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February 6, 2001

Calvin Profs Study FBOs
 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Read a Dallas Morning News story on FBOs that quotes DeJong. Also, see the original October 2000 release on DeJong's work.

Calvin College professor Fred DeJong (left) is watching President George W. Bush's new initiatives on faith based organizations (FBOs) with interest, especially the impact that might be felt by churches. Some, says DeJong, may be able to succeed in their mission to help those who need it. But, he says, others will fail.

"The succcess of a program," he says, "will depend on putting together the right FBO with the right people who need help and making sure that there are clear and measureable goals for the program. Some FBOs will do it. But others will take on the wrong challenges with the wrong goals and they will fail.

"There's a big difference between taking in a refugee family and helping them get on their feet or working with a family which has been in poverty for three generations. The question is: Are churches willing to take on the latter? Should they?"

DeJong is working right now on a project that tries to answer those questions. The project, which includes researchers at Baylor, University of North Carolina and Whittier, Ca., is supported by a $702,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation, of which Calvin received $161,847.

"A lot of research," says DeJong, "has been devoted in recent years to the study of congregations and their service activity. But most studies have looked at how congregations function as community resources. Virtually no attention has been paid to the impact on the congregations themselves. How does social service fit into the mission of a church? Does community involvement in supportive services deepen the faith of congregational members? Are there certain kinds of community involvement that are bad for a congregation? Or some at which they are most effective?"

DeJong, who serves as associate director of the project, says that, despite much of the political rhetoric, relatively few congregations have "stepped up to the plate" in terms of contracting to deliver public human services, as allowed under charitable choice legislation. Other churches help with basic needs, such as food pantries, but have less often engaged in more difficult activities such as long-term mentoring relationships. Churches haven't necessarily seen this as part of their mission, he says, nor have they seen it as a benefit to the spiritual health and growth of their congregations.

NOTE: DeJong and Calvin colleague Beryl Hugen will speak on this topic on Wednesday, February 7 at 3:30 pm in the Meeter Center Lecture Hall in a talk titled: "Providing Social Services: How Does It Affect the Churches."

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Contact Phil de Haan.