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Faith-Based Community Organizing – What is It?

Faith-Based Community Organizing (FBCO) is a process by which local faith communities come together to address issues of affordable housing, quality schools and safe neighborhoods by working across faith, class, multi-ethnic and multi-racial differences. Oblates are engaged in grassroots FBCO around the country.

FBCO groups see one of their primary roles as the development of participants’ leadership skills. A strong web of relationships is built among congregations and with other institutions. This helps participants to pressure decision-makers at the city, regional and national levels to make needed changes.

Faith-based community organizing differs dramatically from “faith-based initiatives,” which emphasize compassion and service but avoid any political engagement with the forces and institutions that leave troubling numbers of people without food, without health care, without homes, and without work. Congregations involved in FBCO have discovered the power of the values and visions they hold in common, and are working to transform themselves and their institutions and communities.

Most FBCO groups choose to affiliate with one of the regional or national community organizing networks: Pacific Institute for Community Organization, Industrial Areas Foundation, Gamaliel Foundation, Direct Action and Research Training Center, Regional Congregations and Neighborhood Organizations Training Center, InterValley Project, ACORN and Organizing Leadership and Training Center.

How Faith-Based Community Organizing Works

Faith communities that undertake a community organizing campaign seek out the leaders in their midst – and find surprising new talent. Through patient, one-to-one conversations, a community learns to elicit the unvoiced hurt and anger of its members. Clergy, leaders, and FBCO organizers identify people whose capacity to lead may never have been encouraged, offer them training, and engage them in identifying the shared concerns of community members.

With the hiring of trained professional organizers, a steadily widening circle of people then develops strategic plans for action and reaches out to build relationships with other religious communities, unions, community organizations, and schools. Those relationships are channeled into powerful networks for the public good.

FBCO gets impressive results: expansion of health care options, creation of affordable housing, renewal of schools, and development of jobs for the people who need them the most. The new leaders developed for public action sometimes offer unexpected new energy and commitment; when this happens, congregations can be strengthened and even transformed.

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