation volunteers and the challenges of working with them,
however. Consequently, social workers have little guidance for
effectively engaging, rewarding, and sustaining this major segment
within the shrinking volunteer pool.
Congregation attendance is the best general predictor of involvement in volunteer service (Gerard, 1985; Greeley, 1997; Hoge, Zech, McNamara, & Donahue, 1996; L. D. Nelson & Dynes, 1976; Park & Smith, 2000; Smith, 2004; Wuthnow, 1995). Despite the common assumption that theologically conservative congregations are less concerned with social action and social programs than are theologically liberal congregations, Mock (1992) found no evidence of a direct relationship between congregations' theological conservatism or liberalism and their community service and social activism; all the Christian congregations he studied had a theological rationale for community involvement. Furthermore, whether theologically conservative or liberal, congregations' service programs target community members as recipients more often than their own congregants; they are not just taking care of their own (Boddie, Cnaan, & Dilulio, 2001).
Congregations often work collaboratively, sending their members as volunteers to serve through community organizations and service coalitions. Chaves examined three common program types offered by congregations--food, housing, and homeless services--and found that only a minority (12 percent) of congregations administer their own programs in these areas. Typically, congregations support programs and activities operated by other social services organizations (Chaves, 1999).
When compared with nonvolunteers, volunteers are more likely to be more highly educated (Chambre, 1984), to have higher incomes (Gronbjerg & Never, 2002; Park & Smith, 2000), to be working part-time (although retirement is not related to volunteering) (Gronbjerg & Never, 2002; Park & Smith, 2000), and to be married (Uslaner, 2002). Variables significantly associated with the decision to volunteer include previous volunteer experience (Caro & Bass, 1997; Chambre, 1987; Dye, Goodman, Roth, Bley, & Jensen, 1973); a religious identity passed on from parents (Park & Smith, 2000); more reflective disposition, less concern with material aspects of life, and greater need for contemplation and prayer (Gerard, 1985); better health and a greater preference for active pursuits rather than spending long periods of time watching television (Gerard, 1985); an attitude of forgiveness (Wuthnow, 2000); and simply being invited to volunteer (Bowman, 2004; Park & Smith, 2000; Roehlkepartain, Naftali, & Musegades, 2000). In addition, several factors appear to sustain volunteer involvement, including being connected with other volunteers (Cnaan, Boddie, Handy, Yancey, & Schneider, 2002; M. C. Nelson, 1999), receiving multiple forms of social support for the volunteer activity (Ashcraft & Kedrowicz, 2002), and having the opportunity to develop genuine relationships with service recipients (Lawrence, 2000).
This language is all the more important for religious volunteers because the expectation that faith should lead to service pervades religious thought (Campolo, 1983; Hessel, 1988; R.A. Nelson, 1990). Dykstra (1999) described the activities--referred to as "practices of faith"--that collectively constitute a fife of faith for Christians, for example. These behaviors include worship, studying scripture, prayer and meditation, forgiving others, and giving financially. Some practices also are related directly to volunteer service: providing hospitality and care to strangers, suffering with and for one another and neighbors, specific acts of service, and activities that promote social justice.
Religious thought suggests that faith and service have a dynamic, transactional relationship. For example, according to the Christian Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the effects of faith are twofold: justification (with God) and service (to neighbor). In fact, faith and service are so closely related in Luther's thought that "it is impossible, indeed, to separate (them), just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire" (McElway, 1990, p. 176). Faith motivates volunteers to serve, and serving, in turn, may deepen and transform the volunteer's faith, leading to a greater commitment to service, compassion for those who suffer in unjust social systems, and the potential for more radical engagement in the community. This study attempted to develop an understanding of congregation volunteers, including the extent to which they experienced the relationship between faith and service as transactional.
This project studied congregation volunteerism that contributes directly to the array of formal services available in the community. It did not include acts of kindness, charity, or social action that take place in informal human interaction. The research questions were as follows:
* What are the demographic characteristics of congregation volunteers?
* What motivates them to serve?
* Where are they serving?
* What are the demographic characteristics of service recipients?
* What supports for community volunteering do congregations provide?
* What immediate and long-term impact does community service have on volunteers?
* What are the implications for social work practice with volunteers?
