A policy forum piece published in AMA Journal of Ethics outlined appropriate practices for health professionals who partner with ethnic minority-serving religious institutions.

Often central to communities, these faith-based organizations serve as local touchstones for health initiatives and outreach programs. However, little research exists regarding faith-based organizations that serve ethnic minorities outside of African-American and Latino communities, including mosques, temples, and gurdwaras. Thus, the investigators provided guidelines for health professionals performing outreach through minority faith-based organizations per the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR).

Using the CFIR, investigators identified 5 key considerations for health-promotion initiatives partnering with minority-serving faith-based organizations: (1) intervention characteristics, (2) outer setting, (3) inner setting, (4) individual characteristics, and (5) the process of implementation.

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According to the first consideration, interventions must be “culturally adapted” to their sites of interest to “enhance [initiative] relevance.” For example, site leaders with the Muslim Americans Reaching for Health and Building Alliances (MARHABA) project “integrated ideas of collectivism [and] commitment to God” to increase the resonance of their initiative with faith-based organizations members.

In addition, health initiatives must consider the “outer” and “inner” settings of their program environments. Ties to external organizations may facilitate health promotion programs; in the MARHABA study, participants could be rapidly recruited due to extensive social networks among faith-based organizations members. In a similar fashion, the inner setting of each faith-based organization must be considered, including the existence of any volunteer committee and the specific leadership structure. Health initiatives must also consider the sociodemographic characteristics of the individuals they serve; for example, engaging multi-lingual volunteers to overcome language barriers, as was the case for the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health for Asian Americans (REACH FAR). Finally, the researchers provided guidelines for the “process” of the health intervention, promoting a combination of “social marketing, congregant-level education, and organizational-level training,” and emphasizing the necessity of soliciting feedback in order to build a proper initiative.

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Through their experiences with program implementation through the MARHABA and REACH FAR projects, the investigators identified guidelines for best practices. Engaging external community-based organizations associated with the faith-based organizations, as well as internal “faith leaders” who serve as “community gatekeepers,” is critical, they argued, to constructing an effective health initiative. In addition, adapting intervention strategies to cultural and religious norms is essential to accommodate faith-based organization community members.

Partnering with faith-based organizations is an effective system for promoting health initiatives in communities. It is essential that the initiative leaders understand the core characteristics of the partnered faith-based organization for program success.


Islam N, Patel S. Best practices for partnering with ethnic minority-serving religious organizations on health promotion and prevention. AMA J Ethics. 2018;20(7):E643-654.