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& Reviews
of Congregational Social Work:
Christian Perspectives


Affiliation Recommendation

David A. Sherwood, Ph.D.


Social Work & Christianity



Congregational Social Work: Christian Perspectives is a vital one-of-a-kind resource for Christians who care about ministering to the needs of other Christians in churches and the needs of the communities in which they live. Based on grounded research on the stories of congregational social workers, whether in local churches or in agencies collaborating with congregations, and their own extensive experience, Garland and Yancey provide a living account of what is happening in community ministry and a penetrating analysis of what could and should be happening going forward.

Frank B. Raymond, Ph.D.


Dean Emeritus and Distinguished Professor Emeritus


College of Social Work, University of South Carolina


Drs. Diana R. Garland and Gaynor I. Yancey have produced a much-needed book on providing congregational social work. They define "congregational social work" as those social work services that are offered in and through a religious congregation, whether the employer is the congregation itself or a social service or denominational agency working in collaboration with congregations. There are multitudes of social workers employed in such settings, as well as untold numbers of students who aspire to work in this field. This book will provide an excellent resource to guide to all who are dedicated to serving in this special area.

Congregational Social Work represents a thorough treatment of the topic.  This analysis includes a discussion of the Biblical basis of congregational social work, an examination of the history of education for church social work in various denominations, a survey of the literature on congregational social work, and a review of the research that has been done in this area. The authors' survey of the literature on this area of service reveals that congregational social work has seldom been mentioned as a field of practice. This finding underscores the need for a book such as the one the authors have written.

Congregational Social Work includes numerous examples of social work practice in congregational settings. These illustrations bring to life the principles of practice discussed by the authors. Many of these examples are selected from a three-year research project conducted by the authors in which they interviewed 51 congregational social workers who were employed in religious congregations  or church-related agencies. The authors also draw upon their personal practice experience, both having worked in and consulted with congregations, religiously affiliated organizations, denominational agencies, and Christian schools of social work for over a forty year period.  Finally, they include in the book the things that they have learned from their students who have practiced social work in congregational settings.

Drs. Garland and Yancey not only describe the experiences that they and others have had in congregational social work practice, but they also analyze these experiences, explain the meaning of this work in light of Christian scriptures, and present their own opinions of principles for best practice. This broad perspective provides a wealth of information for the reader. Furthermore, the framework the authors use to present this material makes the book easy to read and entirely comprehensible for readers at every level of training and expertise. Both of the authors are accomplished writers, having published extensively on the practice of social work by Christians.

This rich compilation of information should be a "must read" for students in every church-related school of social work and for students in secular schools of social work who are interested in this area of practice. It should also be on the desk of every social work student, practitioner, administrator or researcher engaged in the field of congregational social work.

Ram A. Cnaan, Ph. D.

Professor and Director, Program for Religion and Social Policy Research

University of Pennsylvania 

Congregational social work was around even before the term ‘social work” was invented. Help to co-religionists and strangers has been practiced by most American congregations for many generations, yet it has hardly ever been documented. Garland and Yancey masterfully rectify this void. In a brilliant and thorough manner, they portray the intricacies and nuances of Christian congregational social work and provide us with new knowledge. They provide practitioners with tools to work within or in collaboration with religious congregations. This is a must read for every church member and every social worker. 

Stephanie C. Boddie   Visiting Researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pennsylvania

Co-author of The Other Philadelphia Story: How Local Congregations Support Quality of Life in Urban America

Congregational Social Work draws on Garland and Yancey’s years of experience as social work practitioners, church leaders, and scholars. With their extensive research, they provide an insightful analysis of the diverse and complex experiences of social workers in Christian churches. At a time when congregations continue to fill in social service gaps with paid and unpaid social workers, this inside look at the ethical challenges facing these leaders is sorely needed. They offer guidance rarely provided for social workers, social work educators and clergy seeking to understand the ways professional and personal values can be integrated in service to congregations. Garland and Yancey offer an important contribution to the next chapter of faith-based services.

Sister Ann
Patrick Conrad, DSW

National Catholic School of Social Service

The Catholic University of America



It comes as no surprise that Diana Garland and her colleague Gaynor Yancey have produced another remarkable addition to our understanding of social work in congregational settings. By combining an interesting and informative update on the historical as well as new opportunities and emerging directions across faith traditions, it is increasingly clear that congregational social work is not only central to ministry but also a meaningful field of social work practice.  The diverse narratives of the real-life experiences of professionals in this field as well as well as the practical advice on how-to-do-it combine to make Congregational Social Work:  A Christian Perspective a must reading for those in the field as well as those interested in exploring the rich spiritual and professional opportunities available.

Ron Sider, Ph.D.


President Emeritus
Evangelicals for Social Action



This book is a major contribution to our understanding of how churches do and should engage in social work. It is grounded both in significant new research and also a life-time of engagement and reflection by two of our most important scholars of congregational social work. Highly recommended.

