Barriers and challenges affecting the contemporary churches engagement in health promotion

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Issue addressed: Christian churches have historically undertaken welfare and community service activities to practise faith and increase their relevance to communities. However, the church in Australia has received little attention from health promotion practitioners and researchers. The objective of this qualitative study was to explore the barriers and challenges that affect church engagement in health promotion to assist practitioners’ understanding of the potential for these civil society organisations to play a role in health promotion programs and partnerships.

Methods: The research was based on interviews with five directors of church-affiliated organisations and with the church leaders (ministers, pastors, priests) of 30 churches in urban and rural Victoria. Analysis was iterative using open, axial and thematic coding.

Results: The challenges to church involvement in health promotion, as articulated by church leaders, fell under the themes of the social context of churches and the attributes of congregations. Major issues raised were perceived relevance, mistrust, contested agendas, discordant values within congregations, and risk management.

Conclusion: Although churches may take a different stance to health promotion agencies on a range of social and health issues, many have experience addressing social disadvantage and are prepared to commit resources to meet the needs of people outside their congregations. However, several factors inhibit the engagement of churches in health promotion including perceived irrelevance and community mistrust, agendas of conversion and values that conflict with health promotion.

So what?: Churches have a history of addressing social determinants of health such as housing, employment and food security. Deeper understanding of the challenges and barriers church leaders experience in undertaking health promotion work will facilitate more realistic and effective engagement by practitioners with these organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberHE15037
Pages (from-to)52–58
Number of pages7
JournalHealth Promotion Journal of Australia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • church-based health promotion
  • public health
  • social action

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