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 Finding # 1 Constellation of Factors

A constellation of factors is required to generate the strongest congregational development. Where only one or a few of the following factors are present, congregational development is thinner, typically limited to developing new leadership skills in some members.The most important factors are:

a. Systematic and ongoing implementation of FBCO principles and practices in ways consistent with the congregation’s faith tradition and vision, especially the one-to-one meeting and holding people accountable;

b. A comprehensive approach to CD by the FBCO group that addresses the identification and training of leaders, the application of leadership skills to public action on issues and to the internal life of the congregation; and ongoing relationship-building with leaders, clergy and congregants. Organizers implement the approach with flexibility creativity and a rich understanding of the congregation’s vision;

c. Ongoing relationships of trust, collaboration, and challenge between organizers and clergy;

d. A focus on building meaningful connections between a congregation’s faith tradition and the faith-based community organizing process; and

e. Active participation by clergy including mutual support and challenge among peer clergy typically through clergy caucuses.

Finding # 2 Benefits to Congregations

Clergy and leaders from nearly all congregations reported some benefits from the relationship with FBCO. As stated earlier, the most common benefits are more and deeper relationships, leadership development, increased lay leader involvement in congregational work and public action, heightened public profile, stronger connections between the faith tradition and social justice, and, in some cases, increased membership. These benefits are not easy to achieve and many congregations only experience them in a limited way e.g. leadership development for several leaders. Three factors hinder the achievement of benefits: the difficulties of adequately aligning the constellation of factors described above; the fact that faith-based community organizing has often been implemented at the margins, rather than the core, of congregational life; and the fact that talented organizers are often spread thin. While almost all of the congregations studied experienced some benefits from their involvement in FBCO, as a result of these factors, only a minority of congregations has experienced these benefits to the profound degree reflected in the accompanying stories.

Finding # 3 Cross-diversity Impact

FBCO is capable of generating significant development in congregations across a wide variety of faith traditions, racial/ethnic identities and income levels. We have examples of significant congregational development through faith-based community organizing in Catholic, Presbyterian, Unitarian-Universalist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Jewish, Baptist, Unity and urban evangelical congregations—as well as in congregations rooted in a remarkable variety of racial and ethnic communities and with socio-economic profiles from desperately poor to upper middle-class.

Finding # 4 Leadership Development

Leadership development is one of the most significant and consistent benefits of congregational development. Leaders from many congregations attested to the development of leadership skills such as public speaking, holding a one-to-one meeting, selecting a"winnable" issue, and running an effective meeting, and to an enlivening of their faith and its connection to social justice through training and involvement with FBCO.


Finding # 5 Role of Leaders: Implementation of FBCO Principles and Practices

When leaders implement the FBCO principles and practices in the congregation in a systematic and ongoing manner, congregational development is greatly increased. The most important practices and principles for congregational development are the one-to-one meeting and holding people accountable to their commitments and values. If clergy and leaders can creatively link the principles and practices to a congregation’s culture, vision and faith tradition, congregational development is further enhanced.

Finding # 6 Role of Clergy

Five concrete roles for clergy are crucial in sustaining strong FBCO and parlaying it into congregational development:

a. Providing entree to their congregations and legitimating the organizing effort;

b. Generating the broad societal vision that animates faith-based community organizing in a particular local setting;

c. Infusing a sense of spiritual meaning into the work of organizing;

d. Fostering dynamism within the organizing effort by providing a counterweight to the influence of organizers; and

e. Sustaining the network of relationships (particularly among clergy) that undergird the FBCO effort.

Finding # 7 The Role of Organizers

When organizers exhibit the following two factors, strong congregational development is more likely to occur:

a. They are experienced and well-trained, and they cultivate strong relationships with clergy based on trust and mutual self-interest; and

b. They systematically and creatively carry out a comprehensive, tailored approach to congregational development that includes leadership development, relationship-building with lay leaders, and application of leadership skills to congregational life and public action.

Finding # 8 Obstacles to the FBCO/congregation

The process of congregational development through participation in FBCO is complex and faces many obstacles. Following are those most frequently named by leaders, clergy and organizers:

a. Religious cultural resistance, including the belief by some clergy in a dichotomy between social justice work and effective congregational work, and a norm of "niceness at all costs" that springs from a particular interpretation of "kindness" or ‘love"

b. Weaknesses in contemporary congregations, including the lack of a clear sense of mission, overburdened or distracted clergy and excessive demands on families;

c. Weak relationships between clergy and organizers;

d. A shortage of qualified, well-trained organizers; and

e. Organizations that neglect local work in congregations as they seek to exert power in broader geographical areas or larger political arenas—rather than seeing these as complementary emphases.

Excerpted from "Renewing Congregations" by Interfaith Funders and Richard Wood 

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