Increase in church-based volunteering

13 March 2015

DIOCESE OF ST ALBANS

Warming up: helpers from Rothamsted Research Centre and Holy Trinity, Harpenden at the Hot Chocolate after-school ministry, last week

Warming up: helpers from Rothamsted Research Centre and Holy Trinity, Harpenden at the Hot Chocolate after-school ministry, last week

THE number of volunteers working in community projects through their church has risen by nearly 60 per cent in the past four years, a new survey suggests.

Up to 1.4 million volunteers took part in church-based projects last year, putting in 115 million hours, which are worth an estimated £2.4 billion to society.

The report Investing More for the Common Good: National church social action survey results 2014, published by the charity Jubilee+, found that churches have also employed more paid staff to help them reach out through projects to people in need in their communities. Churchgoers are also funding social action themselves: the amount they give to projects has increased by 37 per cent since 2010.

The survey found that churches were most frequently involved in food distribution through foodbanks, parent-and-toddler groups, working in schools, caring for the elderly, and running cafés.

The rise in church-based volunteering mirrors the rise in dependence on foodbanks in the UK, many of which have links to churches, and are operated by volunteers from within the congregation.

Four years ago, only eight per cent of churches were involved in food-distribution projects; in 2012, this rose to 62 per cent of churches; and, at the end of last year, it had climbed to 80 per cent.

The survey does not include volunteer hours put in by Christians at other, non-church-based community projects.

The Labour MP Stephen Timms, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society, said: "It is remarkable to see such continued, increasing effort, with over a million volunteers, along with church staff, regularly engaging in social action of all kinds.

"Also remarkable is the fact that they are, for the most part, financing their own efforts, and opening up their buildings and facilities free of charge. This movement of church-based social activism is one of the most positive developments in modern Britain."

The questionnaire for the survey, which is carried out every two years, was sent to church leaders. Some 230 churches, of all denominations, responded: 23 per cent of re- sponders were from Anglican churches; 22 per cent from Free Churches, and the majority were classed as medium or larger church congregations.

Results suggest that churches run an increasingly diverse range of projects, including helping people to get fit, stress counselling, teaching English as a second language, helping with adoption, and helping victims of sex-trafficking. Each church in the UK is estimated to help 1431 people through social-action initiatives.

Most church leaders said that they could help more people if they had more volunteers, but that increasing demands of work were cutting down the number of volunteers available, especially for projects run in the daytime.

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