Sample of Congregations
The project involved a purposive sample of 35 congregations located in Michigan (n = 7), New York (n = 1), South Carolina (n = 8), Texas (n = 12), Louisiana (n = 1), and Southern California (n = 6). The project limited itself to congregations that were urban or suburban rather than rural, because of the greater opportunities for involvement in formal social services; that were Protestant Christian, because the project was not large enough to study the whole array of U.S. religious congregations; and that were involved in at least one community service program. The sample included congregations with diverse denominational identities and affiliations: Baptist (including Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, National Baptist, and Missionary Baptist) (n = 9); Christian Reformed (n = 7); United Methodist (n = 5); "nondenominational" (n = 3); Episcopal (n = 3); Presbyterian (n = 3); Assemblies of God (n = 2);Lutheran (n = 1); Seventh Day Adventist (n = 1); and African Methodist Episcopal (n = 1). Researchers also selected a distribution of congregations that were predominantly white (n = 18), Latino (n = 5), African American (n = 9), or multiethnic, with no dominant ethnic group (n = 3).
The research team developed two survey instruments, the Congregation Survey and the Volunteer Survey. They invited all those present at the time the survey was conducted in the sample congregations to complete the first survey, and also those involved in volunteer service to complete the second survey. The team refers to those surveyed as "attenders," therefore, to avoid the varying meanings of "membership" in differing Christian traditions and to recognize that some members were no doubt absent the day the surveys were administered. The team piloted both instruments in congregation groups and refined them on the basis of feedback from those groups.
Congregation Survey. The Congregation Survey gathered demographic information about attenders--length of time attending the congregation, frequency of church attendance, gender, ethnicity, age, educational level, household structure, and employment status. It also included a brief version of the Faith Maturity Scale (FMS), a 24-item instrument that assumes faith develops over time, shaped by maturational processes (Piedmont & Nelson, 2001). The FMS was developed in a project studying personal faith and denominational loyalty in six major Protestant denominations using three panels of experts (Benson & Eklin, 1990). This scale's core dimensions are the vertical, or involvement in experiences with the transcendent, and the horizontal, or involvement in social services and social justice (Benson, Donahue, & Erickson, 1993). Significant correlations between the independent ratings of congregants' faith by congregation leaders and the FMS scores of these congregants confirmed construct validity. The scale accurately predicted that faith maturity would be associated with age of the respondent and attitudes that value human diversity and welfare (Benson et al., 1993).
The developers of the FMS report Cronbach's alpha reliability scores (.84 to .89) that are consistent across applications with different age groups and denominations (Benson et al., 1993). In this study, Cronbach's alpha was .92 for the total FMS, .89 for the vertical dimension, and .88 for the horizontal dimension. The survey did not include the instrument name "Faith Maturity Scale," to avoid bias in responses toward what respondents might perceive as greater amounts of "maturity."
The survey also included the Christian Faith Practices Scale (CFPS), a list of 13 faith behaviors or "practices," developed from the theoretical work of Bass and Dykstra (Bass, 1997; Bass & Dykstra, 1997; Dykstra, 1991, 1999). The items represent an effort by the research team to operationalize Christian faith behaviorally. Cronbach's alpha for the practice scale was .86.
A final section of the survey asked respondents to indicate whether they were involved in community ministry, a term familiar in American Protestant congregation life (Bobo & Tom, 1996; Dudley, 1991, 1996; Garland et al., 2002) and defined on the survey as "involvement in activities encouraged by your church that support the physical, material, emotional, and social well-being of people from your congregation, neighborhood, and community." The survey provided examples of community ministry to facilitate accurate responses.
Volunteer Survey. The Volunteer Survey obtained detailed information about the experiences of those who answered "yes" to the question about community ministry on the Congregation Survey. Open-ended questions asked about types of service, recipients, specific volunteer activities, and any changes volunteers experienced in their faith, values, attitudes, and behaviors. On checklists using seven-point Likert scales ranging from 1 = never to 7 = always, respondents described congregation support for volunteer activities, the relationship with service recipients, motivation to volunteer, satisfaction with the experience, and the extent to which the community ministry involves working with people different from themselves. A final checklist asked respondents to describe how they see the relationship between service and "sharing the Christian gospel" (that is, "evangelism" or proselytizing). This relationship is a particularly salient issue for social services programs partnering with congregation volunteers. This checklist also uses a seven-point Likert scale ranging from 1 = strongly disagree" to 7 = strongly agree. Based on work by Unruh (1999b), examples of the items include "The best way to meet the needs of people is by sharing the Christian gospel with them"; "meeting people's needs is my way of sharing the Christian gospel--through what I do more than through what I say"; and "community ministry is not related to sharing the Christian gospel."
