[this is a pre-publication version (29 February 2004) of this article. Do not cite or quote without written permission of the authors.]

[This article has been published in Stanley Hyland (editor), Community Building in the Twenty-First Century, pp. 71-100. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 2005.]


The World As It Should Be: Faith-Based Community Development in America

Robert V. Kemper and Julie Adkins

Department of Anthropology

Southern Methodist University

email: rkemper@mail.smu.edu


Generations of anthropologists have sought to comprehend the diversity of communities in America. Literally hundreds of ethnographic studies have been carried out – ranging from early efforts to salvage the spirit of Native American cultures to more recent projects designed to understand inner-city ethnic populations, middle-class suburbs, and even farming, fishing, and mining communities. Within the genre of American community studies, considerable attention also has been given to analyzing local religious practices. Yet, for all the ethnographic attention to beliefs and traditions, symbolism and syncretism, little has been written by anthropologists about a long-standing feature of American religious practices: the role of faith-based organizations in transforming communities.

Recently, the significance of faith-based organizations in American life was affirmed by none other than the President of the United States:

Faith-based and other community organizations are indispensable in meeting the needs of poor Americans and distressed neighborhoods. . . . [By this Executive Order] there is established a White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives . . . that will have lead responsibility . . . to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Federal Government’s comprehensive effort to enlist equip, empower, and expand the work of faith-based and other community organizations to the extent permitted by law (President George W. Bush, Executive Order, January 29, 2001).

The sheer size of the religious sector in America suggests its potential as a player in community development programs. Recent surveys by Independent Sector (2000) estimate that, in 1997, there were more than 353,000 religious congregations, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other places of worship in the U.S., with a collective annual budget of more than $80 billion. One example shows what is possible:

Since 1983, the Los Angeles United Methodist Urban Foundation (based at First United Methodist Church of Los Angeles) has given some 300 grants totaling $3.3 million to more than 200 different faith-based and social justice agencies in the metropolitan region. Recently, the Urban Foundation has become a faith-based intermediary, positioned to receive grants (more than $1.4 million to date) and to offer capacity building and technical assistance to other agencies. The Urban Foundation also supports the Mildred M. Hutchinson Chair of Urban Ministry at Claremont School of Theology, where Professor Michael Mata works in clergy education and community-oriented ministries training. (Information included with LAUMF 1999 annual report.)

Beyond local congregations, other faith-based enterprises include numerous higher-level denominational agencies and their social service agencies (e.g., Catholic Charities and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Lutheran Social Services; Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association [PHEWA]) as well as independent faith-based organizations with diverse missions (e.g., Habitat for Humanity International, The Salvation Army, YMCA, YWCA). Two examples of regional and cooperative community development ministries will show the possibilities:

In the western part of Maine, nine Presbyterian churches in 1954 formed a cooperative parish ministry known as MATE (Mission At The Eastward). Serving a mainly rural area, this cooperative is dedicated to community development broadly defined, including housing ministries, a nursing program, youth programs, and employment programs (Waldkoenig and Avery 1999:152-186).

In West Virginia, the Commission on Religion in Appalachia (CORA) was created in 1965 to bring churches and community groups together in partnership with the people of the region. Working together to confront the structural causes of injustice in Appalachia, CORA helps people become powerful enough to control their own lives. CORA supports numerous projects, including Project EAR (Economics in the Appalachian Region) and the Appalachian Development Projects Coalition (ADPC), and also encourages cooperative congregational development enterprises. The newest program, based in Jellico, TN, is the Woodland Development Corporation’s Individual Development Account program – which helps persons to achieve their saving goals and to draw on matching funds to purchase tangible assets. (From CORA website: http://www.geocities.com/appalcora)

In addition, a few national faith-based enterprises are focused primarily on community development/organizing issues (e.g., Industrial Areas Foundation [IAF], the Gamaliel Foundation, Direct Action and Research Training [DART], and Pacific Institute for Community Organization [PICO]). These community organizing networks will be discussed in greater detail below.

In contemporary America, where traditional institutions like families, schools, the courts, and all levels of government seem to have fallen on hard times as bastions of moral values, faith-based organizations find themselves distinctively positioned to provide leadership in our communities. In distressed urban neighborhoods as well as in depressed rural towns, local religious groups often represent the best hope for community development and empowerment (cf. Hinsdale et al. 1995; Shirley 2002). Despite current concerns about sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic church and in other denominations, in many communities – rural, suburban, and center-city – "the church is one of the few remaining institutions of trust" (Carle 1997a:1). In new communities and among new immigrant populations, religious institutions provide places of confidence where culture shock can be laid aside in the continuing practice of rituals and ceremonies known from generation to generation.

Congregations, synagogues, mosques, and temples are repositories and stewards of significant resources – "time, talent, and treasure" – that often are undervalued in the public marketplace (Smidt 2003). Their philanthropy – which can fairly be translated as "loving one’s neighbor" – extends far beyond the $15-$20 billion dollars and millions of volunteer hours which they collectively contribute each year to community improvement (Castelli and McCarthy 1997, cited in Vidal 2001:6). Every community has one or more "power" churches where influential persons attend and worship together. When the Mayor of San Francisco shows up at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church to present a placard-size check to support one of the church’s community development projects, the event makes the six o’clock news.


It is not, of course, a foregone conclusion that congregations or other faith-based organizations will engage in community development, or even express an interest in the matter. Congregations in particular struggle with the question: What is our "community"? Is it defined on the basis of affinity – "community" is those people and families who are part of the congregation, no matter the location of their homes and workplaces? Or is it a matter of geography – the church’s neighborhood is its community, regardless of where the members live? It is particularly an issue for congregations in neighborhoods that have changed around them. If, for example, a mainline Protestant church of aging Anglo members finds itself now surrounded by, say, young Hispanic Catholic immigrant families, that congregation’s entire life and program will depend on which definition of "community" it has chosen (or had imposed upon it by higher church authorities).

Congregations and institutions that have decided to engage their local communities may move forward in a number of different ways. Analyzing these trends historically and in the present, we see two interacting dimensions, each representing a continuum of possibilities. The first examines the type of response an organization makes to the needs of its community: Is its goal primarily to assist individuals and families in need, whether that help takes the form of rent assistance, food and clothing, job training, legal aid (cf. Poppendieck 1998)? Or is its goal to transform an entire community by addressing problems with slum lords, redlining, lack of access to medical care? This continuum – ranging from charitable assistance to community transformation -- we have chosen to label the engagement dimension, and it is represented by the vertical axis on the diagram below.

