Good works of churches often go unnoticed, research shows

During the summer, volunteers at First Baptist Church in Quanah pack sack lunches for children and teenagers who otherwise would miss meals. Most Americans know churches help feed the hungry, but not as many are aware of other social services congregations provide, a new LifeWay Research study reveals. (Photo/Ken Camp)

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NASHVILLE (RNS)—At least half of Americans realize churches feed and clothe the poor, but far fewer are aware of other social services congregations provide, a new study shows.

LifeWay Research found 60 percent of Americans know of churches that have fed the hungry in the last six months. Half knew of instances where they provided clothing to the poor.

LIFEWAY SERVICE 400But scant percentages of the 1,000 Americans surveyed knew church members teach job skills or help immigrants learn English (13 percent), volunteer to provide foster care (12 percent) or offer tax preparation assistance (8 percent).

“Unless you’ve received help from a church—or been involved in serving others—these kinds of programs may fly under the radar,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based evangelical research firm.

About a third of Americans knew of churches’ work to help disaster victims (39 percent) and shelter the homeless (33 percent). But only a quarter was aware of church members visiting prisoners (25 percent) or offering after-school programs (24 percent).

Although the Bible speaks of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, a significant number of Americans haven’t heard of churches providing any of the 13 service programs cited in the study, and 17 percent were not sure.

Researchers were not surprised to learn people who frequent churches were more aware of these activities.

But less than a third (30 percent) of people who attend services at least once a month knew of churches that had tutored schoolchildren, compared to 8 percent of those who attend less than once a month.

The findings were based on 1,000 surveys completed Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2016, and have an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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