US churches excel at feeding and clothing poor
Despite the challenging economic climate, churches in the US are continuing to register significant levels of outreach in their local communities.
According to a new survey, Outlook for Outreach, 96% of churches said they were serving their local community, particularly in feeding and clothing the poor.
The survey found that the churches were meeting and, in some cases, even exceeding the need for food and clothing at the local level.
Churches were found to be providing less hands-on assistance for unemployment and gang-related violence than the perceived level of need.
Other churches said they were engaging in national disaster relief and housing construction projects, while more than half - 54% - said they send teams on in-country mission trips.
More than two thirds - 70% - said they were involved in international outreach, with 60% funding building projects overseas and 53% travelling abroad to physically assist with the construction work.
Nine in ten churches said they were opening their doors to other organisations to use their facilities for outreach programmes.
The majority of churches identified funding and finding volunteers as the two biggest obstacles to outreach, although 41% of churches said volunteering for outreach projects was on the up and 45% expected their church's outreach budget to increase in the next year.
"Churches engage in all kinds of outreach efforts," says Dave Lantz, of Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, which carried out the study alongside Christianity Today magazine.
"Church leaders need to be aware of the risks associated with outreach and recognise the importance of managing those risks. It's encouraging that many are already taking steps to minimise them."
Churches were also surveyed on the benefits of outreach. Just under two thirds - 62% - identified a sense of maturing discipleship as the number one outcome of serving others.
More than a third of respondents - 35% - said that more previously unchurched people were now attending their church as a result of their outreach efforts.
"Outreach and compassion are important hallmarks of church life," said Marshall Shelley, editorial vice president of Christianity Today.
"The results of this study show the high percentage of churches and church members that are involved in serving their neighbours locally, nationally, and internationally.
"If faith must be exercised to remain healthy, then most churches see outreach as the fitness centre for faith."