Lucie Woolley, Tearfund's Advocacy Learning and Research Officer
The church effect
Local churches are not about the buildings, but about the people who make up their congregations. At their best, they are places of radical community, where everyone is welcome and relationships are formed across social barriers. They can be safe spaces where people talk to different groups in an environment that promotes trust and understanding.
Tearfund’s research into local-level advocacy in Uganda saw the church playing just that role. In our report Bridging the gap: the role of local churches in fostering local‑level social accountability and governance, we found that the church is uniquely placed to foster good relationships between local communities and local government. This is because:
- Communities and government both trust local churches as a safe space where they can start a dialogue.
- Churches promote teaching from the Bible that encourages Christians to speak up for justice.
- With this biblical mandate, communities’ confidence and knowledge grow. They are able to mobilise their own resources and devise their own strategic plans. This enables them to gain their government officials’ respect, access government budget and, increasingly, get the essential services they need.
Tearfund has been working through the local church using a process called church and community mobilisation (CCM) for 15 years in more than 25 countries. Through CCM, local churches work with their own communities to identify and solve local problems using local resources. This work has been hugely successful and has had a positive impact on communities around the world.
However, for many communities, there still remains a lack of access to vital services that they cannot, and should not, have to provide for themselves, such as schools and medical centres. These are basic services that all people are entitled to, and it is the duty of governments to provide them for their citizens.
At Tearfund, we therefore decided to train communities through the local church, as part of CCM, in how to speak up to governments to get the facilities they need. We ran a pilot with our partner Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) in Uganda, integrating advocacy into the CCM process. The aim was to bridge the gap to help local communities engage with the government, holding it to account and drawing down resources for basic services such as boreholes and medical centres.
‘Before, you would get a [community dialogue] meeting with maybe only ten or so people attending and speaking on behalf of the whole village. Now, the whole village turns up. They have the courage now.’Joseph Opit, Chairman for Serere District County
Signs of success
Our research measured the success of this pilot in five key areas: transparency, citizen empowerment, inclusion, government responsiveness and power dynamics. Across all five areas, we found that the church empowered communities to do effective advocacy, making their efforts more successful and helping them to get the vital services they needed.
The church is a good example of a transparent organisation.
It serves as a model for what people can expect from transparent procedures and processes. Once communities understand the importance of transparency, through advocacy training, they are more likely to ask government for information on budgets, for example.
The church promotes a vision that change is possible.
Once the community are inspired and unite around this vision, theirs is a powerful collective voice. Their advocacy is stronger and has greater legitimacy.
The church promotes inclusion and speaking up for the most vulnerable groups in society, including the elderly, those with disabilities and people living with HIV.
Communities involved in advocacy are now taking practical steps to involve and empower marginalised members.
The church helps improve relationships between communities and decision-makers.
It also equips communities to advocate more strategically. This encourages quicker, more positive responses from decision-makers and greater mutual respect between the two groups.
As relationships with decision-makers improve, there is a clear shift in power dynamics.
Before, communities felt they were on the receiving end of whatever programmes the government chose to roll out, and however the government chose to spend its development budget. Now, by working together as a united group, they are in a more equal partnership with government and have a greater say on the issues that matter to them.
Tearfund now plans to work with PAG and other church partners around the world to scale up the CCM advocacy approach, continuing to bridge the gap between communities and their governments. We will encourage different communities to pool their advocacy efforts for greater clout and recognition from their governments, to see vital services provided and communities transformed on a bigger scale.
Full and summary versions of the Bridging the gap research report can be found here.
‘Before CCM, I was a “nobody”. Today, I am a councillor representing my parish. After the CCM training, I felt empowered to approach people and discuss issues that affected us, and people asked me to represent them at the local council. Through advocacy, we now have four boreholes and a functioning health centre!'Lusi Acor, Akoboi community