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Social connectedness:the role of the local church in building community



Churches have had a traditional role in building a sense of belonging where people feel valued and can develop trusting relationships, often referred to as social capital. The local church is a place where people can connect with others as well as receive assistance, warmth and kindness particularly during times of distress. This article provides a brief overview of the role of the church in developing social capital and identifies some recent Australian studies that may be helpful to church congregations as they endeavour to engage with their local communities.
of! community! and! the! impact! that! lack! of! connectedness! has! on! mental! health! and! well-
being!(Emery,!2012;! Hughes!et!al.,!2007;!Pretty!et! al.,!2006;!Putnam,!2000;!Mackay,! 2014).!
Older!people,!people!who!are!unemployed,!young!mums!and!people!with! limited! financial!
means! are! all! vulnerable! and! may! experience! social! isolation! and! loneliness! as! a!
Research!confirms!that! loneliness! is!a!significant!risk!factor! for! a!wide!range!of!mental! and!
physical! health! problems! (Bernard,! 2013;! Holt-Lunstad! et! al.,! 2015;! Mathews! et! al.,! 2016;!
Qualter!et!al.,!2015;!Welsh! &! Berry,! 2009).! People! who! are! disconnected! from!society!can!
adults!will!experience!mental!health!problems!at!some!stage!in!their!lives! and! disturbingly!
one! in! five! children! and! adolescents! are! affected! by! mental! health! problems! (Fels,! 2013).!
suffer! from! anxiety! (Australian! Bureau! of! Statistics,! 2008).! Activities! that! create!
interpersonal! networks! and! provide! social! support! hold! promise! for! improving! health! and!
with!one! another! and! build!positive!and!meaningful! relationships,! but! opportunities!to! do!
this!seem!to!be!declining!for!some!groups.! !Indeed!it!is!said!that!the!social!fabric!is!fraying,!
Churches! have! had! a! traditional! role! in! building! a! sense! of! belonging! where! people! feel!
valued! and! can! develop! trusting! relationships,! often! referred! to! as! social! capital! (Dixon,!
2010;!Norris!&!Inglehart,!2004;!Putnam,! 2000;!Schneider,!2006).!The!local!church!is! a!place!
where!people!can! connect! with! others! as! well! as!receive! assistance,! warmth! and! kindness!
particularly! during! times! of! distress! (Short,! 2016).! This! article! provides! a! brief! overview! of!
the! role! of! the! church! in! developing! social! capital! and! identifies! some! recent! Australian!
Putnam’s! acclaimed! work! on! social! capital! in! America,! notes! that! churches! have! an!
important! and! unique! role! in! civil! society! (Putnam,! 2000,! p.! 63).! Churches! mobilise! both!
bonding!and!bridging!social!capital!(Bielefeld!&!Cleveland,!2013;! Hughes,!2003;!Iannaccone,!
2000;! Putnam,! 2000).! Bonding! social! capital! is! the! description! given! to! the! enduring!
relationships!that!are!established! between! similar! people!within!a!group.!The!relationships!
that!are!developed! within! congregations!in!local!parishes!are! an! example!of!bonding!social!
capital.! Bonding! social! capital! creates! a! strong! sense! of! belonging! and! is! an! important!
protective! factor! in! mental! health.! Bridging! social! capital! refers! to! the! wider! social! bonds!
created! across! various! networks,! usually! between! people! or! organisations! that! share!
common! interests! (Bielefeld! &! Cleveland,! 2013;! Hughes,! 2003;! Schneider,! 2006).! ! Putnam!
as! contributing! to! the! cement! or! glue! that! holds! civil! society! and! its! members! together!
There! is! considerable! literature! providing! a! general! description! of! the! involvement! of!
churches! in! building! community! and! more! specifically! the! role! of! Christian! groups! in!
encouraging!civic!engagement!through!volunteering!in! Australia!(Cahill!et!al.,! 2004;!Hughes!
