In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Religiously Affiliated Agencies

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Resources
  • Associations
  • Journals
  • Congregations
  • Development of Social Work in Religiously-Affiliated Agencies
  • Origins of Religiously-Affiliated Agencies
  • Policy
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Teaching

Social Work Religiously Affiliated Agencies
Diana R. Garland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0084


Religiously affiliated agencies are organizations founded by a congregation or other religious organization to provide human services. They are characterized by at least one but not necessarily all of the following variables: (1) the mission and values of the organization derive from religious beliefs and practices; (2) the organization identifies with one or more religious congregations or other religious organizations, often expressed in the organization's name and funding streams; (3) the policies reflect the organization's religious mission, such as hiring only persons who are members of a religious group or requiring or inviting staff or clients to participate in religious practices; and (4) the goal of service is that service recipients embrace religious beliefs and values, and program evaluation strategies may measure this outcome. This entry describes resources for understanding religiously affiliated social service agencies, with specific reference to social work in these practice settings.

Introductory Works

Garland 1994 was the first book to examine religiously affiliated agencies from a social work perspective, while Hall 1998 was one of the earlier works to examine religiously affiliated agencies from a more generalized perspective. Although dated, it is still a good introduction to agencies serving children and families with missions derived from religious beliefs and values. Clark and Mason 2001 describes religiously affiliated community action agencies, which have a long history of close and productive ties to religious entities in their communities. By their nature these agencies are nonsectarian, with a broad mission to eliminate the causes and conditions of poverty in their communities. Community action agencies stress local initiative, community building, problem solving, and inclusiveness. Ellor, et al. 1999 examines services to older adults and their families in religious settings. Cnaan, et al. 2002 examines congregations as contexts for social services. Sherwood 2002 addresses the issues of social work values and ethics when the practice context is religious. Wuthnow 2004 and Cnaan, et al. 1999 describe the policy and practice issues involved in providing social services through congregations and religious organizations.

  • Clark, Robert, and Judy Mason. 2001. Community action agencies and faith-based organizations: A legacy of productive partnerships. Washington, DC: National Association of Community Action Agencies.

    Explores the scope and characteristics of relationships between community action agencies and religious groups and organizations.

  • Cnaan, Ram A., with Stephanie C. Boddie, Femida Handy, Gaynor Yancey, and Richard Schneider. 2002. The invisible caring hand: American congregations and the provision of welfare. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    This research team studied what social services congregations are providing to their communities, the nature and extent of these services, and the population groups served.

  • Cnaan, Ram A., with Robert J. Wineburg and Stephanie C. Boddie. 1999. The newer deal: Social work and religion in partnership. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Explores the dismantling of public social service programs at the end of the 20th century and congregations' and religious organizations' subsequent response to unmet needs. At the same time the political gains of the religious right led to increased comfort in making the religious community a focal point of social policy.

  • Ellor, James W., F. Ellen Netting, and Jane M. Thibault. 1999. Religious and spiritual aspects of human service practice. Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press.

    Addresses the challenge of understanding religion and spirituality from the client's perspective, even when it involves a religious tradition unfamiliar to the practitioner.

  • Garland, Diana S. Richmond. 1994. Church agencies: Caring for children and families in crisis. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

    Describes historical and current services provided by congregations and Christian religiously affiliated agencies in child welfare and child and family services. Garland explores religious texts as a foundation and rationale for Christian involvement in child and welfare services and as necessary content for culturally competent social work practice in these settings.

  • Hall, Peter Dobkin. 1998. Of the world or in the world? Assessing the place of religion in the organizational universe. Program on Non-Profit Organizations working paper no. 247. New Haven, CT: Program on Non-Profit Organizations, Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale Univ.

    One of the earlier explorations of the topic of organizations with religious affiliations and purposes.

  • Sherwood, David A. 2002. The relationship between beliefs and values in social work practice: Worldviews make a difference. In Christianity and social work: Readings on the integration of Christian faith and social work practice. Edited by Beryl Hugen and T. Laine Scales, 9–30. Botsford, CT: North American Association of Christians in Social Work.

    Explores the beliefs and values of social work and of religious faith that are both significant in religiously affiliated contexts for social work practice.

  • Thyer, Bruce A. ed. 2007. Special issue, Research on social work practice 17.2.

    A special issue of this journal that reviews research available on the effectiveness of religiously affiliated social service organizations.

  • Wuthnow, Robert. 2004. Saving America? Faith-based services and the future of civil society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Reports the findings of three national studies that conclude that congregations, despite being more numerous, are less important than more specialized religiously affiliated service organizations as service providers. The most effective religiously affiliated agencies are effective for reasons that probably disqualify them from receiving government funding.

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