Congregations involved in community organizing have
discovered the power of the values and visions they hold in
common, and are working to transform themselves and their
institutions and communities
Faith communities today find themselves struggling with decreasing
membership and dwindling budgets, confronting a culture of
individualism and tending to the casualties of a market economy.  
While many religious congregations believe all they can do is address
private pain and their own institutional survival, some 3500 faith
communities across America have ventured beyond their walls through
Congregation-based Community Organizing (CBCO, also known as
Faith-based Community Organizing or Institution-based Community
Organizing to address the larger causes of the pressures they confront.

Interfaith Funders was already convinced of the democratic impact of
CBCO, and how it draws on the strengths of congregations to achieve
that impact. But we knew little about whether this kind of public
engagement strengthens, undermines, or leaves unaffected the
sponsoring faith communities.  Under what conditions does civic
engagement for justice broadly contribute to congregational
development?   How does CBCO generate leadership skills, strengthen
congregations as organizations, and forge stronger links between
congregational life, social action, and the justice teaching of diverse
faith communities?

Over a 2-year period, researchers interviewed clergy, lay leaders, and
professional organizers in 13 cities throughout the country, in projects
sponsored by all the major CBCO networks.  We analyzed
congregational development in 45 faith communities, including Roman
Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Episcopalian, Jewish, Methodist,
Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Unitarian/Universalist, Unity, Muslim, and
nondenominational/evangelical congregations. Some were highly
multiracial, while the others constituted a rich mix of majority Latino,
African American, or white/European congregations.

Nearly all congregations reported some benefits from their relationship
with CBCO.  Where these benefits were most substantial they included:
  • More and deeper relationships among congregants and with
    members of other faith traditions;
  • Development of new leadership skills like public speaking,
    selecting issues, and running effective meetings;
  • Increased lay involvement in congregational work as well as
    public action;
  • A heightened public profile for the congregation;
  • Deeper understanding of the faith tradition’s call for social
  • And in some cases, an increase in congregational membership.

Congregation-based community organizing takes work, and
congregational development is not automatic.  CBCO requires
attentive commitment over time.  Our study shows that community
organizing, when done well by leaders, clergy and organizers, can be
an instrument of transformation.  It is democracy in action and
democracy at its best.  Congregations find that their sacred texts live in
a new way, that the words of their clergy resonate in action, and that
the rift between life of a citizen and life of the spirit is healed.

Related Publications:

Good for the Whole, Good for the Soul: Faith-Based Community
Organizing and the Renewal of Congregations
Available as .pdf email or hard copy

Faith and Public Life: Faith-Based Community Organizing and the
Development of Congregations
by Mary Ann Flaherty and Dr. Richard L. Wood, 2004  
Full Report on the Findings of the Congregational Development Research Study
conducted by Interfaith Funders and the University of New Mexico with funding
from the Ford Foundation.  Available as a .pdf email or hard copy

(To order the above Interfaith Funders publications, send an email to

Renewing Congregations: The Contribution of Faith-Based
Community Organizing
A resource publication based on the Congregational Development Research
Study conducted by Interfaith Funders and the University of New Mexico.
(To order copies of Renewing Congregations call Augsburg Fortress Order Center
at (800)328-4648.  Ask for ISBN 6-0001-7670-8)
Evangelical Lutheran
Presbyterians USA

Joint Position
Paper on
Jewish Resources

YouTube videos of
Jewish CBCO

K'hilot K'Doshot
Holy Congregations,
Congregations and Renewal
Pastor Heinemeier
What Would a
Organizing Culture
Look Like?
Unitarian Universalist

CBCO: A Social
Justice Approach
to Revitalizing
Initiative (IOI)


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