In fulfilling their most basic purpose, churches offer individuals and families the opportunity to join a community in worshipping a higher power. But, the majority of American churches also offer members the chance to reach out to their fellow man.
Through missions activities, community outreach and the like, churches often extend themselves into their local surroundings in an attempt to make a positive impact. The question is -- how do Americans view church efforts?
In July, the Barna Group released a study that found that the majority of Americans believe that churches play a positive role in their communities. In fact, even non-believers, despite rhetoric coming from some prominent thought leaders, are not overly negative about churches.
On the whole, 78 percent of Americans believe that the presence of a house of worship has a "very" or "somewhat" positive impact on their local communities. On the flip side, only one in 20 Americans see churches as playing a negative role.
Not entirely surprising, those most likely to feel less positive about the role of houses of worship are young people, men, adults who have never married, atheists, agnostics, political liberals, those not registered to vote and people living in the West and Northwest. The Christian Examiner reports:
"Those with the most favorable views of churches are elders (ages 66-plus), married adults, residents of the South, women, Protestants, churchgoers, African-Americans and political conservatives," the study said.
The research organization also asked the 1,021 people who took part in the survey how churches could benefit their communities. The Barna Group reports that, although many adults were unsure regarding how they believed churches could assist local communities, the three most named top-of-mind responses were addressing poverty (29 percent), engaging in common ministry activities (teaching the Bible, giving spiritual direction, etc. -- 12 percent) and "cultivating biblical values in individuals and communities" (14 percent).
In the end, the study reveals that, regardless of personal beliefs, most people see churches as important to society. Additionally, most people do not see congregations as contributing to "civic enhancement" beyond helping the poor. The Barna Group believes that this opens up opportunities for churches to get involved in other local issues such as community clean-up, foster care and the like.
Back in March, a Christianity Today article covered some studies that estimate that churches can provide well over $100,000 per year in services to local communities (by some estimates, this number was much higher). For more about this study, click here.