&! Black,! 2002;! Leonard! &! Bellamy,! 2006;! Lyons! &! Nivison-Smith,! 2006).! Most! of! these!
people!from! the! broader! community.!This! is! attributed! to!the! Christian! message! that!calls!
useful! research! reports! from! the! studies! that! explored! the! role! of! faith! in! UK! society! and!
found! that! people! of! faith! in! the! UK! are! more! likely! to! be! civically! engaged! through!
a!range! of!services!to!support!people!in!need.!Some! of!these!services!received!government!
funding! and! others! were! provided! voluntarily.! The! report! entitled! Faithful) Providers)
and! concern! within! their! local! communities.! In! both! studies,! faith! was! seen! as! the! key!
of! developing! norms! of! reciprocity,! relationships! of! trust! and! civic! engagement,! the! term!
the! encroachment! of! market! terminology! into! all! areas! of! life.! There! are! a! number! of!
concerns! relating! to! the! over-emphasis! of! the! market! paradigm! as! a! solution! to! social!
Notwithstanding!this,!indeed!perhaps! because!of!the!pervasiveness!of!marketisation,! there!
is! broad! agreement! that! faith! communities! have! a! distinctive! role! within! their! local!
others!and!contribute!to! building! a!good!society!that!reflects!the! values! of!the!Kingdom!of!
God.! That! is! values! of! tolerance,! inclusion,! compassion,! mercy,! forgiveness! and!
reconciliation.!Schneider! (2006,! p.264)! suggests! that!faith! communities! have! three! distinct!
1. As!a!spiritual!well!for!participants!
2. As!a!source!of!community,!providing!social!and!instrumental!supports!to!its!members!
and! others! who! seek! help,! and! fostering! social! and! cultural! capital! among! active!
3. As!a!source!of!empowerment!and!change,!both!individual!transformation!and!change!
particular! with! those! who! may! be! experiencing! loneliness,! grief,! social! isolation! or! other!
stresses!associated!with!the!pressures!of! life.! Most! local! churches! have! access! to! property!
and! resources! that! provide! the! ideal! setting! for! a! range! of! community! building! activities.!
Across! Australia,! local! congregations! from! various! denominations! are! contributing! to! the!
development! of! social! supports! that! both! engage! and! empower! individuals! and! build!
There! is! growing! interest! both! from! within! the! various! Christian! denominations! as! well! as!
from!external!actors!on!how! local! congregations! engage!with!their!local!community!and!in!
particular!the!impact! that!this!has!in!strengthening! community!bonds.!It!is!anticipated! that!
the!2016! National! Church! Life! Survey! will!provide! some! useful! insights! to!the! contribution!
made! by! congregations! and! people! of! faith! more! generally,! as! will! the! various! reports!
It!is! acknowledged! that! churches! in! Australia! operate! in! many! different! environments!and!
focus! of! the! local! ministry! team! as! well! as! a! range! of! historical! factors! that! may! have!
Australia’s!population!is! ageing!and!this!is!reflected! in!many!congregations!(Powell,! Pepper!
&!Hancock,!2016).!!While!presenting! some! challenges! to! churches,! the!increasing!numbers!
of! older! people! within! the! community! also! creates! opportunities! for! local! congregations.!
provide! them! with! opportunities! to! share! their! unique! gifts! and! resources,! thereby!
developing! social! capital.! Taylor! focuses! on! the! importance! of! helping!older! people! to!
flourish!and!‘live!life!to! the! full’.! This! includes!organising!various!activities!to!support!older!
people! such! as! running! workshops! on! the! transition! to! retirement,! distributing! material!
develop!meaningful!relationships.!Taylor! also! suggests!that!the!wisdom!and! life! experience!
of! older! people! can! be! of! great! benefit! to! others! within! the! community.! This! can! be!
older!people!can! volunteer!to!use!their! time! and!skills!in!ways! that!add!enormous!value!to!