Seven team members collected data over a one-year period. They administered the Congregation Survey in the setting that maximized the participation of the largest number of attenders, recognizing that congregations have diverse cultures of participation. Leaders of the congregations guided the setting for the survey, in consultation with the research team.
Congregation leaders perceived that the information from the survey would be helpful to them in nurturing the relationship between service and faith, and the leadership of each congregation received a full report of the survey findings for their congregation. Therefore, it was in the leaders' best interest to collaborate in maximizing congregation participation. For 14 of the congregations, the survey setting chosen was the Sunday morning worship service. Some congregations wove the survey into the actual worship time; others administered it at the end of the service. Other congregations chose to complete the survey during their religious education programs (Sunday school or weeknight Bible study). In all cases, the research team collected the Congregation Survey at the time of group administration. Therefore, the sample consisted of virtually all those who were in attendance at the given occasion. The group administration and support of congregation leaders appeared to ensure almost total participation in the survey, although the team did not count those in attendance to determine how many declined to participate. Surveys included a cover sheet describing the project, its voluntary nature, and contact information for the lead university's institutional review board.
Distributing the Volunteer Survey was more challenging, because it meant determining which of those completing the first instrument met the criterion of being involved in community service. In some congregations, both surveys were distributed at the same time, with encouragement to those who currently were volunteering also to complete the second survey. In others, congregation leaders distributed the second survey, which was sealed for review only by the research team. Consequently, the Volunteer Survey was neither a survey of all volunteers in the congregation nor a random sample, but rather a survey of those who self-identified and were willing to participate.
Sample Size and Response Rates
In total, 7,405 attenders completed the Congregation Survey. Nearly half of the respondents (46.5 percent, n = 3,444) reported being personally involved in community ministry activities. Of those who reported that they were involved in community ministry, 946 (27 percent) completed the Volunteer Survey.
The research team used a range of statistical tests to address the research questions. The team used t tests and chi-square measures to analyze the differences between congregation volunteers and nonvolunteers on interval level and categorical variables. To identify possible predictors of community service, the team performed a logistic regression, with respondent participation in community service as the dichotomous dependent variable. To assess the factors that motivate an individual to serve, the team used t tests to compare volunteers and nonvolunteers on both the FMS and CFPS. Because these comparisons involved more than 3,000 individuals in each group, excessive statistical power could bias the results toward statistical significance. To address this issue, the team performed a separate set of comparisons on a random sample of 200 individuals in each of the two groups. The team used logistic regression analyses to examine the immediate and long-term effect of community ministry on volunteers' values, behavior, and faith. The primary criterion for reporting statistically significant findings of the study was p < .01. One exception was that a lower threshold of p < .05 was applied to increase measurement sensitivity to volunteer and contextual characteristics that effect changes in values, behavior, and faith.
Demographic Characteristics of Congregation Volunteers
Compared with nonvolunteers, volunteers in this sample were significantly more likely to be female (59.4 percent, n = 2,037), highly educated (bachelor's degree or higher 53 percent, n = 1,817), older (M = 45.5), married (60.9 percent, n = 2,095), and more involved in gainful employment (hours/week M = 34.8). Of 7,180 respondents who answered the item on the Congregation Survey about ethnicity, nearly two-thirds (64.2 percent, n = 4,608) were white, nearly one-fifth (18.3 percent, n = 1,312) were African American, and more than one-tenth (12.6 percent, n = 903) were Hispanic/Latino. Native Americans, Pacific Asian Americans, and multiracial respondents accounted for less than 5 percent of the sample. The ethnic identities of those who completed the Volunteer Survey were proportionally similar: 67 percent (n = 2,313) were white, 21 percent (n = 712) were African American, and 11 percent (n = 368) were Hispanic/Latino.
