Engaging and Working with the Faith Community

December 21, 2020
As a prevention professional, you recognize the value of building relationships within your community because prevention work cannot be done with your program staff alone. Building capacity to further the reach and impact of substance misuse prevention in your community requires providing an opportunity for the right partners to become involved in making a positive impact on substance misuse. While we recognize that a variety of partners are needed to engage in that effort, working with the faith community has specific advantages.

Faith groups exist in nearly every community throughout the country, touching people of all ages, economic levels, and ethnicities. It is well known that during times of crisis, community members often turn to their faith community for assistance. For this reason, faith-based groups may already be tapped into the needs of community members and how to mobilize them to action. This leads us to another benefit to working with the faith community. Group constituencies and congregations can be quickly mobilized, sometimes even doubling or tripling prevention volunteer staff’s efforts. Larger involvement often provides a sense of community and responsibility that makes others want to be involved as well. In some communities the involvement of religious or fraternal organizations will be essential because of the central role they already have in addressing substance misuse. Partnering with these organizations will also lend credibility to your prevention work due to the trust built between your entity and the faith-based group.
How can prevention workers get faith communities involved? There are several steps to developing these connections and relationships for lasting success. First, clearly identify and articulate intentions for involvement from the faith community and how partnering with this sector will work. What role will they play? How will they benefit from the partnership? What skills and resources exist in the group and how will they be used in this effort? Be proactive about outreach and follow-up, personally contacting the most respected leaders of the group. Most importantly, be strategic in planning your connections with them. What do you need to know about the culture of the group? How will you learn this information? Once you are ready to contact them, use a one-to-one relationship approach rather than an all-inclusive invite to set up meetings. Holding one-on-one meetings reinforces their importance to you and helps them feel valued. As with any relationship, continued trust building and immediate recognition will strengthen the enthusiasm for prevention work. Show you value their participation by recognizing their involvement and providing opportunities for short term “wins”.
The potential value of faith-based groups in prevention work cannot be understated. The measures outlined here will hopefully encourage ongoing openness, interest in learning, a willingness to consider creative approaches, and the ability to understand constraints and limitations to partnering with faith-based organizations. Remember the faith community as an important partner of your prevention work and get them involved to help address prevention strategies and provide access to specific populations in your community. 

Tracy Johnson
In addition to being the managing partner with SheRay's & Associates, LLC, Mr. Johnson also works with various federal, state and local agencies and corporations to develop comprehensive integrated prevention services to economically disadvantaged and African American children and families. He trains urban and inner city communities on the strategic prevention framework and works with them to customize it for their communities. https://sherays.com/



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