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A Tool kit for Community Organising

Community organising is also a set of tools. 

This site is gradually building a set of articles describing community organising as a tradition, as a rule, and as a process. But community organising is also a set of tools. 

The following article uses one tool, and we will gradually add other tools to the list. It was written by Andy Griffiths, but draws on work by Elizabeth Jordan. Second year incumbent-path curates spend considerable time learning about NAOMIE and putting it into practise to plan real action.

A tool for planning: NAOMIE

NAOMIE has for some years been part of the training processes of the Diocese of Chelmsford, since Elizabeth Jordan introduced it. LLMs will know, and may use, this acronym for planning.

N is for needs

There’s a danger that we look at our communities too negatively – we look to see assets and gifts and people made in the image of God; our glass is half full, not half empty. Nevertheless, we will inevitably see ways in which (as Barack Obama loves to put it) the world as it is, is not the world as it should be. We stand in that. Change the world, that’s all we ask of you. In 1 Timothy 2:1, the writer invites us to pray, using three words for “prayer” – and the first of them ("petitions") is derived from the Greek word deo, I lack. We have to see what’s lacking, if only to pray.

So put into words the main need of your community, with relation to the “big thing” God laid on your heart in your opening summer project, more than a year ago, refined as you listened to the community speaking about it. Don’t let the “need” stay vague, or unrealistically big – break it down into manageable issues.

Suppose the “big thing” God has drawn your attention to is “inadequate housing”. OK, but you have limited time – that doesn’t sound like a “winnable” issue for you. But maybe as you’ve done your triple listening, the winnable issue that has come to your mind is mould in the largest block of flats in the parish. You’ve often been to the block of flats, and seen it there, green on the walls, coughed up in babies’ phlegm. Great – dealing with the mould in that block of flats is a stretching but realistic issue.

A is for Allies

Who are you working with? This project will have done very little good if you achieve it solo. Your team will usually include people from your church(es) – try to make sure it’s a fairly diverse team. It will usually include people outside your church(es) – and you may find that it is through getting involved in this project that they will first come to know and appreciate people following Jesus. It may include partner organisations with an expertise in the sphere you’re working in. But please make sure that the people who will most benefit from the change you envisage are there in the team. To use the example of the block of flats with mould, if there isn’t at least one tenant in that block of flats as part of the team, something has gone badly wrong.

A couple more things about your team: your job is not just to get the task done, but also to care for, and develop the team members. How are you going to do that? And the team should have the possibility of further life when you’re no longer the curate – think from the beginning about not making yourself indispensable to it. Note: this doesn’t mean that your incumbent will be expected to chair and run it after you’ve gone! What team members could you mentor and develop so they can take the lead? These considerations are important even if you are imagining that the team will do one defined project only – because maybe, having sorted out the mould in the block, they’re going to want to get the lifts fixed.

It's at this stage that you will need to contact the person or people with four key responsibilities: for the building or premises (even if it's a park!) where the action will take place; for holding the finance to make it possible (this might be a church treasurer or someone else); the person or people who will (perhaps now, perhaps once the methods are clearer) communicate what's going on both to the congregation and to the wider community; and the person or people that will ensure there is support in prayer. Talk to them now, before you firm up any plans. 

O is for Outcomes

What is the change you are working towards, acting for? Occasionally people think their goal and objective is to gain some sort of benevolent power, or get themselves or those they are working with a seat at the table. Well, a seat at the table is crucial, but is not an end in itself. In this case, the outcome we are working for an praying for is not (for example) to get the housing association to make a commitment to deal with the mould, but to have the mould actually removed, now and for the long-term. 

Often, people prefer to speak about “aims and objectives” rather than outcomes, and they’re not wrong to do so. But the language of outcomes is less easy to turn into something nebulous, and makes it easier to evaluate a project when we reach “E” at the end of the acronym. In 1 Timothy 2:1, having encouraged us to pray for the needs we see, the writer talks of "proseukhe", sometimes translated "prayers". The first part of the word, pros, is a preposition meaning "towards" - we come towards God with momentum, our hearts pointing towards an outcome which, as best we can discern, is one that God desires too. Once you have expressed your outcome, visualise it, talk about it and turn it into a "prayer-towards". Tell God your dreams.

And as well as changing the world in some tangible way, how will the action you're planning change the church of which you are a part?

Perhaps you feel that something grander should be in place - a big vision, a strap line, a strategy for the medium term. But the truth is, the past is over and gone, the medium-term futute is unknown. All we have is this moment, and we are to receive it as a gift - that's why we call it the present. As a diocese, we are learning to put the emphasis on values more than strategy, on the next step, on how we treat each other on the way more than on some imagined destination.

M is for method

How are you going to do what you’re going to do? The method you choose must be consistent with the outcomes you envisage.

We ask Curates to consider the location of the action, its scope, its stories and its restraint - all this is about trying to decolonise the planiing process and ensure that it's about "power-with" not "power-over" people. We never do for others what they could do for themelves.

Now it's time to return to the people responsible for the premises, for money, for communication and for prayer support. Have a conversation with them about what you intend to happen. With them, work out how that works, financially, practically, in terms of communication and in prayer. In 1 Timothy 2:1, the writer's third word for prayers is enteuxis (intercessions), a metaphor from archery that means "hitting the bulls-eye". This is serious prayer, prayer that doesn't just tell God what the needs are and what our hopes and dreams are, but also seeks God for God's purposes and plans and then prays that. You may say "but if God already has plans, what's the point of us praying?" Ah, but you praying is part of God's plan! And anyway, prayer was never mostly about changing the circumstances, it was always mostly about changing us, the ones praying.

Now, implementation. What is going to happen, who will do what, on which dates? Be very specific.

And finally, E is for evaluation

Community Organisers are obsessed with evaluation – everything we do is evaluated. Decide now, before you do anything, how you will evaluate it. Back to 1 Timothy 2:1 - "I urge first of all that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people..."  Ask yourself - how will we offer thanksgiving, at the end of this project?

Here's a simple checklist you may find useful:

  • A Allies

    From the congregation
    Outside the congregation

  • M Methods


For more information or to report anything wrong with this page please contact Andy Griffiths