The!cultural!diversity!of!many!Australian!communities!is! another! factor! that! influences! the!
make! up! of! congregations.! Increasingly! churches! from! all! Christian! denominations! are!
engaging! with! people! from! culturally! and! linguistically! diverse! backgrounds! and! in! many!
Anglican! churches! is! a! helpful! resource! in! providing! insight! into! the! way! in! which! these!
of! this! research! project!provides! six! useful!recommendations! intended! to! assist!
congregations!in!becoming!more!culturally!sensitive!and!reflecting!the! diversity!of!the! local!
1. The!importance!of!providing!cultural!competency!training!specifically! for! leadership!
2. The!benefits!of!developing!connections!with!multi-ethnic!community!networks;!
3. The! need! for! prayer! and! reflection! in! analysing! the! local! demography! and! in! the!
4. The!importance!of!planning!and!developing!a!culturally!sensitive!vision;!
5. Actively! engaging! with! migrants! and! ensuring! that! the! church! leadership! team!
6. The! need! to! ensure! that! church! activities! respect! and! assist! migrants! to! consider!
A! further! very! useful! resource! in! assisting! local! congregations! to! develop! bonding! and!
bridging! social! capital! is! the! Handbook! for! Building! Stronger! Parishes! (Dantis,! 2016)! [refer!
flow!from! these,! not! only! to! the! local! congregation! but!also! to! the! wider!community.! The!
Handbook!includes!various!practical!tools!that!can!be!used!by!congregations! in! developing!
activities! such! as! reaching! out! to! those! in! need! within! the! local! community! follows! as! a!
natural! outcome! of! obedience! to! the! teachings! of! Jesus! (Schneider,! 2006).! Most! Christian!
churches! acknowledge! that! they! have! a! key! role! in! building! community! and! the! Christian!
Research! Association! has! an! interest! in! exploring! the! many! ways! that! local! congregations!
of! Pointers,! we! showcase! the! ministry! of! St.! Martins! in! the! inner! Melbourne! suburb! of!
of! Pointers! and! invite! other! church! groups! to! contribute! their! own! community! building!
! !
... Research, e.g., in Great Britain, shows that religious people are also more eager to show social commitment, such as volunteering and charity work, than people who declare themselves as non-believers. Another issue is that the strength of parishes (churches) is also to be found in their connections with local communities and the ability to keep them motivated and use local resources, including volunteers (Gallet 2016). ...
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Charitable activities of the Catholic Church in Poland are carried out primarily at two levels: national church organizations, diocesan and religious, and at the level of less formalized parish organizations. The data show a relatively low percentage of people who are strongly involved in parish activities and in non-religious (social, charitable) affairs of the parish community. The first purpose of this paper is to indicate the socio-demographic features that characterize people who are socially engaged. The second aim is to search for model regularities indicating determinants of social activity of parishioners. We conducted the research in parishes of Lublin Archdiocese in 2020. The research sample was 1867 people, of whom 70% were women. The average age of the respondents was 54.31 years. We have selected predictors that characterise the participants of the non-religious activities in the parish. Referring to the theoretical model of social participation and the concept of social capital, we have indicated the factors that shape the pro-social attitudes of parish members.