A second dimension, which we refer to as the faith dimension, is shown on the horizontal axis. Faith-based community organizations are far from monolithic in terms of the role that "faith" plays in their organization and their programming. While we can assume that a particular organization and its founders were and are motivated by some kind of faith commitment, beyond that point there are vast differences. Sherman (2002:61) has developed a helpful typology for examining organizations to ascertain where they fall on a continuum from "faith background," through "faith-related" and "faith-centered," all the way to "faith-saturated." An organization at the "faith background" end of the typology probably will not require that its staff and board members share a particular faith background, nor will religious content play a part in its programming. At the other end of the spectrum, a "faith-saturated" organization may require that all of its staff be members of its particular faith group, and will likely mandate participation in religious programming for all who benefit from its services.

In creating this typology for engagement and faith, we recognize that there is a broader context within which faith-based organizations carry out their missions. Clearly, there are possibilities for "neutral" or "negative" values along both the engagement and the faith dimensions. There are, after all, organizations which may contribute greatly to the development of communities from a stance that is entirely faith-neutral – ideally, local governments could fall into this category. Other kinds of organizations may be detrimental to a community’s life and health and even hostile to a faith perspective – such as many multinational corporations whose activities demonstrate a "negative" commitment to the welfare of a local community and its citizens. Within this broader context, most faith-based community development falls into the upper-right quadrant of the diagram; that is, it is engagement-positive and faith-positive. The diagram below summarizes our analysis:

Table 1. A Framework for Contextualizing Faith-Based Community Development

Positive Engagement/

Negative to Neutral Faith


(example: government-based community development agencies)


Positive Engagement/

Positive Faith


(example: Faith-based community development organizations)



(example: natural resources-extracting corporations)


Negative to Neutral Engagement/

Negative to Neutral Faith


(example: separatist religious cults)



Negative to Neutral Engagement/

Positive Faith

Faith Dimension


This two-dimensional diagram, while useful, is incomplete without a third dimension – the locus of control. Most faith-based community development organizations are local – founded, staffed, governed, and funded entirely by local individuals and resources. Decisions affecting the community are made in and by the community. Others are chapters of national organizations, with some local control over decisions but with policies generally set at a higher level (e.g., HUD). And a few are international in scope, far removed from the communities upon which their development programs descend.

The currently heightened awareness of faith-based community development is the culmination of a long history. Before we can deal with twenty-first century issues, we need to step back to see how "community" and "development" came to be combined into a single phrase to which "faith-based" only recently has been added.


It is a community of purpose that constitutes society . . . without that, [people] may be drawn into contiguity, but they still continue virtually isolated. Christianity teaches us to love our neighbour as ourself; modern society acknowledges no neighbor.

Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, or the Two Nations (1845)

Theories of Community

The eminent sociologist Robert Nisbet once observed that "the rediscovery of community is unquestionably the most distinctive development in nineteenth-century social thought" (1966:47). Nisbet’s analysis of the sociological tradition demonstrates that, during the nineteenth century, "community" held the same pivotal importance that "social contract" had held in the Age of Reason. For a wide range of the nineteenth century’s leading social thinkers – Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville, Herbert Spencer, Auguste Comte, Frédéric LePlay, Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, among others – an important task of social science was to explain the transformation of social relations accompanying urbanization and industrialization in European and other contemporary societies. In that context, the concept of community was understood by nineteenth-century theorists to encompass far more than neighborhood, the essence of propinquity (cf. Alperson 2002; Amit 2002; Brown 2002; Poplin 1979).

Community was equated to the image of the good society – that is, "the world as it should be." Community became a code word for "all forms of relationship which are characterized by a high degree of personal intimacy, emotional depth, moral commitment, social cohesion, and continuity in time. . . . Community is a fusion of feeling and thought, of tradition and commitment, of membership and volition" (Nisbet 1966:47-48). This ideal type of community was most clearly explicated by Tönnies in his influential contrast between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.

Faith-Related Community Engagement – The Beginnings

As is often the case with theory and practice, these theories about community generally came into existence independently of the ways U.S.-based religious organizations were dealing with social problems related to housing, labor, education, health, and immigration, especially as these were manifested in the poorest urban neighborhoods.

In the United States, where individualism was at the heart of an expansionist entrepreneurial culture during most of the nineteenth century, popular views about progress and poverty focused on treating persons in light of what the astute French observer Alexis de Tocqueville called "self interest rightly understood" in his widely acclaimed Democracy in America (1835-1840). The challenge, for religious organizations as well as for other private charity organizations, was to reform particular persons rather than to transform the prevailing "powers and principalities." One well-known example will serve:

Founded by George Williams in England in 1844, in response to the unhealthy social conditions (in particular gambling and drinking) arising in London and other large industrial cities, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) sought to fight idleness among young men through Bible studies, prayer meetings, and (eventually) recreational activities. The YMCA movement spread to America in 1851. The first YMCA in the United States was established in Boston; dozens more were founded in other cities within the coming decades. The outbreak of the Civil War a decade later virtually paralyzed the movement, but the association soon developed a program of civilian volunteers dedicated to the welfare of war prisoners and other servicemen. Whether in peace or in war, the YMCA focused its programs on individuals in need, rather than transformation of the underlying social system. By the 1870s, leaders of the YMCA movement were focusing their attentions on working-class industrial and railroad workers. With the goal of reducing political radicalism and labor unrest, the YMCA developed programs to foster team spirit, moral conduct, and new standards of manhood that would avoid conflict and instead would encourage cooperation along the lines of a Christian, pious manliness (cf. Winter 2002).

In the period before the Civil War, some religious groups (e.g., Shakers, Oneida, Mormons) elected to abandon the individualist emphasis in mainstream American culture, choosing instead to establish utopian communities where higher standards of behavior might be pursued. In a sense, these early communitarians took the concept of community development to its extreme – in different ways, they sought to develop holistic (and holy) communities from the ground up!

Slavery – the dominant issue of nineteenth century American life – also played a significant role in the agendas of religious reformers. In shifting their position from encouraging the manumission (or escape) of individual slaves to urging the transformation of the entire slave-based social system of the South, several Protestant denominations suffered wrenching debates and eventual schism. A related effect was the post-war emergence of independent African-American churches and denominations, many of which would come to play significant roles in urban community development in the twentieth century.

