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Exploring Motivations and Expectations of Churches in Public Health Partnerships


Partnerships between public health and faith communities have been identified as effective avenues to promote health behaviors, owing to the role of churches in the community. As the focus on resolving public health issues using the sociological model increases, the role of the church in communities, particularly communities of color, grows in importance. With the increasing attention and resources devoted to faith/public health partnerships, it is important to obtain evidence on these collaborations, particularly from the perspective of the churches, and to plan for the next generation of programs. The purpose of this study is to collect information on the involvement of churches in health promotion activities, to look specifically at why some churches choose to collaborate.

The church is an acknowledged means to implement health programs in the African-American community, and Black pastors have traditionally been leaders of their congregations and in the community at large. This study looks at faith/public health collaborations from the view of the Black pastor, to gain more insight into the faith community's partnerships with public health organizations.

Pastors of Black churches in the San Francisco Bay area were recruited for the study, which consisted of individual semi-structured interviews, conducted using an interview guide. Churches involved in health promotion activities. Analysis identified the range of themes and domains that characterize each interview, and responses from each pastor were compared, identifying similar and dissimilar themes. Observations of churches' worship services were also conducted.

Pastors from 20 churches participated in the study. The churches represented seven denominations, ranged in size from 50 members to 5,000, and were located in four Bay Area counties. Analysis indicates that pastors believe the church is important in reducing health disparities in the African-American community, and value public health organizations as resources and partners. Pastors offered insight into the reasons for churches to partner with public health organizations, prohibiting factors to such partnerships, and their views on elements of a successful partnership.

Additional findings indicated that pastors feel strongly that the church plays a primary role in their communities, and that this role extends to health. Pastors also communicated two main reasons for entering partnerships to promote heath; a responsibility to work to increase the health of their congregations and communities, and the need for resources to do so. They see obtaining these resources as a satisfactory partnership outcome.

Examining collaborations from the perspective of pastors of African-American churches offers an understanding of partnership formation, and elucidates barriers and facilitators. This study can make a contribution to the dialogue about the role of churches in health interventions and help set the foundation for developing a framework within which to think about and develop faith-based health programs in the Black community. Pastors need to be included in discussions on health disparities, what is needed to impact health in their communities and how to expand the role of churches as partners.

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