An important step in community-based participatory research (CBPR) is conducting an assessment of what the community needs. This includes the researchers getting to know the community through meetings, interviews, discussion groups, and developing individual relationships. In some cases, the researchers interact directly with the community to ask questions and facilitate discussion. In other cases, it is best to have the community ask questions of its own members. All of the data collected in these interactions is then brought to the pastors and the the ALIVE advisory board to collaboratively analyze it and decide how best to use it.
As part of the ALIVE Needs Assessment – getting an understanding of what churches and congregations need to be healthier – the ALIVE team engaged fieldworkers to learn about the churches and church members.
Fieldworkers observe and record aspects of church culture that relate to the intersection of faith and health. With permission from pastors, field workers have attended Sunday morning church services, Bible studies, choir, ministry meetings, and other church gatherings, as well as conducted individual interviews with some church members. Fieldworkers take notes and write reflections on their experiences. Based on these experiences, they work with Rush staff to help generate and refine research questions, as well as make sense of the data when it is put together across all churches.
Most importantly, fieldworkers serve as a bridge between church and Rush researchers, translating the language of the church to that of public health. For example, they found church members prefer to avoid public health terms that emphasize restriction (diet) and favor the language of abundance (nutrition as feeding mind, body, and soul). Acting as “stewards” of their bodies for God, church members find motivation for positive change in their faith and through the social support of their fellow congregational members. As one church member put it, “What would you serve Jesus if he came to your house for supper? Shouldn’t we treat our own bodies with the same love and care?”
Most of the fieldworkers are members of the churches, so have an “insider’s view” familiar with the people, traditions, beliefs, and language of church culture. We also have fieldworkers who are anthropologists with an “outsider’s view” who investigate those “naïve” taken for granted assumptions about aspects of church culture and congregational perspectives of wellness that are hard to see from the inside. The combination of these perspectives gives us a clearer picture of what is important to the church and how best to meet their wellness needs.
Together, the fieldwork team, Rush researchers, and church members from all five churches make up the ALIVE team whose mission is to develop a program that will best help the church and its congregation to be more healthy and feel more ALIVE!