After the depression of the 1870s, "scientific philanthropists" were urging that sentimental approaches to the "undeserving" urban poor be replaced by proper standards for deciding eligibility for assistance and that mentors (usually, well-educated middle- and upper-class women) be provided to instruct the poor on budgeting, child care, household maintenance, and other skills. To many Americans, contemporary urban social problems seemed insurmountable in the face of the growing waves of (mostly) European immigrants. Whereas individual religious organizations once had been content to provide limited charitable assistance to widows, orphans, and other unfortunates, now many private charity groups began to coordinate their efforts so as to reduce the growing rolls of paupers. In New York City, the Charity Organization Society (established 1882) and other groups worked "to make New York less attractive to the needy by cutting back on outdoor relief and general giving" (Winston 1999:30) – a precursor to many subsequent attempts to reduce the welfare rolls, the most recent being the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996," which would give rise to "Charitable Choice options" and "faith-based" initiatives!

Faith-Related Community Engagement: The Social Gospel Movement

The situation in the last two decades of the nineteenth century was ripe for new religious and social thinking. Many Protestants began to join the emerging Social Gospel movement, which was intended to respond to the worsening economic and social conditions associated with urban-industrial "progress." Josiah Strong (1847-1916), a leading spokesman for the Social Gospel movement, organized an Interdenominational Congress at his Central Congregationalist Church in Cincinnati in 1885. Additional Congresses were held in 1887, 1889, and 1893 – with this last one, located at the Chicago World’s Fair, being especially significant for its visibility to and impact on the public at large (Ahlstrom 1975:266).

Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), a professor at Rochester Seminary and pastor for eleven years at the Second German Baptist Church, located just north of the notorious Hell’s Kitchen area of New York City, summed up the Social Gospel movement in two highly influential works, Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917). He argued that the crisis in contemporary American life demanded that Christians should answer the call to transform urban-industrial structures of power and inequality. Near the end of his 1907 bestseller, Rauschenbusch stated, "the conviction has always been embedded in the heart of the Church that ‘the world’ – society as it is – is evil and some time is to make way for a true human society in which the spirit of Jesus Christ shall rule" (1907:342). Then, in words that sound hauntingly contemporary to our ears, he proclaimed:

We are assured that the poor are poor through their own fault; that rent and profits are the just dues of foresight and ability; that the immigrants are the cause of corruption in our city politics; that we cannot compete with foreign countries unless our working class will descend to the wages paid abroad. These are all very plausible assertions, but they are lies dressed up in truth (1907:350)

In speaking about Church-State relations, Rauschenbusch continues to sound like a prophet to our own times:

The machinery of Church and State must be kept separate, but the output of each must mingle with the other to make social life increasingly wholesome and normal. Church and State are alike but partial organizations of humanity for special ends. Together they serve what is greater than either: humanity. Their common aim is to transform humanity into the kingdom of God (1907:380).

The power of the Social Gospel movement touched Protestant congregations and denominations across the nation. For instance, in 1887, "a group of New York Episcopalians founded the first social gospel Organization, the Church Association for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor" (Gough 1995:253). This expanding commitment of the Church to confront the "powers and principalities" was in line with broader political forces urging the breakup of corporate monopolies, eventually culminating in the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890 and the work of Theodore Roosevelt and his Trust Busters.

Organizations that we would now label "parachurch" also prospered in the environment of the Social Gospel movement, although their emphasis tended to be on providing charitable assistance for the poor rather than transforming unjust social structures. For example, in 1880, The Salvation Army arrived from England and initiated its street ministries in New York City. Beginning with its pursuit of lost souls, and then moving on to humanitarian aid among the urban poor, The Salvation Army developed a significant social services network – including soup kitchens, rescue shelters, employment bureaus, thrift shops, and clinics – among the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In her excellent history of the organization, Diane Winston argues:

While other religious traditions survived, even thrived, in New York, they were not urban religions. In the city but not of the city, they served discrete memberships by offering a respite from the outside world. Sunday (or Saturday) was a spiritual time distinct from the rest of the week just as the sanctuary was a place apart, designated for private worship. Catholics might get out for the annual festa, Jews for tashlich, but only The Salvation Army pounded the pavements each day of the week (1999:3).

Urban missions were another significant development (cf. Carle 1997b). The Water Street Mission in New York City and the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago were the best known of these so-called "rescue missions." By the 1880s every city boasted one or more rescue missions. Eventually, city mission societies throughout the country were launching a wide range of programs for the poor, including homes for working mothers and children’s hospitals. They were especially important because of the absence of Protestant congregations in the poorest and most blighted urban neighborhoods. These "rescue missions" were designed to minister to the "dregs of society – vagrants, alcoholics, former convicts, jobless men, and fallen women" (Hudson 1965:297).

The rapidly expanding city of Chicago gave birth to the Settlement House movement when Jane Addams (1860-1935) and her friend Ellen Starr established Hull House in 1889. Addams (who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931) was an active Quaker, a group that also supported the Friends Neighborhood Guild in Philadelphia. Settlement houses – many of which had religious connections – focused on improving living conditions, especially among the growing ethnic immigrant populations who were flooding into the poorest urban areas.

The late nineteenth century also saw the short-lived approach to the problems of urban community life known as the "institutional church" – a late nineteenth century version of what now are known as megachurches. The institutional church was defined by its leading apologist, Edward Judson (1844-1914), as

an organized body of Christian believers, who, finding themselves in a hard and uncongenial social environment, supplement the ordinary methods of the gospel – such as preaching, prayer meetings, Sunday school, and pastoral visitation -- by a system of organized kindness, a congeries of institutions, which, by touching people on physical, social, and intellectual sides, will conciliate them and draw them within reach of the gospel (1908:436).

By the end of the nineteenth century, there were more than 170 such institutional churches in the nation’s major cities, most of them affiliated with the principal Protestant denominations (Baptist, Congregational, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.). The Open or Institutional Church League was formed in 1894 to promote "educational, reformatory, and philanthropic" activities (Hudson 1965:300-302). This initial success tended to absorb more and more of the congregations’ energy in the provision of humanitarian services, rather than in evangelization. Hudson reports, "As a result the congregations dwindled almost as rapidly as they had increased. In the end, far from being a means of building up a congregation to support a ministry in areas of deterioration, many of the institutional churches became social agencies which other churches had to find money and leadership to maintain and support" (1965:302).