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Executive Summary This paper presents the themes from a case study of three Anglican Churches engaging with people from diverse cultural backgrounds who settled outside capital cities. It addresses the following questions: • How does the Anglican Church of Australia outside capital cities engage with people from diverse cultural backgrounds? • What are the intentions, impacts and implications of these engagements? Twenty-five members from St Paul’s Cathedral Bendigo, House of the True Light Church Bendigo and St Margaret’s Anglican Church Mildura participated in this research. These three churches are located in rural and regional Australia and have active engagements with people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. The key themes from the interviews are: • Participants from CALD backgrounds desire to intentionally connect with God, church and others; and to feel heard, included and have their abilities respected as well as utilised. Faith is part of the participants’ identity and informs their actions. • Migrating to a new country can be confusing and isolating. For the participants, joining a church is part of the migration experience. • Church is perceived by some as a ‘go to’ place for assistance, love, warmth and/or kindness in times of confusion or when experiencing exclusion. • Building a genuine culturally respectful church community amongst different ethnic groups was considered to be time well spent. All those interviewed, both Australians and people from diverse cultural backgrounds, felt they benefited from the relationship more than others realised. • Public spaces – such as churches – which connect people with people and with God were seen as vitally important. Some interviewees connect to church because it felt like a safe place for them and a window into the Australian community. Others consider it a place to meet people and make friends. Some thought of it as a home away from home; a kind, helpful and nurturing place. Others describe it as a place that will help them grow in their personal relationship with God. • This research encourages Christians and all people to treat immigrants with dignity and respect – as they would to Jesus. This involves intentionally listening to people from CALD backgrounds, identifying with them and making them feel heard. • Participants from CALD backgrounds felt valued when their help was warmly received. They desire not to be seen only as people who need help from the church but also as people who can help the church. • Interviewees described barriers in engaging with general Australian society, including churches. These include: misunderstanding Australian Anglican Church culture and an inability to negotiate entry into Christian activities. • Engagement upholds people’s well-being and develops social capital. The three churches in this report affirmed and utilised the skills of migrants in their congregations and promoted people from CALD backgrounds abilities within the local communities. Participants consider that a consequence of this emerging multi-ethnic social capital is the connecting of churches to local communities. • Social integration and inclusion has the potential to grow churches. • A challenge for local Anglican churches is to develop a national and global vision of social justice, inclusion and integration. Culturally- sensitive approaches to ministry, mission, evangelism, discipleship and prayer can help build Christian unity and develop community with each other and with God. The report recommends: 1. Training in cultural competency for leadership teams for churches – specific to their local rural communities. 2. Churches connecting with locally established rural community networks which are building multi-ethnic social capital and well-being – including spiritual well-being. 3. Churches analysing local CALD communities’ demographic trends and developing a culturally sensitive action plan through reflection and prayer. 4. Diversifying local church leadership teams to represent the diversity existing within their rural communities. 5. Mission societies identifying pockets in rural, regional and remote Australia where CALD people have congregated and partnering with the associated dioceses to jointly develop a 5-10 year vision for engaging with migrants in these areas. 6. Churches considering how they will evolve ministries over time, particularly when first and second generation migrants no longer need help but wish to engage with the church and utilise their leadership and other skills.
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The motivation to seek social contact may arise from either positive or negative emotional states, as social interaction can be rewarding and social isolation can be aversive. While ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine (DA) neurons may mediate social reward, a cellular substrate for the negative affective state of loneliness has remained elusive. Here, we identify a functional role for DA neurons in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN), in which we observe synaptic changes following acute social isolation. DRN DA neurons show increased activity upon social contact following isolation, revealed by in vivo calcium imaging. Optogenetic activation of DRN DA neurons increases social preference but causes place avoidance. Furthermore, these neurons are necessary for promoting rebound sociability following an acute period of isolation. Finally, the degree to which these neurons modulate behavior is predicted by social rank, together supporting a role for DRN dopamine neurons in mediating a loneliness-like state.
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Actual and perceived social isolation are both associated with increased risk for early mortality. In this meta-analytic review, our objective is to establish the overall and relative magnitude of social isolation and loneliness and to examine possible moderators. We conducted a literature search of studies (January 1980 to February 2014) using MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Social Work Abstracts, and Google Scholar. The included studies provided quantitative data on mortality as affected by loneliness, social isolation, or living alone. Across studies in which several possible confounds were statistically controlled for, the weighted average effect sizes were as follows: social isolation odds ratio (OR) = 1.29, loneliness OR = 1.26, and living alone OR = 1.32, corresponding to an average of 29%, 26%, and 32% increased likelihood of mortality, respectively. We found no differences between measures of objective and subjective social isolation. Results remain consistent across gender, length of follow-up, and world region, but initial health status has an influence on the findings. Results also differ across participant age, with social deficits being more predictive of death in samples with an average age younger than 65 years. Overall, the influence of both objective and subjective social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality. © The Author(s) 2015.
