SURVEY RESULTS: ePistle readers share their involvement in social-action activities and their thoughts on the role of ESA in their lives
Late last year we invited ePistle readers to participate in a survey about their social action activities. Here are the results. To save space, the acronym SAP is used to denote "social action program."
Which best describes you?
Not involved in any type of SAP – 7.9%
Marginally involved in a SAP – 12.9%
Participate somewhat regularly in a SAP – 18.6%
Am regularly/significantly involved in a SAP – 23.6%
Provide leadership to a SAP – 37.1%
Start this program – 22.5%
Join an existing program – 77.5%
Are you a:
Volunteer – 52.7%
Staff member – 24.8%
Board member – 22.5%
How did you get involved in this program?
Your church – 46.1%
Other faith-based source – 12.5%
Your workplace – 7.8%
Media (websites, newspaper/letter, etc.) – 7.0%
Personally recruited by a friend – 13.3%
Other – 13.3%
This program is sponsored by:
a church – 29.5%
a private faith-based nonprofit – 48.1%
a private nonprofit secular organization – 11.6%
the government – 1.6%
other – 9.3%
This program is primarily directed at social concerns: (check all that apply)
in your local community – 58.9%
city or region wide – 38.0%
at a national level – 25.6%
at an international level – 27.1%
The goals of the program are to: (check all that apply)
provide relief to meet an immediate need – 55.0%
help people through skill development, education, counseling, or therapy – 54.3%
recreation/education/mentoring for children or youth – 36.4%
Develop housing, create jobs, or other types of community/economic development – 21.7%
address public policy or advocate for systemic change – 45.7%
other – 11.6%
The best way to describe the religious character of the program is:
secular: no overt spiritual component – 10.1%
faith background: has a religious history or identity but is secular in methodology and character – 5.4%
faith affiliated: staffed by people of faith and has some voluntary religious component but mostly secular in methodology – 19.4%
faith-centered: Christian faith is at the core of its identity and integrated into the methodology, but beneficiaries are not required to participate in overtly religious activities – 42.6%
faith-permeated: Christian faith is at the core of its identity and methodology, seeks to nurture beneficiaries in a relationship with Christ – 18.6%
faith-secular partnership: the program uses church-based volunteers but is administrated by a secular organization – 3.9%
"How satisfying has your involvement been to you personally and why?"
Almost all of the responses to this question indicated a positive experience with social activism.
"Immensely satisfying. I can see results from direct action & alleviate the suffering of others & my own."
"Very satisfying. I feel as if my work not only utilizes my personal gifts, but also helps bring about the kingdom of God."
The main downside is the learning curve and pace of change, as this respondent expressed:
"Feel I can make a difference, but frustrated that it is so slow."
"What would help you or other participants and leaders in this ministry to be more faithful or more effective?"
This question yielded diverse responses. Some factors were internal to the ministry: better management and communication, clear vision, networking, resources, staff capacity.
A majority of responses, however, related to the broader society and the faith-based community. Respondents regret that more Christians do not share their convictions about the biblical basis for social action and that it is so difficult to get churches to back their ministry.
"More widely understood and accepted premise that justice and peace are intrinsic to the Gospel." "Prayer support is priceless, as well as seeing more Christians catching the vision for working with the poor and needy."
"More ownership/support for the vision from pastors and church leaders within their churches."
A few mentioned the changes and challenges in funding opportunities related to faith-based initiatives.
The obstacles to ministry effectiveness identified by respondents are mainly practical.
"Limitations of time and money" were a commonly voiced concern.
A number also mentioned spiritual or ethical issues: "Our own failure to pray."
"Lack of unity."
"Living in a culture that idealizes war."
A few mentioned personal barriers, such as "my own apathy, weariness."
"How has ESA helped your social activism?"
A key motif might be summed up by the phrase "encouraging voice." Respondents value ESA's role of affirming their biblical worldview and showing them that they are not alone.
For example: "Just knowing that there are evangelicals out there concerned about social justice is an encouragement."
"It's encouraging to see that other people are dealing with issues that matter to me, and are finding ways to act effectively."
"It has been a great resource for me personally to have a Christian voice merged with the social activist voice. So many times I feel these two passions of mine are at opposing ends of every issue. It has been wonderful to have a resource that sheds light on how these views complement each other."
"It helps to be reminded you're not alone, and to be reminded why you're here."
A second main theme is that these readers turn to ESA for information and inspiration that feeds their activism. As one respondent expressed it, "ESA provides awareness and affirmation of the need."
ESA plays a vital role by "holding the Body of Christ accountable by maintaining the needs of the poor before them in an integral way, spiritual and social."
ESA has been great in communicating the call to social activism, the biblical basis for this call, and for creating a community of believers who share these values."
"Stories in PRISM Magazine have brought my husband and me to the point of needing to put our faith into action." A related motif is that respondents appreciate ESA's work of "giving a faith dimension to the vision of peace" ù or as another respondent put it, "You keep reminding me that prayer, faith and action are part of a whole."
Many, many thanks to all who took the time to respond and comment. We are also looking at some of the suggestions on how we can serve you better.
This survey was managed and interpreted by Heidi Rolland Unruh, associate director of the Congregations, Community Outreach, and Leadership Development Project. We deeply appreciate her help with this.