Faith-Related Community Engagement: The Early Twentieth Century

In the first half of the twentieth century, the United States became a (reluctant) global power driven by an ever-growing industrial output generated largely by a workforce of immigrant and ethnic laborers. The so-called "Great Migration" of African-Americans from the South to northern cities was accompanied by the "urbanization of black Christianity" (Franklin 1996:78). This "ministry of resettlement" was structurally similar to efforts by Roman Catholics, Jews, and Protestants to assist newly arriving Europeans. For example, in 1907 the Presbyterian Church created an Office of Immigrant and Industrial Work and in 1914 the Presbyterian Mission Board built the Labor Temple in New York City to provide office and meeting space for newly organizing unions (Todd 1996:152).

The experience of Jewish immigrants to America transformed their participation in community life. Once restricted to self-contained enclaves (ghettos) in European towns and cities, Jews in the United States found themselves embedded in a broader, more diverse society, with full rights and responsibilities as citizens. Here, the synagogue became the primary institution of Jewish life, often with several in a metropolitan area for individuals (and families) to choose from. Rather than being limited by ghetto walls, American Jews were able to participate in community life through a synagogue (Hudson 1965:329). The estimated 250,000 Jews in the United States in 1880 expanded to nearly three million by the beginning of World War I.

In similar fashion, the Roman Catholic Church grew dramatically in the years from 1880 to 1914. In those days, Catholics often suffered discrimination at the hands of the Protestants who outnumbered them in the urban areas of the north east and mid west. According to Frederick J. Perella,

The parish was and remains the primary center for pastoral care and development of people in the Catholic urban experience. . . . Parishes were geographically defined, which meant that the clergy had pastoral responsibility for the care of all souls in their neighborhood. Therefore Catholic parishes and their institutions, while ethnocentric and creed centered, often extended their services to others in their area. In this immigrant-community stream could be found Catholic churches, elementary and secondary schools, and some local parish credit unions or small consumer cooperatives. . . . In addition, the immigrant-community church created volunteer, self-help social services, such as emergency aid funds and volunteer mutual assistance groups like the St. Vincent de Paul Society (1996:180).

Faith-Related Community Engagement: World War II to the New Millennium

World War II represents a watershed in the history of religious involvement in community development and social services programs. First, the five years of global conflict from 1941-1945 shifted resources away from the problems of rural and urban communities that had accumulated during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then, after the war, the baby boom resulted in the dramatic growth of suburban America, accompanied by a continuing impoverishment of many of the old central cities, where African-Americans and other ethnic minorities would soon become demographic majorities. These trends were exacerbated by the "white flight" response of many Anglos to the 1954 Supreme Court decision (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka) that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

During the 1950s and the 1960s, religious groups were faced with building thousands of new congregations in the expanding suburbs, at the same time that center-city churches often were declining in membership and lacked the resources to meet their community’s needs. For the new suburban churches, "community" development ceased to refer to doing social ministry in a congregation’s surrounding community, and came to mean the development of a sense of "community" among a congregation’s own membership – not entirely unlike the escapist "utopian" communities of the nineteenth century. During the period from 1940 to 1960, church membership rose from about 50 percent of the population to nearly 70 percent. By the late-1960s, at a time when the Vietnam conflict was just beginning to have an impact on American society, a reversal of membership trends had become evident. As Green (1996:17) reports, "In 1968 the ten largest Protestant denominations reported fewer members than in the previous year. Church membership was not keeping up with the growth rate of the population."

The civil rights struggles of the 1960s engaged the energies and passions of many religious groups – especially African-American congregations and Hispanic Catholic parish churches. In life and in death, charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and César Chávez (1927-1993) challenged the national conscience. The involvement of churches in national human rights issues often created a tension with their on-going participation in local-level community issues.

The urban riots of the summer of 1967 brought this tension home to congregations, synagogues, and parish churches throughout America. During that terrible time, Andrew White (then an assistant professor at Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia) wrote a prescient article on "The Churches and Community Development." He saw churches as potentially powerful forces for solving the problems billowing from the nation’s cities:

As strategies for constructive social change are being developed, the strategists are choosing between approaches which simply control the scope and consequences of ills resulting from individual dysfunction and those resulting from whole system dysfunction. . . . The community development process, recognizing the deep-rooted source of system dysfunction, is one that, in its multi-variety of forms, views the community as a whole and is a search for the problem-solving activity which will attack root-causes rather than offer merely symptomatic treatment (1967:372).

Although White’s analysis focused on Lutherans, he and others (e.g., Schaller 1965) also saw the need for a broader approach if urban neighborhoods were to be saved. As an example of this community development approach, White presented the case of the First English Lutheran Church (located in a poverty area of Columbus, Ohio). This congregation "had the courage to help the people of its community structure themselves to help themselves, rather than be continued recipients of hand-out aid." Thus, the people created the East Central Citizens Organization (ECCO), which offered its members " a new self-image for the individual, a new sense of identity in community, the dignity of freedom and self-determination, the power to make decisions and judgments, the respect of the whole community and its official agencies, and the right to choose its leadership, to control the actions of its officials and to reject manipulation by friend or foe" (1967:373-374).

Community-oriented projects often took place in the context of ecumenical efforts. In the wake of the creation of the National Council of Churches in 1950 (after the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948), the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) not only opened the Roman Catholic Church to the world, but brought to the attention of the world’s religious community a heightened concern for social justice ministries and liberation theology (originally elaborated in Latin America, Africa, and Asia). These new teachings "reinforced and enlivened an already strong Catholic commitment to improving urban life, and encouraged Catholics to work together with other Christians in addressing problems of the city" (Green 1996:19).

The 1960s saw the beginning of church-based training institutes for urban and community ministry efforts. According to Green (1996:19-20), twenty-seven centers were set up twenty-two cities, with the Urban Training Center in Chicago and the Metropolitan Urban Service Training program in New York being among the best known. These centers were supported by fifteen national church agencies, including white and Black Protestants, Roman Catholics, and some smaller bodies. Although most of these centers were short-lived, they collectively trained thousands of workers to do community ministry throughout the nation.