Volunteers have been members of their congregations significantly longer (M = 13 years, n = 3,212, SE = .23) than have nonvolunteers (M = 10.9 years, n = 3,260, SE = .21; t = 6.80, df = 6,470,p = .000). Significantly more congregation volunteers (61.4 percent, n = 2,067) attended worship and other congregation activities more than once a week, on average, than those who did not volunteer (33.1 percent, n = 1,123) [[chi square](4, N = 6,763) = 579.73, p = .000]. Volunteers reported that they have participated in community service for an average of 12.4 years (SD = 11.9 years, n = 861) and that they had provided an average of 5.2 years (SD = 5.8 years, n = 870) of service in their current service setting.
Twenty-two percent of volunteers (n = 207) were involved in a community ministry more than once a week, 35 percent (n = 329) were involved once a week, 28.8 percent (n = 282) served one or more times a month, and only 11.5 percent (n = 109) were involved less than once per month. A logistic regression analysis determined whether ethnicity, gender, age, education, hours worked per week, and length of congregation membership were related to volunteering (see Table 1). For each hour worked at employment, the probability of being involved in volunteering declined by 1 percent. For each additional year a person had been a member of the congregation, the probability of service involvement increased by 1.1 percent.
In summary, volunteers in these congregations parallel other researchers' descriptions of volunteers--that is, that more highly educated people and people working part-time are more likely to volunteer. These findings build on earlier research, showing not only that congregation involvement is associated with volunteerism, but also that the longer people have been involved with a congregation and the more active they are in congregation life the more likely they are to volunteer.
Motivation to Serve
When asked whether they agreed that "my life is filled with meaning and purpose" there was no significant difference between volunteers and nonvolunteers. Volunteers (M = 20.4, n = 3,435, SE = .07) indicated significantly higher levels of motivation to serve than did nonvolunteers (19 < .01; M = 17.8, n = 3,540, SE = .08). Volunteers scored significantly higher than nonvolunteers on all measures of faith maturity and practice, including the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the FMS and the CFPS. Analyses of the stratified random sample of 200 also revealed statistically significant results for the overall FMS total, the horizontal dimension of the FMS, and the CFPS. The FMS vertical dimension was marginally significant (p < .09). These results confirm that the differences observed with the large sample sizes represent reliable differences and are not the result of excessive statistical power.
On the Evangelism Scale, 87 percent (n = 819) of volunteers agreed that the best way to share the gospel is through "what I do more than what I say," and 77 percent (n = 730) described working for social change as a way to share the gospel. At the other end of this continuum, 90 percent (n = 805) disagreed with the statement "community ministry is not related to sharing the Christian gospel." Eighty-six percent (n = 820) agreed with the item that meeting people's needs "provides an opening for sharing the Christian gospel." It is clear that these volunteers overwhelmingly see their service as an opportunity to share their faith with service recipients, but how that sharing takes place varies from verbalizing their faith to expressing it in actions.
Volunteer Work Settings
The settings in which volunteers were working were incredibly diverse. The team developed categories of populations served. Twenty percent (n = 179) of volunteers worked with people in crisis, such as illness (for example, parish nursing) or family disruption (for example, at-risk children's care programs). The next largest group (18.9 percent, n = 179) were in service programs responding to physical needs, such as feeding programs for the homeless population, programs building low-income housing, and transportation to community services. Many were involved in programs providing education, training, or advocacy (18.7 percent, n = 177), such as child tutoring, English classes for immigrants, budgeting and job skills training for welfare recipients, and nutrition counseling. The remaining 42.5 percent were working in a wide variety of other service settings.
The service activity occurred on the congregation's premises for 40.8 percent (n = 343) of volunteers. For 25.6 percent (n = 215) of volunteers, the service took place on the premises of a service program in the community. Some volunteers (19.1 percent, n = 161) reported that the home or the neighborhood of recipients was the location of the community ministry, and 14.4 percent (n = 121) reported serving in "other" venues. Sixty-two percent (n = 587) never or rarely felt that their safety was threatened by the neighborhoods in which they served; however, 38 percent felt somewhat or significantly threatened.
