(RNS) — At least half of Americans realize that churches feed and clothe the poor but far fewer are aware of other social services that congregations provide, a new study shows.
LifeWay Research found that 60 percent of Americans know of churches that have fed the hungry in the last six months. Half knew of instances where they provided clothing to the poor.
But scant percentages of the 1,000 Americans surveyed knew that church members teach job skills or help immigrants learn English (13 percent), volunteer to provide foster care (12 percent) or offer tax preparation assistance (8 percent).
“Unless you’ve received help from a church — or been involved in serving others — these kinds of programs may fly under the radar,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based evangelical research firm.
About a third of Americans knew of churches’ work to help disaster victims (39 percent) and shelter the homeless (33 percent). But only a quarter were aware of church members visiting prisoners (25 percent) or offering after-school programs (24 percent).
Though the Bible speaks of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry, a significant number of Americans haven’t heard of churches providing any of the 13 service programs cited in the study. And 17 percent were not sure.
Researchers were not surprised to learn that people who frequent churches were more aware of these activities.
But less than a third (30 percent) of people who attend services at least once a month knew of churches that had tutored schoolchildren, compared to 8 percent of those who attend less than once a month.
The findings were based on 1,000 surveys completed Sept. 27-Oct. 1, 2016, and have an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
(RNS has a board member who works for a LifeWay publication. Board members have no say in editorial decisions)