From Providing Social Services to Organizing Community

A major emphasis in the 1960s was the community organizing strategy inspired by the earlier work of Saul Alinsky (1909-1972) and his colleagues. Their experiences in the late 1930s, bringing together Roman Catholic parish leaders and other local neighborhood leaders in organizing the "Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council" in Chicago, had resulted in the establishment of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 1940. In his 1946 bestseller Reveille for Radicals, Alinsky (who earlier had studied archaeology and urban sociology at the University of Chicago) elaborated his hard-won philosophy that community organizing required detailed ethnographic understanding of a community, needed an outside organizer to serve as a catalyst for change, and depended on understanding power in terms of relationships.

After spending two decades traveling throughout the nation’s cities developing his bottom-up, people-first methodology for community organizing, Alinsky was ready for another major community project when, in 1959, he was approached by leaders of local churches in the Woodlawn area of Chicago to combat the University of Chicago’s plans to expand its campus into this "depressed" neighborhood. At Alinsky’s suggestion, the local association of Protestant pastors was expanded so that Catholic clergy could join – and, with this broader base of support, the IAF began to organize the residents of Woodlawn. With funding from the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Presbyterian Board of National Missions, and private foundations, The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) not only dealt with the University, but also organized campaigns for fair business practices by the area’s merchants, led a series of tenant’s strikes, and – led by Alinsky’s brilliant protégé, Nicholas von Hoffman (who later went on to become a well-known author and television commentator) – took on the Board of Education on the issues of segregated and unequal public education.

As P. David Finks has observed, "The close working arrangement between Alinsky and the Christian churches in ecumenical coalition became the model for the IAF’s approach to organizing communities in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to operate today" (1984:167). According to Monsignor John J. Egan, then Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Urban Affairs in Chicago,

the early 1960s were the "Golden Age" of Church-community cooperation in Chicago because in a time of civic crisis Alinsky brought to the frustrated people in the churches and to the troubled people in the neighborhoods the tools they needed to create democratic power, pride in themselves, and the political skills to take control of their lives and communities. Nobody could have done it alone; it took the churches and the neighborhood people – and it required Alinsky and his organizers as the catalyst (quoted in Finks 1984:169).

As a consequence of the success of the Woodlawn area project in Chicago and similar projects in New York and California, community organizing became the single most important strategy for church urban mission. Presbyterian leader George Todd has observed,

Community organizing was recognized as a new form of ministry that carried forward the long line of the church’s service in urban communities. Whereas in the nineteenth and early twentieth century the church had pioneered in establishing schools, hospitals, community centers, and other forms of social service, community organizing represented a transformation of church thinking from service to empowerment (Todd 1996:164).

In the wake of Vatican II, with its acceptance of new ideas about liberation theology, church-based community organizing was a logical extension of the historical role of Roman Catholic parish churches. As Perella has pointed out,

Under the concept of congregation or parish-based organizing, networks such as the Industrial Areas Foundation and the Campaign for Human Development began to stress training and funding that make the parishes and the churches in a community the constituency for an organization. Rather than merely sponsoring or physically hosting a neighborhood organizing project in which some parishioners and the pastor get involved, organizing strategies call for the entire parish to be interviewed and for an intensive program of leadership development to take place in each member parish. . . .The agendas for these congregational organizing projects were developed in a process of consultations and prayer, which included theological and biblical reflection, about basic goals and values of the churches" (1996:209-210).


Perhaps the greatest legacy of the faith-based efforts of the "Golden Age" of the 1960s is to be found in the continuing work of four national-level community organizing enterprises (see box). These enterprises – the Industrial Areas Foundation, the Gamaliel Foundation, PICO, and DART – collectively provide community organizers and offer training to hundreds of local-level community organizations throughout the country. These community organizing groups sponsor a wide range of "actions" and celebrate many "victories" each year as they work to expand their influence to new communities and new social issues (cf. Jacobsen 2001).

Just as Alinsky’s earlier work in community organizing has continued to attract attention and served as a model for current work, so too the effort of present-day organizers is being taken seriously by national-level governmental and private sector enterprises. For instance, Ernesto J. Cortés, regional director of the IAF’s Southwest Network for almost three decades, has received the Heinz Award in Public Policy and a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant (cf. Cortés 1993, 1996; Rogers 1990; Warren 2001).

Through Cortés’s leadership, IAF has established a strong presence in Texas and throughout the Southwest, with coalitions of congregations (mostly Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish), along with labor unions, public schools, and other interest groups. Beginning with the establishment in 1974 of the COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service) organization in his home town of San Antonio, Cortés has helped to build local networks based on relational power which have generated more than $1 billion worth of improvements in neighborhood infrastructure in San Antonio alone, with another $1 billion of improvements in the Rio Grande Valley area along the border. In 1999, when COPS celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, more than 5,000 leaders from the IAF Southwest Network assembled in San Antonio to celebrate their thousands of victories, including: statewide educational reform through Alliance schools, metropolitan living-wage policies for working families, organizing for the provision of water and wastewater services along the Texas border, the creation of affordable housing for low to moderate income families, and adult job training programs (cf. Shirley 2002).

Similar stories have been reported by many other IAF, Gamaliel, PICO, and DART organizations across the country, as well as by independent faith-based community organizations. A few examples from among the hundreds of cases around the country will have to suffice.

· In Miami-Dade County, Florida, People Acting for Community Together (PACT) is an interfaith coalition of diverse congregations working together for social and economic justice. Founded in 1988, and affiliated with the DART network, PACT is composed of 25 congregations representing more than 50,000 people, making it the largest grassroots organization in South Florida. Committed to building stronger communities with social capital, members of PACT congregations share their concerns and dreams regarding the community, build and strengthen relationships, and work together in "direct actions" to hold public officials accountable.

· On the other side of the country, People Acting in Community Together (PACT) represents 35,000 families through fourteen member congregations in the San Jose, California area. Founded in 1985, and affiliated with PICO, PACT is a faith and community based multi-issue citizens’ group committed to increasing community well-being through improving education, safety, employment, housing, and health.




