Health Ministry: An Essential Component of Every Church

Promoting healthy eating and active living in the faith community is a unique opportunity to engage congregation members and make sustainable, healthy changes both within and outside of their faith environments. UC San Diego’s Faith-Based Wellness Program hasbeen successful in assisting many churches and faith-based organizations across San Diego County’s low-income communities in promoting healthy eating and active living. 

Health Ministry_ An Essential Component of Every Church

Over the past year, the Faith-Based Wellness Program has partnered with seven African-American churches in a variety of San Diego County communities with health disparities to create health ministries. According to the Health Ministry Association, health ministries (i.e., church programs) include “the many ministries of a faith community that promote health. Health is viewed as a gift from God and a way of relational living in community.”  Some of the health ministries supported by the Faith-Based Wellness Program provide opportunities for congregants to pursue a combined journey toward health and faith.

Among the efforts to increase healthy food and physical activity environments within these churches, there are a number of policy, systems, and environmental changes that point toward overall advances in faith-based wellness. One example is the program’s partnership with the Progressive District Health Ministry Auxiliary to build health ministries into more faith-based systems. This auxiliary is a network of local churches with oversight provided by the California Missionary Baptist State Convention. The churches work together to develop and maintain strong health ministries. Currently, the auxiliary is composed of 17 local churches with a collective goal to develop and implement sustainable wellness programs and policies.

In addition, the Faith-Based Wellness Program assisted with the development of the Officer’s Guide to the Health Ministry Leadership and Committee and by supporting the creation of a work plan and strategy for the Progressive Baptist District Association’s wellness activities and programs for the upcoming year.

Much of this progress would not be possible without successful collaborative relationships. For many years, the Faith-Based Wellness Program has built rapport with key community-based organizations and advisory committees, including Mental Health America, Southeast Collaborative Group, San Diego Congregation for Change, and the Mental Health African American Collaborative.

Another important ingredient to successful, sustainable health ministries is the recruitment of champions from within each congregation. The Faith-Based Wellness Program identified and supported champions in African-American churches, engaging them in a train-the-trainer model, media exposure, volunteer engagement and motivation, nutrition education classes, and step-by-step instruction on sustaining health initiatives and programs.  

Challenges
Building a health ministry can be a lengthy process. Because every church and surrounding community is unique, it can take several months to a year to adopt policy, systems, and environmental changes in a faith-based setting. Another challenge has been figuring out a strategy to distribute culturally relevant materials to support the many diverse, newly formed health ministries. The Body & Soul Program, a wellness program developed for African-American churches, has been a key way to equip ministries with the right resources as they’re starting out. Finally, to create lasting success, it is crucial to follow up with technical assistance, resources, and support for participating churches.

Future Directions
Many of the participating churches realize that financial backing may be necessary to sustain a health ministry. In addition, the Faith-Based Wellness Program is encouraging churches to conduct healthy fundraisers to offset costs for health and wellness activities. The program also plans to present on behalf of churches the best practices, lessons learned, and key successes at faith-based forums, workshops, conventions, and conferences. This will help disseminate the model and build greater awareness and support among faith-based communities about the importance of health ministries.

By Lakeysha Sowunmi, UC San Diego-Center for Community Health

This material was produced by the California Department of Public Health’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch with funding from USDA SNAP-Ed, known in California as CalFresh. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers. CalFresh provides assistance to low-income households and can help buy nutritious food for better health. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.CaChampionsForChange.net.