Demographic Characteristics of Service Recipients
Most congregation volunteers (67 percent, n = 2,309) reported providing service both to congregation members and to community residents who were not members of the congregation. Volunteers expressed awareness that they differed from recipients in ethnicity (60 percent, n = 577), income (79 percent, n = 719), education (79 percent, n = 709), personal habits (63 percent, n = 601), physical and emotional characteristics (44 percent, n = 413), and religious beliefs (43 percent, n = 406). They were less likely to report differences in political ideas (30 percent, n = 289) and sexual orientation (17 percent, n = 156), probably because there was not a reason to engage these aspects of life in the service settings in which they were volunteering. Thirty-two percent of volunteers reported that they worked with service recipients of mixed ages, 20.4 percent worked with children, 16.5 percent with adults, and 7.4 percent with older adults.
Congregational Supports for Community Volunteering
Volunteers received various forms of support for their service from their congregation. The survey asked respondents to answer "yes," "no," or "don't know" to a list of possible kinds of congregation support. Respondents reported that congregations were most likely to provide publicity and financial support and least likely to provide spiritual guidance related to their volunteerism (see Table 2).
More than half of the respondents (n = 548) noted that leaders never (24 percent), rarely (17 percent), or only once in a while (11 percent) encouraged them to think about and discuss their expectations or to reflect critically on their experiences. Fewer than one-fourth of volunteers (22 percent, n = 211) reported that their congregation leaders often provided them with supportive and challenging feedback. In short, most congregations provide their volunteers with publicity, financial support, and recognition. More than half of the volunteers know that others in the congregation are praying for them, but only a minority receive any spiritual guidance related to their involvement, even though they are motivated to serve by their faith.
Immediate and Long-Term Effect of Community Ministry on Volunteers
Most volunteers (71 percent, n = 674) perceived that the work involved important responsibilities, and 60 percent (n = 562) viewed it as challenging. Most reported experiencing changes in values (81 percent, n = 765), behavior (67 percent, n = 625), and faith (74 percent, n = 678). A logistic regression analysis was conducted predicting the probability of volunteers saying that they did not experience changes. Independent variables in the model include gender (58 percent female, n = 549), education level (college graduate or higher) (66.1 percent college graduate, n = 625), ethnicity (79.5 percent white, n = 752), extent of preparation for service by the congregation (M = 11.9, SE = .13), extent to which the volunteer perceived differences between themselves and the recipient (M = 35, SE = .31), meaning of the community service for the volunteer (M = 15.7, SE = .12), age (M = 50, SE = .52), and hours of gainful employment (M = 24.9, SE = .59). The standardized regression weights for predicting whether volunteers reported no changes in values, behavior, and faith are presented in Table 3.
Perceived differences between service recipients and volunteers were associated with greater changes in values, behavior, and faith. Respondents who reported that their service was meaningful also reported experiencing changes in values and behavior. College graduates were less likely to report that their values, behavior, and faith changed as a result of the volunteer experience than were less-educated volunteers.
Volunteers responded to open-ended questions about changes in their values in the following ways: greater awareness or appreciation of human diversity (15 percent, n = 143), more personal evaluation and reflection (11.5 percent, n = 109), and greater awareness of the needs of others (11 percent, n = 103). Of the 931 volunteers who responded, 574 wrote examples of behavioral change, including being more willing to serve others (12.5 percent, n = 118); using different priorities that govern lifestyle decisions (11.7 percent, n = 111); showing greater compassion (8.8 percent, n = 83); communicating with more understanding and being less judgmental of others (4.2 percent, n = 40); and acting intentionally, recognizing that "I can make a difference" (4.5 percent, n = 43).
In short, most of these volunteers reported a wide diversity of changes in their knowledge, values, and faith as a result of their service to the community, and open-ended responses indicated that these changes were experienced as positive.
IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Attenders in these 35 congregations reported significant levels (46 percent) of volunteering in formalized human services programs within their communities. Their responses to the Congregation and Volunteer Surveys offer social workers valuable insights into how religious individuals begin and continue to volunteer in service settings and how congregations promote high levels of community service involvement among their members. These observations imply ways in which social workers can increase the likelihood that congregants will choose to volunteer and to stay involved. They also suggest some of the ethical challenges of work with congregation volunteers.