The work of faith-based community organizing networks is surveyed in a recent report about the state of the field (Warren and Wood 2001). Of the 133 local organizations identified for inclusion in the survey, 100 responded. These local organizations are active in 33 states and the District of Columbia, although six states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio) have half of the organizations. Warren and Wood found that the faith-based community organizing field

includes about 4,000 member institutions, of which 87% are religious congregations, and 13% are non-congregational institutions like unions, public schools, and a diverse array of other community organizations. . . . [T]he leaders . . . include nearly 2,700 people serving on governing boards, and roughly 24,000 core leaders actively engaged at any one time through the work of 460 professional organizers. Their combined efforts drew an estimated 100,000 people to at least one large public action over the 18 months leading up to the survey, which should be understood as a minimum figure for active support for the field’s organizations (2001:6)

Faith-based community organizing groups involve a wide range of religious congregations. Catholics make up about one-third of the congregations, while Baptists (mostly black) represent about one-sixth. Other groups include United Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists (UCC); together, these five denominations represent another one-third of the participating congregations. The balance is composed of small percentages of Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, and black evangelical (mostly Church of God in Christ) congregations. Warren and Wood discovered in their survey that "white evangelicals and fundamentalists are noticeably absent, considering their prominence in American society." (2001:7).


Even though the community organizing paradigm has proven itself to be a powerful mechanism for transforming power relationships in local communities, it is not the only approach used by faith-based enterprises. The major competing paradigm is that of community development – and is principally manifestated through local-level Community Development Corporations (CDCs). Among African-American congregations, it is common practice to spin off one or more separate non-profit 501-c(3) organizations in which local pastors also may play key roles.

Not all faith-based organizations are involved in community development, much less in their communities. A "key finding" of a recent report (prepared by Avis C. Vidal of The Urban Institute for the U.S. Department of Housing and Community Development) suggests that "relatively few faith-based organizations participate in community development activities," although "faith-based organizations are uniquely positioned to have a significant impact beyond simply sponsoring community development projects" (Vidal 2001:i-ii).

This same report suggests that community development activities are not distributed evenly among religious groups. Size is an important variable, since larger congregations are more likely to have more financial resources, more paid staff, and more members willing to serve as unpaid volunteers. While income per se does not appear to be a significant variable in determining whether congregations will be involved in community activities, theological orientation does make a difference. "Liberal" congregations are more than twice as likely as "conservative" congregations to engage in social services and to carry out community-oriented activities. Congregations located in areas with more than 30% of the residents with incomes below the federal poverty line also are more likely to be involved in work in their communities. Finally, the presence of "charismatic" leadership in the congregation committed to community work is a significant factor in a congregation’s participation.

Given the above tendencies, it is no surprise that congregations with a predominantly African-American membership are more likely than Anglo-dominated congregations to be involved in community development activities (cf. McDougall 1993; McRoberts 2001). Usually, African-American churches establish Community Development Corporations (CDCs) to operate their community projects (cf. Orr 2000; Owens 2000) In this way, African-American churches "have traditionally worked . . . to preserve ownership of projects that are ‘in, of, and for’ the African-American community" (Day 2001:193). Moreover, "through investment of new resources from government, academia, denominations, and the philanthropic communities, [African-American] churches are more strongly equipped to carry out large-scale economic development projects. As a result, entrepreneurial churches are able to tackle whole neighborhoods and a plethora of issues within them – education, business development, housing, commercial development, job training, crime and safety, and so on" (Day 2001:194).

Community Development Corporations have proven to be a viable mechanism for dealing with community issues for more than thirty years. Indeed, they have reached the venerable status that an oral history project has been conducted among the founders, leaders, and supporters of nineteen of the pioneering CDCs across the country. With major funding from the Ford Foundation, the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (PICCED) of Brooklyn, NY, carried out this project. To inform the broader public about the mission, history, struggles and accomplishments of the community development movement, PICCED and Charles Hobson of Vanguard Films drew upon the CDC Oral History Project interviews to produce Building Hope, a one-hour video documentary that was aired nationwide on PBS in April of 1994. Their website [http://www.picced.org/advocacy/bldghope.htm] provides profiles of fifteen CDCs, including:

Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), New York, NY

Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC), Brooklyn, NY

Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), Phoenix, AZ

Dineh Cooperative, Inc. (DCI), Chinle, Navaho Nation, AZ

Drew Economic Development Corporation (Drew EDC), Compton, CA

Mississippi Action for Community Education (MACE), Greenville, MS

New Community Corporation (NCC), Newark, NJ

South East Alabama Self-Help Association (SEASHA), Tuskegee, AL

South East Community Organization (SECO), Baltimore, MD

Spanish Speaking Unity Council (SSUC), Oakland, CA

The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU), Los Angeles, CA

The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), Chicago, IL

United Durham, Inc. Community Development Corp. (UDI/CDC), Durham, NC

Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), Los Angeles, CA

Zion Non-Profit Charitable Trust, Philadelphia, PA

Housing and Economic Development

According to the recent National Congregations Study (Chaves et al. 1999), about 57% of congregations engage in some type of social service or community-oriented activities, but only 18% participate in housing programs, even though this is the most common community development activity. Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been "reinventing" itself "to serve communities." HUD now sees its mission as including work with faith-based organizations to enhance community development programs. A crucial piece of HUD’s reinvention is the new Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, established in response to President Bush’s Executive Order of January 29, 2001, to replace HUD’s Center for Community and Interfaith Partnerships. This new Center does not make grants. Rather, it assists faith-based organizations by helping to "level the playing field" at HUD by making it easier for such organizations to participate in its programs and thereby to help HUD to achieve its mission.

HUD is committed to working with faith-based organizations not simply because of a presidential mandate: the significant involvement of diverse faith-based agencies makes it impossible for HUD to avoid such involvement. For instance, HUD offers the following facts to justify reinventing its role in providing housing to Americans:

· A Gallup survey conducted for Independent Sector in 1994 found that two in five congregations were involved in help for the homeless, while one in five was involved in affordable housing or senior housing.

· According to the National Catholic Housing Survey, Catholic organizations had produced more than 51,000 affordable housing units by 1997, housing more than 70,000 residents.

· In 1997, Lutheran Services of America served over 45,000 elderly in nursing facilities and nearly 19,000 elderly in independent living facilities.

· The Presbyterian Committee on the Self Development of People provided over $2 million to grass roots community development organizations in 1997.

· During its 30 year history, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has funded more than 3,000 self-help projects developed by grass roots organizations.

· World Vision, with the help of Evangelical Christians, supported 176 community development projects across the country in 1997.

· Habitat for Humanity International, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry, has invited people from all walks of life to work together in partnership to help build houses with families in need. Habitat has built almost 80,000 houses around the world, providing some 400,000 people in more than 2,000 communities with safe, decent, affordable shelter.

