This website is an archive and will no longer be updated. For continuing research and analysis of faith-based social services, turn to the
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The Roundtable's Research

The Roundtable's work focused on four topical areas for research:

  • Developments in federal and state law regarding service partnerships between religious organizations and the government;
  • Changes in the policy environment for faith-based social services in Washington, DC and state capitols around the nation;
  • Scope of religious and religiously-affiliated organizations in addressing established and newly articulated goals of public policy; and the
  • Effectiveness of social services provided by faith-based organizations.

Products and activities from these research efforts form the substantive content, around which the Roundtable performed its other two primary missions:

  • Knowledge networking with key actors involved in faith-based social services; and
  • Dissemination of our findings.

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Monitoring, Analyzing, and Explaining Developments
in Federal and State Law

The Roundtable legal team at George Washington University School of Law closely monitored developments of significance involving federal and state constitutional, statutory, and administrative law on the question of government aid to faith-based organizations (FBOs). Descriptions and analyses of significant legal cases pending, filed or decided; developments in the statutory framework for aid to FBOs, and important agency rule-making or determinations affecting FBOs are the subjects of reported dubbed “Legal Updates,” which remain available through this website. An annual State of the Law report summarized each year's major legal events, and put them in broader perspective. Click here to access legal analyses.

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Tracking Policy Developments

The Roundtable monitored, examined, and reported on key legislative, regulatory, and policy developments concerning the participation by faith-based organizations in providing social welfare services at national and state/local levels. In addition to covering breaking news and posting feature articles and interviews on the web site, this included tracking federal funds dispersed to faith-based organizations in the form of competitive grants and contracts from federal agencies. See our newsletter archive for this work.

Our 50-state field network tracked changes in legislative, regulatory and licensing requirements at state and local levels related to faith-based organizations, including their ability to compete for grants or contracts to provide social services. We collected and reported information about the form and content of guidance provided to contractors on permissible activities, what contracting agency staffers did to ensure accountability, and what was known about employment practices of contractors. See our state scan studies on our Faith-Based Initiatives and the States resource page for this work.

The Roundtable also monitored and reported on state and local fiscal conditions, impacts on the competition for service contracts, and the effects of the fiscal climate on the Faith-Based and Community Initiative. Our purpose was to test the contention that at the very time initiatives would have FBOs do more, the fiscal stringency of federal grants and state and local finances was such that public support was likely harder to achieve rather than easier. See our 2004 report, Funding Faith-Based Services in a Time of Fiscal Pressures, and our 2006 report, Getting a Piece of the Pie: Federal Grants to Faith-Based Social Service Organizations.

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Detailing the Scope of Faith-Based Social Services

The Roundtable conducted a national survey of faith-based organizations to directly assess the scope of their involvement in, knowledge about, and capacity to undertake additional social services. The survey found that American congregations, as of early 2008, were delivering a wide-range of social services – from marriage counseling to food pantries – to their members and surrounding communities. But relatively few congregations applied for government funds to provide those services, or knew about changes in federal law over the previous decade meant to ease the way for them to do so. Click here for the report.

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Gauging the Effectiveness of Faith-Based Social Services

Although there is anecdotal evidence on some programs and a host of research connecting levels of individual or family religiosity with a range of good outcomes, even as late as 2008 little empirical analysis had been conducted on the effectiveness of FBO programs.

The Roundtable developed strong instrumentation for gauging the faith character of religious and religiously-affiliated social service providers, and performed studies using matched-pair designs comparing faith-based to secular nonprofit service organizations providing: intermediate-term shelter services with case management for homeless families (Michigan), employment and training for welfare clients (Indiana), responsible parenting programs (Mississippi), and residential substance abuse treatment (Washington and Oregon). A complimentary benchmarking study draws on existing administrative data maintained by federal oversight agencies to compare program characteristics and performance, based on multiple measures, of a large number of “church-related” nursing homes and home health agencies to other nonprofit and government service providers located throughout the country.

Another comparative effectiveness study, expected to be completed in 2009, will provide unprecedented evidence on the comparative roles and performance of faith-based organizations (FBOs) in human service systems. By FBOs, we mean service providers that are directly and closely affiliated with religious institutions, or that incorporate religious elements in their operations or services. The study will enable policymakers to know, in considerable detail: the characteristics and capacities of FBOs and secular agencies of different types; whether these different kinds of organizations serve different people and provide different kinds of services; and how, after controlling for the effects of other influences, FBOs and secular agencies produce different outcomes for the people they serve. To achieve these goals, the study uses a combination of field research, client surveys, administrative data, and a clinical trial research design.

For more information on these studies, see the Roundtable's resource page on the Comparative Effectiveness of Faith-Based Social Services.