The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is researching how places of worship in Little Rock work with nonprofit organizations to promote community engagement and provide social services to vulnerable populations.
The Little Rock Congregations Study is part of an ongoing research project led by Dr. Rebecca Glazier, professor in the School of Public Affairs, stemming from research begun in 2012 to study the effects of religious organizations on community engagement in Little Rock.
The interdisciplinary project brought together 59 student researchers from UA Little Rock who gained invaluable research experience. More than 110 clergy members from congregations across Little Rock completed the survey, while 24 clergy were interviewed. Additionally, students wrote22 community spotlight stories.
Undergraduate students in Glazier’s Survey Research Methods class assisted in developing the survey and distributing it to clergy members. They also wrote stories highlighting the good work done through partnerships between places of worship and nonprofit organizations.
Members of Dr. Kirk Leach’s graduate Nonprofit Management class and Dr. Gerald Driskill’s undergraduate Intercultural Communication class conducted in-depth interviews with clergy members.
“Sometimes, the university can feel pretty distant from the rest of the city,” Glazier said. “The Little Rock Congregations Study gets students out of the classroom and into the community to do research that really matters. We are working hard to share findings that clergy members, congregants, and the broader Little Rock community will find valuable.”
The researchers have found that marriage and relationship counseling is the most common service provided by congregations, with 61 percent of responding congregations providing these services, followed by 47 percent of congregations in the study providing a food bank.
Partnerships between congregations and nonprofit organizations are a common occurrence. More than 50 percent of congregations with food banks have a partner to help provide that service. Meanwhile, 60 percent of congregations who provide medical screenings or other services have a partner, likely because these types of services are more resource intensive.
The most common reason for a partnership between a congregation and a nonprofit is a desire to connect with the community.
“Partnerships aren’t happening out of a need for resources, as we might expect, but are more often motivated by the desire of a congregation to get beyond their own members and connect with the broader community in Little Rock,” Glazier said.
Three of the student researchers, all political science majors, are taking the project a step further. They have received Signature Experience Awards from UA Little Rock to conduct individual research projects with the help of faculty mentors.
Jordan Wallis, a Marine Corps veteran, received a grant to look specifically at veterans’ services provided by congregations and nonprofits in Little Rock.
“I am excited to be able to do empirical, community-based research that will further my education and allow me to do a little bit to help fellow veterans in need,” Wallis said.
Next, Paige Topping received a grant to study community outreach efforts to share the results of the Little Rock Congregations Study.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to not only research issues that are important to my community, but to also connect on a local level and create long-lasting relationships and positive impacts,” Topping said.
The third student, Madison Rodgers, received an honorary award to look at longitudinal data from the Little Rock Congregations Study and track community engagement over time.
Updates on the continuing research can be found on theFacebook page orproject website. In the spring 2019 semester, the group will survey people who work at nonprofit organizations in Little Rock to get their perspectives on collaborating with congregations.
Additionally, the researchers have received a $1,000 grant from the Arkansas Community Foundation to host a workshop in the spring 2019 semester to share the latest research findings with clergy members. They will also build a clergy advisory board to help prepare for the 2020 Little Rock Congregations Study.
In the upper right photo, Dr. Rebecca Glazier (left) discusses the Little Rock Congregations Study with student researchers Anna Aguilar, Nicole Ursin, and Rhodes Houser.