In addition, HUD continues to establish new partnerships with organizations such as

· Chase Bank, which was the first major bank to establish a faith-based community development lending program

· the Ford Foundation, which, among other programs, funds the National Interfaith Hospitality Network, a group with 48,000 volunteers from Jewish and Christian congregations in twenty states that provides services to homeless people and others in poor communities,

· the Enterprise Foundation – a national, nonprofit housing and community development corporation dedicated to bring lasting improvements to distressed communities,

· the National Congress for Community Economic Development (NCCED), serving as a trade association composed primarily of community-based development organizations, which recently began a faith-based community economic development program,

· the McAuley Institute, founded by the Sisters of Mercy, which provides assistance to grass roots organizations that work to expand housing and economic opportunities for low-income women and their families.

For more information on HUD and other governmental partnerships with faith-based community organizations, consult the http://www.knowledgeplex.org website powered by the Fannie Mae Foundation. Also useful is a Fannie Mae-funded publication entitiled Faith-Based Affordable Housing Development and Finance Resource Guide, prepared by the College of Biblical Studies, Houston, TX.


Writing three decades ago about the trajectory of community development and cultural change in Latin America, anthropologist Norman B. Schwartz suggested that "the core of the community development movement and method was to help people help themselves improve the material and nonmaterial conditions of their lives because the assumption is that ‘There, in the long run, lies the salvation of the community’" (1978:237, quoting Dunham 1963). Schwartz continued his analysis of the Latin American situation by observing that community development "aims to help a community realize its own aspirations and needs by using its own human resources, although the community, usually poor and deprived, may require private or public support at various stages on the path to self-realization. Within this context, change agents regard the ‘felt needs’ of their clients as primary. Further, the felt needs of the entire community are important; no segment of the community may be neglected" (1978:237).

More recently, John M. Perkins, co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA, established in 1989), proclaimed that Christian community development is dedicated to meeting three universal felt needs: (1) the need to belong, (2) the need to be significant and important, and (3) the need for a reasonable amount of security (1995:20-21). The CCDA brings together a wide range of faith-based organizations concerned with meeting the "felt needs" of urban and rural communities. Through its quarterly newsletter Faith in the Community and its annual national conferences, the CCDA spreads its message, especially among African-American clergy and laypersons.

One of Perkins’s colleagues, Phil Reed (senior pastor, Voice of Calvary Fellowship, Jackson, MS), has defined what he calls the "3 Rs" of community development: reconciliation, redistribution, and relocation. First, people must overcome divisions of all kinds; then, people must have access to opportunities to obtain the skills and economic resources to be able to work their way out of poverty, whatever the cause of their situation; and, finally, the people bring God’s resources into the community of need in a personal way. Reed argues that "Relocation is the method by which we accomplish reconciliation and redistribution. Neither reconciliation nor redistribution can be done effectively long distance. . . . Relocation is personal. It involves putting ourselves in threatening situations, coming into areas that others have long since abandoned, or merely planting our feet in neighborhoods that ‘smart’ people are leaving" (1995:36; cf. Perkins 1993).

In their call for the restoration of at-risk communities, Perkins, Reed, and their CCDA collaborators actually demonstrate the importance of a fourth "R" – relationships. For instance, in discussing the local church and community development, Glen Kehrein (Executive Director, Circle Urban Ministries, Chicago) points out that "relationships are key. Partnership takes intentional effort; it won’t happen just because we want it to happen. Staff and leaders must commit time and energy to relationship building. To have integrity and longevity, ministry must grow from our fellowship" (1995:179; cf. Ferguson and Dickens 1999).

These "4 Rs" about community development have been taken to another level by John P. Kretzmann and John L. McKnight, the directors of the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute, located at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). The ABCD approach involves six steps:

· releasing individual capacities;

· releasing the power of local associations and organizations;

· capturing local institutions for community building;

· rebuilding the community economy;

· mobilizing the assets of the entire community; and

· providing policies and guidelines to support on-going asset-based development.

These steps are described in detail in the excellent manual Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets (Kretzmann and McKnight 1993) and are taught through annual three-day learning events and five-day learning retreats. In addition to these training programs, the ABCD Institute began (in 1997) a Religious Network for faith-based community builders that has received significant financial support from the Presbyterian Church (USA), and then established (in 1999) an ABCD Neighborhood Circle

network for bringing together local community project leaders investigating ABCD approaches to mobilizing whole neighborhoods in community training. Regional ABCD networks have developed in recent years in California, Oregon, Connecticut, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

The ABCD approach focuses on developing a "Community Assets Map," comprised of local institutions (businesses, community colleges, hospitals, parks, and schools), citizens’ associations (block clubs, churches, and cultural groups), and gifts of individuals (including artists, the elderly, youth, and "labelled" [i.e., differently gifted] people). The detailed gathering of information about a community, household by household, building by building, block by block is intended to reveal the unique inventory of assets in a specific community. Assembling and analyzing the assets map and developing the inventory is a necessary step before these assets can be mobilized for development purposes.

According to Kretzmann and McKnight (1993:9), the ABCD approach to community development starts with what is present in the community, the capacities of its residents and workers, the associational and institutional base of the area – not with what is absent, or with what is problematic, or with what the community needs. This community development process is "internally focused" to stress the primacy of local definition, investment, creativity, hope and control. Finally, this community development process is designed to be "relationship driven." Thus, one of the central challenges for asset-based community developers is to sustain the relationships between and among local residents, local associations, and local institutions.

The asset-based approaches of the CCDA and the ABCD Institute are precursors of a "social capital" approach to community organizing and development (cf. Foley, McCarthy, and Chaves 2001). Made popular by Robert Putnam’s bestseller Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), social capital can be understood as the stocks of social trust, norms, and networks that people can call upon to solve shared problems. Neighborhood associations, cooperatives, sports clubs, and religious congregations represent different elements in a community’s portfolio of social capital. The more that these associational networks overlap, the more likely that a community can be mobilized into effective action. Social capital tends to be "below the radar screen" of formal assessment methods, since the associational networks and the individual "funds of knowledge" (cf. Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenberg 1992) that compose the networks are hard to measure through sample survey techniques. On the other hand, careful community analysis through ethnographic procedures, especially spatial mapping (cf. Cromley 1999) and social network analysis (cf. Trotter 1999), is more likely to reveal the richness of local communities.