Engage Congregations as Incubators of Volunteer Service
The longer attenders are involved in congregation life, the greater the probability that they will volunteer in community social services; the culture of congregations effectively encourages volunteerism. Recruiting volunteers from congregations thus needs to take account of and collaborate with the congregation's culture of service. For example, members are more likely to volunteer in community service programs that are sanctioned by the congregation through publicity, financial support, and recognition for volunteers. For social workers who are not part of the congregation's life, working with a congregation requires cultural competence, much like working in other cross-cultural settings. It may involve developing a relationship with one or more cultural guides who will orient the social worker to the cultural context and provide access to the congregation's leaders and decision-making structures. Finally, social workers need to be sensitive to how their own beliefs, values, and attitudes are or are not congruent with those of the congregation and its potential volunteers.
Provide Challenging Experiences
Most volunteers in our sample reported changes in behavior, values, and faith as outcomes of their volunteering. These changes motivate continued and even increased service involvement. The more experienced volunteers exhibit significantly higher levels of faith maturity and frequency of faith practices. More challenging experiences have the greatest impact on volunteers' faith--whether the challenge is relating to service recipients who are different from self, serving in a setting that demands new skills or knowledge, or being in unfamiliar territory. Social workers in community programs thus can communicate to congregation leaders the benefits of encouraging their congregations to move outside their "comfort zone" Volunteer service with diverse populations and in diverse settings nurtures a more mature and active faith.
Such an approach to shaping volunteer experiences focuses on the quality of the experience for the volunteers and the potential for nurturing their understanding and engagement in the social concerns of the community, not just how volunteers can fill gaps in social services provision. This approach contrasts with characterizations of volunteers simply as free labor to replace a dismantled public network of social services, a characterization that ignores what motivates religious volunteers and what sustains their involvement.
Clarify the Evangelism and Service Issue
Concerns about volunteers proselytizing may inhibit social workers from recruiting congregation volunteers, but those concerns are supported only in part by this study. The overwhelming majority (87 percent) of volunteers in this study reported that they saw actions as more important than words in sharing their faith, and 77 percent reported that working for social change was a way to share their faith. These findings seem especially significant given that a majority of the participants were from evangelical congregations.
Congregation volunteers should be helped to understand the proscription against evangelizing in many community social services programs. Setting this boundary without exploring the reasons for it is an inadequate response, however, in the light of our finding that these volunteers overwhelmingly see their service as integrally related with sharing their faith. As nonprofessional helpers, many have not had opportunity to explore what it means to be a client dependent on service and the resulting power differential between volunteer and recipient--that is, that a service recipient may perceive that embracing or not embracing the service provider's belief system influences the availability or quality of service. Breaching another's self-determination is incongruent with many religious ethical systems, as well as with social work ethics. Moreover, many volunteers believe that their service is their witness, and it is always ethical to provide service keenly attuned to the needs of clients, whereas "talking about God' is not necessarily or normally evangelism" (Sherwood, 2002, p. 3). Clearly, volunteers deserve an opportunity to explore their beliefs and values related to sharing their faith in actions and in words, with skillful guidance from both social service and religious leaders. Part of this exploration includes sharing information and then assessing the fit between volunteers' understanding of faith sharing and the program's expectations.
Social workers may be so concerned about the potential of volunteers sharing their faith inappropriately with service recipients that they actually seek to uncouple service and faith rather than to encourage the volunteers to reflect on the connections. Such conversation and reflection can provide a way to assess the appropriateness of the volunteer's faith expressions with the service recipients and tap into resources that can sustain volunteers, even, and maybe especially, when the service is difficult and "success" is hard to define.
Activate Congregation Resources to Sustain Service
This study replicates the findings of others (Cnaan & Cascio, 1999; Lammers, 1991) that social services retain volunteers by providing recognition, encouraging learning new skills, and providing intrinsic rewards, such as meaningful assignments and the opportunity to relate to other volunteers. An analysis of the long-serving volunteers (M = 12 years) in our sample suggested the importance also of meaningful service that brings volunteers into relationships with diverse recipients and congregation support for their work.
Volunteers receive a range of supports from their congregations that includes financing of the service program, publicity about the work, training, and recognition of the value of what they are doing. Congregations cannot support the work of their members, however, if they are not aware of it. Social workers can explore whether and how the congregation is aware of a volunteer's involvement and consider enlisting or enhancing the congregation's role in bolstering and recognizing commitment. Also, a coalition of congregations may be willing to collaborate in providing the kinds of activities that promote retention and the connection of service to faith--training, support and debriefing sessions, and recognition events.
