By Dean Whittaker

Economic development agencies often team up with local businesses, leaders, and organizations to promote economic, political, and social well-being within their region. But, perhaps, their greatest ally for promoting community matters is left untapped. Religious institutions offer the platform and community involvement to address the need for change within our society. I was able to see this first-hand during a recent business trip.

I was in Tallahassee, Florida working on the disposition of a 23,000 sq. ft. bio-research facility, when I was invited by the local economic development director to attend a meeting that evening at a local church. The meeting was organized by TEAM (, a multi-denominational group of local church leaders for the purpose of addressing concerns in the community. Among other topics, that evening’s meeting included the issues of jobs and unemployment.

When I left for the meeting, I was expecting a small group meeting in a church basement somewhere. When I arrived, what I found was 750-1,000 people meeting in an enormous Baptist Church. Beginning with an opening prayer, hymns, and somewhat of a traditional church service, it quickly moved into an agenda of social issues that the group had targeted for change. The agenda for each issue consisted of a presenter stating the problem, followed by a very emotional testimonial by someone impacted by the issue. Next, a list of “demands” was outlined by the organizers with local elected or appointed officials invited on stage to respond to a “yes or no” question as to their support of the initiatives the group proposed.

The first issue on the agenda was the school dropout rate and the overage of students who had been expelled for minor infractions of school rules. Following the testimonial of a young man who had overcome this issue, the group listed their demand that a program be put in place by August 1, 2010 to address the issue. The school official was invited to the stage and questioned as to the school’s support of the groups demand for action. The group was assured by the school official that a program would be in place by August 1, to which a standing ovation was given.

Next, the issue of 11,000 unemployed in the area was presented along with another emotional testimonial of a person with health issues that had been laid off after 20 years of employment with a local firm. The spokesperson for this issue presented a proposal to: 1) Create a buy local program; and 2) divert a portion of the existing local government contribution provided to the existing economic development program to create a small business grant fund. The mayor and city council were then invited on stage to respond to a yes or no question as to their support of the request. The mayor, exercising leadership, said that this was the first he had heard the request and needed more details and time to consider the implications of the request. Even so, he was repeatedly asked if he supported the request. Following the mayor, individuals on the city council were asked the same question in front of the congregation. They promptly gave their affirmative answers. The mayor then gave a qualified yes to their request.

The collection plate was then passed while the choir sang. This was followed by a closing prayer and adjournment.

While this was not the usual revival meeting I’d been expecting, it gave me a new perspective on the impact religious institutions can have regarding change within the community. Have you engaged your religious community in your efforts?