Jay Poole,


University of North Carolina
at Greensboro

Principal Investigator for the Congregational Social Work Education Initiative (CSWEI)


Diana Garland and Gaynor Yancey have not only given an overview of what may be conceptualized as Congregational Social Work through a Christian lens, they have allowed the voices of congregational social workers to emerge in exploring the dimensions and nuances of practicing social work in a congregational context.  The authors challenge readers to consider how social workers are or may become part of congregational ministries, and readers are challenged to think about how social work and social workers may engage within, among, and through congregations.

Bob Wineburg, Ph.D.

Jefferson Pilot Excellence Professor and Director of Community Engaged Scholarship

UNC Greensboro

Wow! What was once considered taboo in mainline social work -- a discussion of congregational social work, from a Christian perspective no less -- is now where it is at! Drs. Garland and Yancey nailed it. Through their thorough understanding of social work and congregational life, they bring home a crucial point: that houses of worship are also houses of service, where Christian values and social work values, when operationalized harmoniously, meet the client and institution where they are at. Bravo to two of the best scholars in our field for bringing new light to a complicated, often misunderstood field of service. 

Rowena Fong, Ed.D.

Ruby Lee Piester
Centennial Professor

The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work

A well-written, comprehensively documented, must-have resource book about Congregational Social Work, highlighting elements of worship, Christian education, community building, and service. It offers a compelling charge for Christians:  ‘we make the path by walking it’…

John Graham,

Professor of Social Work

University of Calgary


Christianity has been an important factor in human helping - prior to, during, and after the development of a social work profession.  This book provides a thoughtful, data-driven analysis of contemporary social work among Christian congregations in the United States of America. It would be of interest to anyone -  scholar, practitioner, student, or member of the general public - who is interested in learning more about the intricacies of this area of social work practice.

Heidi Unruh Consultant and author of Hope for Children in Poverty and Churches That Make a Difference

When “mercy and truth are met together” (Ps. 85:10), a harvest of goodness results. Similarly, when faith communities connect with social workers, new fields are sown with potential for God’s restorative work. The more that congregations answer the call of Christ to love their neighbors, the more they discover gaps in knowledge and practice that professional social work is designed to fill. Garland and Yancey map this uncharted, complex territory with clarity and graciousness, illuminating a track that hopefully many will follow.

John A. Calhoun Former U.S. Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, and author of "Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America." Garland and Yancey have given a rare gift to those answering a call to Christian social work, academics who wish to teach it, and clergy who need to explore what social work means in the context of a congregation's core mission. Social work started in and grew out of the faith community, but hit a rocky path in the 1950s when, responding to Freud and the positivists, posited that religion and social science were no longer compatible. During these dark days, attempts to integrate faith with social work practice could have meant rejection from a school of social work.

Fortunately, given the work of pioneers like Garland and Yancey, the science/faith antipathy of the 1950's has begun to fade in our rear view mirrors. Anchored in research, extensive interviews and the daily realities of congregational life, Congregational Social Work by Garland and Yancey pull no punches, describing with clarity and promise the joys as well as challenges of a social work/faith wedding.

Ian Bedford,
 Wodonga, Australia

It was 1977 when I began my first social work job, based in a church congregation in a public housing area of Melbourne Australia. For my wife and I this job was a calling, and involved not only moving our family from Melbourne’s bible belt to this low income outer suburb, but it also meant engaging with the small congregation within which this community service ministry was based. It was a package “deal” to which God had strangely called us when He opened the road from mathematics teaching to social work. But it was not a calling I had seen coming and there was little to prepare me.

Subsequently I have spent 18 years in mainly congregationally based social work – in between academic periods and brief periods in government social worker roles – as well as a further 9 years in Ph.D. studies researching the process by which congregations initiate and sustain community services, and considering further the implications of this for the practice of social work. I am therefore pleased to read this new book by Dr Diana Garland and Dr Gaynor Yancey, Congregational Social Work, providing a detailed overview of the issues confronting the practice of social work in congregational settings.

This book, undoubtedly in my view, provides a map that can assist and guide any social worker newly entering this practice setting in the range of issues needing to be considered and the range of responses open to them as they assess the features of their particular context and the goals and mission of the congregation with which they are engaged. Whilst it cannot provide packaged answers, it can provide insight and awareness to assist the necessary reflection and discussion of workers grappling with the issues anticipated and/or encountered. I know because Garland’s and Yancey’s discussion matched well my own experience, and more particularly where there is overlap between their research and my own, the congruence of issues and options identified is clearly evident – despite the fact that my work is all based in the less well developed mission of medium sized congregations in less religiously active Australia.

 I fully endorse this book as a necessary introduction to congregations as an important setting for social work practice; a long overdue acknowledgement of a return to one of the settings within which social work was itself born and which is more evident in both our countries than was grasped until the research of the 1990s.


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