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Service Delivery Innovation Profile

Church-Based Initiative Supports Volunteers in Providing Education and Screenings to 150,000+ Memphis Residents, Leading to Improved Health Status

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Memphis Healthy Churches is a church-based program that trains congregational members to be volunteer "health representatives" for their churches. These representatives, in turn, provide health and disease prevention education and health screenings to congregational members in 105 African-American churches in the greater Memphis area. The program supports these volunteers in coordinating education and screening activities related to health priorities established by each church and its pastor, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS. The program has resulted in enhanced access to health education and screening services and improved health status for participants.

Evidence Rating (What is this?)

Suggestive: The evidence consists of post-implementation data on services provided from the health representatives' monthly reports, as well as data on participant health outcomes from the program's self-reported participant wellness surveys.
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Developing Organizations

Christ Community Health Services
Christ Community Health Services is located in Memphis, TN.end do

Use By Other Organizations

The Washington County Health Partners in Washington, Pennsylvania has adopted several key elements of the project, including the training modules and volunteer recognition incentive program.

Date First Implemented

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Patient Population

Race and Ethnicity > Black or african american; Vulnerable Populations > Racial minoritiesend pp

Problem Addressed

African Americans have disproportionately higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and HIV/AIDS than their White counterparts, and in some cases are more likely to die from the disease.1,2 Some examples of these disparities at the national level (based on 2004/2005 data) include the following:
  • Cancer: African-American men were 1.4 times more likely than non-Hispanic White men to have new cases of lung and prostate cancer. African-American women were 10 percent less likely to have been diagnosed with—but 34 percent more likely to die from—breast cancer than non-Hispanic White women, suggesting that African-American women are not being adequately screened, diagnosed, and/or treated for the disease.1
  • Diabetes: African-American adults were 1.9 times more likely to have been diagnosed with, and 2.2 times more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic White adults.1
  • Heart disease: African Americans were 1.4 times more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to have high blood pressure, and African-American men were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic White men.1
  • HIV/AIDS: African-American males were seven times more likely to have AIDS than their non-Hispanic White peers, while African-American women were 21 times more likely to have the disease.1

What They Did

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Description of the Innovative Activity

Memphis Healthy Churches provides support and training to health representatives identified by the pastors of member churches and builds partnerships among community organizations to support these representatives in providing wellness activities to congregants. Key components of the program include the following:
  • Recruiting health representatives: Pastors or ministers of participating churches identify health representatives from within their congregations. The pastors select individuals they believe would be respected and persuasive voices for health awareness within the church community.
  • Training for health representatives: Program staff train health representatives on disease prevention and health education topics related to chronic diseases, including the following: detrimental effects of chronic diseases for African Americans; identification of major risk factors; the disease process; diagnosis, treatment, and prevention; availability and methods of support and counseling for individuals and their families suffering from chronic diseases; and advocacy for early detection in the church. The program hosts a church orientation meeting with each new church and annual volunteer orientation sessions where new health representatives can receive the necessary training to support a congregation.
  • Ongoing education: The program provides continuing education for health representatives through a resource room/library, a quarterly newsletter, and quarterly meetings that serve as a time for Christian fellowship, information exchange, and discussion of specific concerns of mutual interest.
  • Educational and health screening events for congregants: Program staff work with the health representatives to implement church-based and individual church-requested activities. These events include organizing church wellness centers where health representatives can educate and counsel individual congregants, health and wellness events, and seminars led by outside speakers and educators.
  • Volunteer recognition: Program staff plan and implement volunteer recognition initiatives, including a point system for activities and training designed to recognize volunteer efforts and encourage active participation and ongoing training among the health representatives.
  • Community partnerships and events: The program also focuses on building and strengthening community partnerships, and working with these partners to provide education and screenings within the community through the following kinds of activities:
    • Community workshops to educate the community about the risks and effects of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS.
    • Annual clergy orientation luncheons to educate clergy on the causes of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke; the particular needs of patients and their families; and the range of supportive care services available in the city. 
    • Outreach to community organizations both inside and outside of the health care arena, including the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Community HIV Network, the Church Health Center, the Healthy Memphis Common Table, the Regional Health Council, and organizations representing local pastors/clergy and their spouses.  

Context of the Innovation

Memphis Healthy Churches is an extension of Christ Community Health Services' outreach services ministry. Christ Community Health Services is a Christian community-based health services program that provides services to Memphis residents who reside in six inner-city neighborhoods. Christ Community Health Services founded Memphis Healthy Churches to provide disease prevention and health education to the medically underserved population, initially focusing on breast cancer awareness activities. The program was designed to be church-based and distinctly Christian in recognition of the significant role of churches and their pastors in African-American culture.

Did It Work?

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Post-implementation data suggests that Memphis Healthy Churches has enhanced access to educational and screening services, with program participants reporting improved health status and increased weight loss. A more formal evaluation of health outcomes is currently being conducted by the University of Tennessee.
  • Enhanced access to education and screening: To date, Memphis Healthy Churches has trained more than 150 volunteer health representatives in 105 churches. These health representatives have provided approximately 40,600 educational and screening activities involving approximately 156,000 congregation members.  
  • Improved health status: According to results from the program's self-reported wellness surveys conducted with parishioners, program participants report that they have lost a cumulative total of 2,543 pounds and that their average blood cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure levels have fallen by 25 percent. 