Faith-based community development may be characterized as social capital development to the extent that it builds on relationships within the community of interest and then expands these relationships to include external individuals, associations, and institutions. When religious institutions join with labor unions, schools, banks, and other enterprises, the chances for transforming the community increase dramatically beyond what typically occurs when "top-down" planning approaches are imposed by external agencies. And when faith-based organizations are able to join metropolitan, regional, and even national networks composed of like-minded individuals, there is no need to "reinvent the wheel" or suffer through situations for which solutions have been found in other communities. So, there is a significant multiplier effect for faith-based community development in such contexts.



Faith-based organizations offer excellent opportunities for putting anthropological theories and practices to the test. At a time when the need for studying the diversity of American communities is obvious to all, congregations and other faith-based groups provide an entry into places where ethnographers might otherwise not be able to conduct field research. Congregations cross all the lines of contemporary America. Rich and poor, ethnic minorities and majorities, urban, suburban, and rural – churches and parachurch organizations are found everywhere, from east to west, from north to south.

Thus, it is possible to construct large-scale comparative projects (cf. Woolever and Bruce 2002) as well as to carry out small-scale in-depth analysis of faith-based community development enterprises (Ammerman et al. 1998). Most of these studies are being conducted not by anthropologists, but by scholars in other disciplines (e.g., sociology, social work, demography, theology) who have come to appreciate the value of ethnographic inquiry (cf. Cnaan 1999, 2002; Goldsmith 2002; Rubin 2000). So, even though few anthropologists have been involved directly in research projects focused on faith-based community development, anthropological perspectives are very much in vogue (Bartkowski and Regis 2003).

Persons with skills in community assessment, evaluation, strategic planning, and grant writing are in great demand among faith-based organizations involved in community development projects. There is no end to the opportunities for doing consulting assignments, whether for local congregations, for regional judicatories, or even with national denominational offices. The experiences that many anthropologists have had with ethnic and immigrant populations also may be very useful to religious organizations committed to working with these groups.

But, perhaps it is awareness of and commitment to "culture" that continues to be the most important component in contemporary analysis of faith-based community development projects. Attention to "cultural models of local religious life" (cf. Becker 1999) can be an important step toward framing "cultural" approaches to understanding the internal workings of faith-based organizations involved in community development.

Throughout America, inner-city neighborhoods and small rural communities have in common that many of their "historic" churches are in decline or even face being closed. The generational transition inside these churches reflects the broader changes in the surrounding neighborhoods. At the other extreme, the rise of new, affluent suburbs on the edge of metropolitan areas brings with it the building of new congregations, representing not only mainline denominations but also independent and nontraditional churches.

In a sense, faith-based organizations are institutions with their own life cycles, played out across several generations and sometimes spread across the landscape – as congregations move from one place to another or expand from an original site to a wider range of localities. In such contexts, anthropologists interested in longitudinal and historical studies will find congregations and their members to be very receptive to studies of their impact on the broader community.


Wayne G. Bragg (1984:158-166) has suggested that for community development to achieve transformation it must have the following elements: life-sustenance, equity, justice, dignity and self-worth, freedom, participation, reciprocity, cultural fit, ecological soundness, hope, and spiritual transformation. Unfortunately, this commendable list of qualities is rarely made explicit in the goals and objectives laid out in Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for community development projects.

A recent President of the Community Development Society, Ronald J. Hustedde, has decried the absence of "soul" in community development. He believes that integrating "soulful practices" into community development projects would help us to "respect the diversity of the peoples we serve" (1998:155). He goes on to say that "Soul can make sense out of paradox. It thrives on it. The many paradoxes within community development cause its practitioners to draw upon their intuition and their discerning spirits in deciding what is right when with dealing with them" (1998:160). Hustedde is enough of a realist to know that, despite our best efforts, sometimes nothing is accomplished, at least in the short-term time frame of a funded project. As he says, "In the end, all one may have left to show for their efforts is the saving power of relationships to sustain us. Community is not abstract. It is about real people with real names. The community developer’s relationship with people is unique. . . . We seek to strengthen the skills of the communities so they no longer need us. . . . When practitioners nourish these relationships, they are engaged in a soulful act" (1998:161-162). Finally, Hustedde reminds us that community development involves giving and receiving a blessing: "The most subtle blessing we give is the blessing of being there to truly listen and walk with people in their pain, joy, and questioning. . . . Additionally, there are the blessings of affirmation in which we tell community people in words and touch the importance of the journey they are on. We affirm their accomplishments, the difficult questions they raise, and the lessons they learn along the way" (1998:163).

What Hustedde claims for specialists in the community development profession applies just as well to anthropologists. Our theories, methods, and practices are valuable for understanding and implementing faith-based community development projects, whether implemented by anthropologists or used by non-anthropologists. But beyond this obvious connection, we believe that involvement in faith-based community development also offers to anthropologists the possible of self-transformation and, perhaps, even disciplinary development. Contrast the difference between consulting for a corporation driven to extract profits from consumers versus working in partnership with congregations determined to be prophetic to their communities.

To speak in these terms of the "soul" of community development brings to mind the biblical sense of community welfare and partnership, represented in the Old Testament by the Hebrew term shalom (peace, welfare) and in the New Testament by the Greek term koinonia (community, partnership). Following Roy H. May, Jr., we suggest that "development does not mean having more, but fundamentally being more in terms of the quality and relationships of life that emerge from a community’s own cultural tradition. . . . It is the creation of new cultural, political, and economic patterns and conditions that enhance dignity, critical consciousness, and interpersonal communication and cooperation based on the principles of participation and community self-determination" (1985:2; emphasis added).

In this ancient tradition, "turning around" begets "repentance" begets "transformation." Change is not merely material, it also is spiritual. The Greek term metanoia, which can be translated as "transformation of the mind," captures the power of the spirit that comes with faith-based community organizing and development. Establishing relationships and building a base for political and economic power is worthless without spiritual engagement. In this sense, transformation is more than a human endeavor; it is God’s will made visible through human actions in community (cf. Linthicum 2003; Livezey 2000). Change comes about not because of solitary individuals who act through their "self interest rightly understood" – pace Alexis de Tocqueville – but because people form lasting partnerships and voluntary associations based on common interests "rightly understood." Ultimately, effective community development – and the role of anthropologists as students and agents of change – depends on being in communion, being together with others who see "the world as it is" and share a vision of and commitment to"the world as it should be."


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