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(Download Community Organizing & Development overview as a PDF)


There have been tensions between community development and community organizing. Here we will take a both- and approach. Looking at terms will help us begin.


Community service provides help for a community, primarily from the outside.

Community advocacy speaks out for a community.

Community development seeks to build social, economic and political infrastructures for a healthy community to sustain itself.
Community transformation seeks changes in individuals, gangs, organizations and churches so that energies can be directed toward peace, justice and positive development.
Community organizing seeks collaboration among all players in a community to marshal existing resources and to find links to all outside agencies and resources in able to make itself an equal player with all other communities.


Dr. Eldin Villafañe is a social ethicist at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He takes off on an old proverb: “Give someone a fish, and he eats for a day. Teaching someone to fish, and they can eat the rest of their life.” He moves from that saying to teach steps to empowerment in terms of the Church’s social diaconia (mission or service).


                • “Give a fish….                         Social Service or Charity
                • “Teach to fish….                     Social Education
                • “Help build a fishing rod….     Social and Economic Development

                • “Get access to the lake….        Social Justice


Using his paradigm, we return to our community terms:

                • Community service is giving someone a fish.


                • Community advocacy is telling others some don’t have fish.
                • Community transformation is developing a taste for fish (instead of drugs, alcohol or junk
                                food) and a desire to fish cooperatively and productively.
                • Community development is teaching people to fish and how to build a fishing rod.
                • Community organizing is rallying people together to get access to the lake.


Saul Alinsky developed techniques of community organizing in the 1930s; his principles were more widely practiced during the 1960s and early 1970s. Today, there are 180 FBCOs in the US as well as in South Africa, England, Germany, and other nations (according to Interfaith Funders' 2001 study Faith Based Community Organizing: State of the Field, by Mark Warren and Richard Wood). Grassroots organizations are often networked through larger associations such as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), Direct Action and Research Training (DART),

People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO), and the Gamaliel Foundation.


Community development has occurred informally throughout history as people have come together to improve their lives and communities. More specifically, Robert Owen in the early 19th Century and the Oneida community, both in the US, attempted early utopian experiments of community planning. Today, community development draws upon a rich and diverse array of global thinkers and activists such as E.F. Schumacher (appropriate technologies, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered), Ghandi, Toyohiko Kagawa (cooperative movement), Paulo Friere (Brazilian educator, Pedogogy of the Oppressed) and Muhammad Yunus' work with microenterprises through the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh.


In some places, community organizing is separated and at odds with community development. Some community organizers see their role as challenging municipal, state and federal governments rather than accepting money from them. Community developers are usually eager to accept government and business funding on behalf of the community. A both-and approach seems more effective, using the particular skills and techniques of both groups.



  1. What strikes you most about this overview?
  2. How familiar are you with community organizing and development?
  1. Do you see the two as opposed or complimentary? How so?


  1. Community organizing and development are two powerful tools that should be utilized in forming healthy communities, levelling unjust power structures and empowering individuals to take charge of their personal and communal well-being.
  1. Everyone, no matter what their age or occupation, can play a part in this vital work.

Dean Borgman and Christen B. Yates cCYS