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Most people have experienced loneliness and have been able to overcome it to reconnect with other people. In the current review, we provide a life-span perspective on one component of the evolutionary theory of loneliness-a component we refer to as the reaffiliation motive (RAM). The RAM represents the motivation to reconnect with others that is triggered by perceived social isolation. Loneliness is often a transient experience because the RAM leads to reconnection, but sometimes this motivation can fail, leading to prolonged loneliness. We review evidence of how aspects of the RAM change across development and how these aspects can fail for different reasons across the life span. We conclude with a discussion of age-appropriate interventions that may help to alleviate prolonged loneliness. © The Author(s) 2015. Access to on-line version of the paper at
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Abstract Sense of community is a concept that has considerable currency within a vast range of disciplines and practices. It serves as a criterion for the assessment of social capitol; the generation of social policies; the development of social and geographical communities; and the evaluation of community capacity building. Community psychologists consider it central to their value-based praxis in promoting social justice and social change. However it is also employed as a common,lay term to refer to feelings of belonging, identity and support. It occurs in public domain discourse such as reporting community response to disaster, promoting the value of a rural lifestyle, and advertising urban residential developments. For psychologists, and other professionals and policy makers, there is the real need to consider the processes that are inherent in living in a community, in providing services and interventions, in understanding processes of inclusion and exclusion, with resultant positive or negative impacts on mental and physical health. Because sense of community discourses are utilised for such diverse purposes,
This book explores what becomes of faiths when seen as social capital. In the grip of the current debt crisis, where the social and capital seem increasingly unbalanced, this book examines whether faiths can help rebalance society through drawing communities together.
The report aims to provide a review of current literature that brings together knowledge about the extent and nature of loneliness among older people.This will help to clarify current thinking about what a "good practice" or service looks like and start to identify likely models of good practice in North Yorkshire.The report looks at how loneliness and social isolation are understood in the literature, why they should be important concerns of local strategic organisations, such as health and wellbeing boards, and what might be done. This evidence is set in the context of the geography and demography of North Yorkshire and suggestions for future work are made.
There has been a growing interest in the topic of loneliness and social isolation over a number of years and a recognition that they have an impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. Local strategic organisations have an important role to play in tackling the problem of loneliness and social isolation in older people. Stage 1 of the report reviews current literature and examines the concepts of loneliness and social isolation, how they are understood, their impact on individuals and communities and why they should be important concerns of local strategic organisations such as health and wellbeing boards. The type and range of interventions aimed at alleviating loneliness and social isolation are examined and evidence about their effectiveness reviewed. Findings are related to the national and local demographic context. Stage 2 of the research aimed to identify the range of statutory and third sector organisations in North Yorkshire that could or should be able to identify older people at risk of loneliness and/or social isolation. Through these organisations, the sorts of activities that exist across North Yorkshire and some of their characteristics were described.
Welfare reform discussions in the 1990s included proposals for government to support religious organizations that provide social services. This fostered a debate about the proper relationship between government and faith-based organizations. This spurred an increase in academic publications by scholars from disciplines such as social work, religious studies, public policy, and nonprofit studies. Publications focused on a number of topics, including the unique characteristics of faith-based organizations, the services and outcomes they provided, their involvement with the government, and methodologies available for studying them. We found a rapid increase in publications starting in 1996. These peaked in 2003 and have declined since 2008. Our scan of the literature on U.S. noncongregation faith-based service providers identified over 600 works. In this article, we review the literature on the definition of faith-based organizations, typologies used to place them on a spectrum of religious expression, and methodological considerations for research on them.