During the 1950's thousands of local churches in American Protestantism began to take a renewed interest in their communities. There were several dimensions to this interest. In some neighborhoods this meant facing up to the question of racial discrimination. In several communities this interest was expressed in a new evangelistic thrust. In others the local church accepted responsibility for a specialized ministry to a specific group of persons such as homeless men, the residents of a public housing project, or persons receiving public assistance.
One of the first lessons that was learned from this new emphasis on "serving the people of our neighborhood" was that it was easier to offer the challenge than it was to develop an effective response. How do you help those who suffer from the handicaps of a dark skin, an inadequate education, or the emotional problems that grow out of a life in a broken home?
In a few cities leaders in the local churches decided that one of the church's primary responsibilities was to help the people organize to help themselves. It was believed that if the people in the neighborhood organized and assumed their place in the decision-making process they would be able to identify and solve many of their problems by themselves. By 1961 Chicago had become the most widely publicized example of how the local church might be involved in the community organization process. During the next four years churchmen all across America became interested in community organization as a tool of mission.
With this increase in interest came a growing division among churchmen over methods and techniques. One large and articulate group was primarily concerned with the pursuit of social justice. Another highly articulate group, perhaps smaller in size but equally determined, was primarily concerned with the legitimacy and propriety of the methods and techniques used in community organization.
By mid-1965 this surge of interest in community organization and the controversy over methods had spread to Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Jersey City, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Rochester, San Francisco, Syracuse, and many other cities.
The purpose of this book is not to present a comprehensive statement on how a community may be organized. Nor is the purpose to offer a "how-to-do it" short course in community organization. Experts in the field, notably Murray Ross, have filled this need.
The goal has been to present a short, simple, and readable introduction to community organization which will help the typical churchman understand both the subject and the issues of this debate. The central purpose of this book is to help the reader ask himself the right questions when he encounters this process labeled "community organization."
While it will be obvious to the reader that I hold some rather strong opinions on various facets of the subject, a sincere effort has been made to be fair to both the proponents and the opponents of the use of conflict; to those who insist that the community organization process is the best way to solve the problems of poverty, racial discrimination, and blight, and also to those who argue that too often community organization is a disruptive force which impedes the efforts of the existing institutional structures.
The hope, of course, is that each side in this controversy will find in this volume a fair analysis of their position. The probability is that each side will conclude that the author has "sold out" to the opposing camp.
The reader should recognize that the church and American churchmen have long been involved in a great variety of efforts at community organization. One of the most common is the effort by social welfare workers to coordinate the work of the various agencies which are serving an overlapping clientele. Another is the neighborhood council which is formed to "stabilize" an all-white community when it appears that Negroes may move in. This book, however, is concerned with another type of community organization effort. This is the effort aimed at effecting social change rather than preserving the status quo. This is the effort to get at the root causes of the despair which result from a failure by the established structures of society, such as the churches and political parties, to meet their responsibilities. This is the effort to organize the deprived, the depressed, the dependent, and the disfranchised so they may be effective participants in the community decision-making process which so often affects but does not involve them. In this effort some churches and many churchmen are becoming involved in what may become the crucial power struggle in contemporary America. It is my opinion that no one should become a participant in the struggle without realizing the full implications of the struggle and of his involvement.
The first chapter offers an introduction to the subject and an explanation of how and why churches have become involved in community organization. This is followed by a discussion of planned social change, a concept which is essential to an understanding of the evolution of community organization from a field to a process. This evolution, including a discussion of the different types of community organization and the contributions of other disciplines, vocations, and organizations constitutes chapter three. These three chapters serve as an introduction to the current debate over the Christian's role in community organization.
One of the crucial elements in this debate centers on the use of conflict as a method of reaching the desired goals, and this issue is discussed in the fourth chapter. The conflict over the use of conflict first reached the level of a major controversy in church circles in Chicago where the methodology of Saul Alinsky has been accepted by scores of churchmen. This experience is summarized in chapter five. One of Alinsky's basic arguments is that the lot of the depressed and deprived cannot be improved until they acquire power, a point which troubles many churchmen who believe the primary goal of the Christian is reconciliation. An effort is made to present both sides of the debate in chapters six and seven. Chapter eight is a summary of the argument offered by those who oppose the growing interest of churchmen in community organization as a device for achieving social change. The last two chapters review some of the lessons which have been learned from experience by churchmen and suggest questions which merit serious study by anyone attempting an active role in this process of effecting social change.
In writing this book I have become heavily indebted to literally scores of people for their insights, ideas, and advice. The contributions of some are noted in the text or the footnotes. Several persons expressed a preference for anonymity and many are receiving it unjustly. Others who have made an especially significant contribution include David Barry, Arthur M. Brazier, Frank Countryman, James Davis, Philip Edwards, Ben Fraticelli, George A. Haddad, Huber Klemme, Alfred S. Kramer, Charles T. Leber, Jr., Reuben Lundeen, Robert H. MacRae, William E. Maloney, Richard E. Moore, Sheldon Rahn, David Ramage, Charles Rawlings, Seymour Slavin, John B. Turner, A. J. White III, Robert L. Wilson, and Frank Zeidler.
While these people contributed much to the content, obviously none of them can be held responsible for the errors of fact or interpretation which may be present in the book. Unfortunately, the responsibility for such errors must be borne by the author alone.
I am also grateful to the members of the governing Board of the Regional Church Planning Office who have provided me with the opportunity to observe the many facets of the Christian church in America.
-- LYLE E. SCHALLER
-- June 26, 1965
Copyright © 1966 by Abingdon Press