Create Opportunities to Link Service with Faith
Higher levels of faith maturity and practice were significantly associated with opportunity to intentionally reflect on and integrate the service experience with religious beliefs and values. Unfortunately, volunteers in our sample reported that they were infrequently offered such experiences. Thus, they have missed a step in the service experience that could deepen the faith that initially motivates and later sustains their service. Social workers who are a part of the faith community can provide venues for such reflection as a part of their professional role of volunteer support. Those who are outside the congregation's culture can encourage congregation leaders to develop these kinds of supports for volunteers. Congregation leaders can provide opportunities to make the connections of service with faith overt in informal discussions, in volunteer support and debriefing groups, and in training activities. This study suggests that both social workers and congregation leaders need to learn from volunteers about what motivates and sustains their service and the connections of that service with their faith--and how those connections can be strengthened.
STUDY LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH
The congregations were purposively, not randomly, sampled, thus limiting the extent to which our findings can be generalized beyond the congregations in this study. Because the data are cross-sectional, causal patterns cannot be determined with any certainty. Those who have had bad experiences or have been burned out in volunteering experiences probably had stopped volunteering or were less likely to complete the Volunteer Survey. When multivariate analysis included seven or more variables, the number of valid cases was approximately 65 percent of the total sample. The study did not specify the variety and strength of the motives that propel religious volunteers to serve and to continue engagement. The study also did not evaluate the effectiveness or impact of volunteer service in the lives of service recipients or on their communities.
Despite the limitations, these congregations and their volunteers provide social workers with provocative and important questions about the role of social workers who work with volunteers, as well as for future research. Future research should include volunteers from other religious traditions and also in-depth inquiry into the personal and congregation characteristics distinguishing episodic and long-term service engagement.
Religious volunteers can be motivated and sustained more effectively in community service by understanding the congregation and service context and the relationship between volunteer service and religious beliefs and values. This work requires significant time, cross-cultural competence, and professional expertise in working with congregations and their volunteers. The result, however, can be that members of religious communities find their values changed, their understanding of recipients and commitment to service deepened, and their commitment to social justice strengthened because they serve.
Original manuscript received December 20, 2005
Final manuscript received April 2, 2007
Accepted May 31, 2007
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Diana R. Garland, PhD, LCSW, DCSW, is professor and dean, and Dennis M. Myers, PhD, LCSW, is professor and associate dean, Graduate Studies, School of Social Work, Baylor University, P. O. Box 97120, Waco, TX 76798-7120; e-mail: Diana Garland@baylor. edu. Terry A. Wolfer, PhD, ACSW, is associate professor, College of Social Work, University of South Carolina, Columbia. This project was funded by a generous grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. The authors are grateful to their research partners in this project: David Sherwood, Michael Sherr, Beryl Hugen, and Paula Sheridan.
Table 1: Logistic Regression Predicting Volunteer Participation in Community Service Variable B SE Wald p Exp(B) White -.012 0.059 0.04 Age 0.001 0.002 0.26 Female 0.100 0.054 3.39 College graduate 0.590 0.035 113.94 <.01 1.838235 Hours worked -0.005 0.001 12.02 <.01 0.995025 How long a member -0.011 0.002 23.05 <.01 1.011122 Constant -0.495 0.133 13.79 <.01 0.609756 Note: Model chi-square 168.3 = p < .01. Table 2: Type of Congregation Support Received by Volunteers Receiving Type of Support Congregation Support (%) n Publicity 74.0 646 Financial support 70.0 613 Congregation recognition 65.7 570 Organized prayer support 53.0 460 Child care 42.7 456 Bible study or other spiritual guidance 35.9 294 Table 3: Standardized Regression Weights on Perception of No Change in Values, Behavior, and Faith (Includes only significant weights) Dependant Variable Independent Variable Values Behavior Faith Female College graduate .63 ** .50 ** .57 * White .66 ** Prepared for service -.07 ** Volunteer/recipient differences -.05 ** -.04 * -.02 * Service meaningful -.24 * -.19 * Age Hours worked [R.sup.2] .10 .11 .07 * p < .05. ** p < .01.
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