The Role of Faith-based Organizations in Community Health


In the U.S. we typically think that our healthcare choices are our own—private decisions between us and our doctor. But in reality, many of my health care decisions affect the people around me—whether I wash my hands, whether I send my child with a cough and runny nose to school, or whether I choose to get vaccinated. Our actions communicate whether we truly care about our neighbor. Health is a community affair, and Chris­tians are involved in practical ways. This is nothing new; it’s part of our heritage. The first hospital was started in the third century by Christian monks.[i]

Faith-based organizations are still vital. In spite of the expansion of insurance coverage under the new healthcare law, millions of low income Americans will continue to be without health insurance or affordable health care.[ii] Free and charitable health clinics are helping to fill this gap.[iii] Many of these clinics are faith based, like the Samaritan Health Center in Durham, NC. Doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals volunteer at the clinic. Many of them are students at nearby medical schools, who donate their time because they are “motivated by the love God has shown us through Jesus Christ.”[iv] At least 2 million people each year are helped at these clinics.[v]

 Faith-based organizations have also been active in encouraging Americans to get vaccinated, particularly against contagious diseases such as flu or measles, which can be life threatening for children or the elderly.[vi] In church-based health promotion programs, churches help their members manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. They promote preventative measures such as regular screenings for cancer.[vii] Some programs receive federal funds, but many operate independently. These programs were started out of the basic conviction that caring for the needs of church members includes caring for their physical health.

One of the most public health difficult challenges is motivating people to change their behavior. How do you get people to quit smoking, be screened for cancer, or have their children immunized? How do you edu­cate a community about why there is a quarantine in the case of a public health emergency? Faith communi­ties can be trusted messengers for public health initiatives, partnering with public health officials to educate people about their health. Churches and other organizations can prod members to take more responsibility for their unhealthy behaviors.

Would you like to do something about helping out in your own community? Volunteer at a free health clinic. Encourage your church to offer preventative health screenings—and offer to help with setup and teardown. Pray for and support faith-based organizations. These are tangible ways to show God’s care for the people around you. It might be the first time your neighbor has actually experienced God’s love. Living out the Good News isn’t just about what we say about loving our neighbor. It’s also about what we do.

[1] Gary B. Ferngren, Medicine & Health Care in Early Christianity (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2009).

[2] John Holahan, Matthew Buettgens, Caitling Carroll, and Stan Dorn, “The Cost and Coverage Implications of the ACA Medicaid Expansion: National and State-by-State Analysist—Executive Summary,” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (November 2012)

[3] Michelle Crotwell Kirtley, “Filling the Gap in Health Coverage Among the Poor,” Capital Commentary, February 23, 2013

[4] Samaritan Health Center, “About” (accessed May 6, 2013).

[5] Julie Darnell, “Free Clinics in the United States: A Nationwide Suvey,” Archives of Internal Medicine 170, no. 11 (2010):946-953. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.107.

[6] United States Department of Health and Human Services and Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, H1N1 Flu: A Guide for Community and Faith-Based Organizations (2009)

[7] Mark DeHaven, Irby Hunter, Laura Wilder, James Walton, and Jarett Berry, “Health Programs in Faith-Based Organizations: Are They Effective,” American Journal of Public Health June 94, no. 6(2004): 1030–1036.




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