Renewing Congregations: The Contribution of Faith-Based Community Organizing
From 2002 to 2004, Dr. Richard Wood, Director of Religious Studies at The University of New Mexico, worked with Interfaith Funders and the Ford Foundation to conduct a research project looking at the impact of congregation-based community organizing on 45 religious congregations of various denominations across the United States, including congregations from three PICO federations.
The results of the study showed that organizing can both help congregation members grow as leaders within their faith communities, as well as strengthen congregations as vital community institutions.
The study found the following impacts on congregations:
- Stronger relationships: Participation in organizing increases the quantity and quality of the relationships both within - and between - congregations. The latter - often called "bridging social capital" - is especially important in American life, since such ties bring together people from diverse socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and religious groups into shared projects of social change.
- Personal growth: Congregation members experience compelling personal growth as a result of being connected to "something bigger" than individualized faith. Many report a new confidence, a new "voice" in the world, a rekindled sense of themselves as promoters of social justice, and a new hopefulness in their lives.
- Deeper involvement in congregation: Participants report a deepened engagement with their faith community as a result of their organizing experience.
- Stronger faith: Congregation members experience a deeper relationship to the divine, as well as a deeper commitment to the denomination's teachings regarding social justice.
- Heightened public profile: Clergy and lay leaders widely perceived organizing as having heightened the public profile of their congregations.
- Leadership development: Clergy and lay leaders reported gaining specific democratic skills, such as public speaking, leading meetings, and the development of intentional public relationships.