As conservative approximations estimate a decline in church service and church-related group participation by nearly one-sixth since the 1960s, the viability of the religious volunteer organization remains. It seems that great consideration must be afforded to religiously inspired, although ecumenical, voluntary organizations that typically engage in public aims and objectives. However, any attempt to number, let alone identify, all of these religiously inspired volunteer organizations would be utterly impractical, given the wide variety that exists in their respective objectives and institutional settings. A few notable examples include Habitat for Humanity International, the Saint Vincent DePaul Society, Bread for the World, Pax Christi, and Dignity USA.
There are, additionally, groups that flank the paradenominational organization at both ends-the explicitly religious affiliated volunteer organization and the volunteer organizations lacking any explicit ties to religion. Regarding the explicitly religious organizations, many are foundational or evangelical branches of particular faith traditions or communities that often look to Scriptural sources and God's love as a motivating foundation. These groups typically seek to meet a variety of human needs while, at the same time, introducing their beneficiaries and the surrounding community to specific religious messages and teachings that they hold dear. Notable examples from this group include the Salvation Army, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Mercy Corps, Maryknoll Missionaries, and Catholic Charities. At the other end of the field are those public and private groups who attempt to meet particular human needs without any explicit affiliation to a particular faith community. However, it is important to note that these groups engage in activities and with spirits that are not, necessarily, in contradiction to those of more faith-centered organizations or activities. Further, many faith communities or individuals of faith volunteer their efforts in conjunction with many of these organizations. Thus, while ties to religion might not be explicit, they are often implicit. Examples of this kind include the United Way of America, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, the Peace Corps, and United Nations Volunteers.
Additionally, it is crucial to understand that volunteerism can manifest itself in numerous ways beyond participation in one of these more formal organizations. Individuals regularly volunteer their time and skills to various causes such as school or church functions and activities, as athletic coaches and/or officials, toward political or social agendas, volunteer fire departments, and so on.
For many, the act of volunteering is a concrete expression of one's own religious or spiritual convictions. These acts typically transcend one's own self-interests and seek to bring about a better life and improved world for others. In fact, volunteerism can move beyond individual acts to become a lived pattern that expresses one's awareness and appreciation of something which transcends the self. All the while, the self can be informed and transformed by these acts or this lived pattern. Through volunteering, one recognizes his or her own abilities as a political and moral agent often functioning within a specific valuebearing tradition. Through these acts, one might arrive at an awareness of the potential of the holy and creative spirit in themselves and others-this certainly holds the potential for cultivating a closer connectedness and identity with others and with the divine. While space and time permits only a cursory examination of volunteerism in which, inevitably, many (perhaps most) groups do not get the attention they so appropriately deserve, a treatment like this does allow one to grasp the broad diversity encompassed by the institution of volunteerism and, hopefully, how it can be a win-win situation for the volunteer(s), recipient(s), and community at large. Given that volunteerism often serves to trigger heightened levels of religious and/or spiritual development, those interested in promoting the healthy development of young people should provide young people with opportunities for volunteerism and should consider encouraging their participation in volunteer activities.