Evidence Rating (What is this?)

Suggestive: The evidence consists of post-implementation data on services provided from the health representatives' monthly reports, as well as data on participant health outcomes from the program's self-reported participant wellness surveys.

How They Did It

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Planning and Development Process

Key steps in the planning and development process include the following:
  • Initial grant: In 1988, Baptist Memorial Health Care received a 1-year grant to focus on increased access for African Americans to cancer information, screening, and treatment.
  • Formation of advisory group: To determine the best way to reach the community quickly, Baptist Memorial Health Care project leaders convened a group of 10 influential faith leaders in the Memphis African-American community. Based on conversations with this group, the project leaders determined that the congregations would be receptive to serving as a base for these cancer awareness activities and that volunteers from each congregation could serve as a liaisons for the activities.
  • Initial participants and activities, and expansion over time: Twenty congregations participated in the activities funded by the initial grant. Currently, 100 congregations participate. The focus of Memphis Healthy Churches activities has also expanded based on input from the participating congregations.

Resources Used and Skills Needed

  • Staffing: A paid program director, program manager and administrative assistant staff the project and support the volunteer Health Representatives at each community. These staff members provide initial training and coordinate ongoing health education for the health representatives. 
  • Costs: It is estimated that the project costs $2,637 annually per church, not including the in-kind contributions from the partners. Program resources cover office operational costs, health screenings, educational materials, and volunteer incentives.
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Funding Sources

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Baptist Memorial Health Care; Breast Cancer Fund; Susan G. Komen Foundation; LHS, Inc.; March of Dimes; The Assisi Foundation of Memphis, Inc.; Saint Francis Hospital; The Healthy Memphis Common Table
Memphis Healthy Churches has received grants from both local and national organizations. Churches do not pay to participate in the program, but as it has grown some churches have started financing their own wellness programs. These church-specific funds supplement the funds provided by the program for individual church activities.end fs

Tools and Other Resources

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Adoption Considerations

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Getting Started with This Innovation

  • Know the target community: Identify the target population to be served and their needs, including becoming educated on the demographics, culture, and behaviors of the local community in which the program is to be implemented. The goal is to learn where and how changes in lifestyle behaviors are most likely to be realized.
  • Work closely with ministers: If the program is to be church based, make cultivation and education of ministers a top priority.
  • Search broadly for funding: Seek external funding from local and national organizations to serve as a catalyst for individual churches to initially participate.
  • Partner with community organizations: Cultivate relationships and partnerships with other health and community organizations to secure resources, in-kind support, and technical assistance.
  • Commit staff to the project: Dedicate paid staff to the project, focusing their work on supporting the volunteers.
  • Know your project's value: Become familiar with the needs within your community that only your project can impact. This level of knowledge will develop a brand position that will distinguish your project from similar projects in your area.
  • Find a sponsor: Identify a sponsor with the resources and infrastructure to provide support to the program, such as trainers for clinical topics.

Sustaining This Innovation

  • Ensure that volunteers feel supported and encouraged: Provide ample, sustained support to volunteers to promote successful, sustainable church programs and avoid volunteer burnout.
  • Continually build and sustain partnerships: In addition to maintaining existing relationships, build new community partnerships to broaden program reach and expand knowledge about the program in the local community.
  • Identify and collaborate with key community stakeholders: Build and maintain relationships with community leaders, congregational leaders, citizens, and other stakeholders who are, and can be, instrumental in the success of the project. Relationship building is paramount to the project's long-term success.
  • Begin sustainability planning at the project development phase: Create a plan to become self-sustaining from the start. Funders are more likely to fund a project that has the potential to self-sustain without funding from grants, sponsorships, or any other entity.

Use By Other Organizations

The Washington County Health Partners in Washington, Pennsylvania has adopted several key elements of the project, including the training modules and volunteer recognition incentive program.

Additional Considerations

Expanding beyond the current number of participating congregations (about 105) will be a challenge, even with adequate resources.

More Information

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Contact the Innovator

Georgia Oliver, MS, RN
Director of Outreach Services
Christ Community Health Services
2595 Central Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 260-8502

Patria Johnson
Program Manager
Memphis Healthy Churches
2595 Central Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 260-8511

Innovator Disclosures

Ms. Oliver and Ms. Johnson reported having no financial interests or business/professional affiliations relevant to the work described in this profile.

References/Related Articles

Christ Community Health Services Web site. Available at:

Alliance to Reduce Disparities in Diabetes Web site. Available at:


1 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Minority Health. African American Profile Web site. 2011. Available at:
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. Highlights in Minority Health and Health Disparities Web site. February 2009. Available at:
Comment on this Innovation

Disclaimer: The inclusion of an innovation in the Innovations Exchange does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, or Westat of the innovation or of the submitter or developer of the innovation. Read more.

Original publication: April 14, 2008.
Original publication indicates the date the profile was first posted to the Innovations Exchange.

Last updated: January 29, 2014.
Last updated indicates the date the most recent changes to the profile were posted to the Innovations Exchange.

Date verified by innovator: December 14, 2012.
Date verified by innovator indicates the most recent date the innovator provided feedback during the annual review process. The innovator is invited to review, update, and verify the profile annually.