Faith in Action (Formerly PICO National Network)

This data was last updated on 4 October 2020.

Address: 171 Santa Rosa Ave, Oakland, CA 94610, USA
Phone: 866-550-7426

National Change through Local Action: In over a thousand member institutions, in 27 states and 150 cities, Faith in Action is helping people engage in public life and encouraging community involvement on all levels. Over fifty denominations and faith traditions, including Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist groups, participate in this nationwide grassroots community-organizing network.

Originally the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations, Faith in Action has worked since 1972 to “increase access to health care, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing, redevelop communities and revitalize democracy.”[1] Now one of the largest community-based organizing efforts in the United States, Faith in Action works to build community organizations through religious congregations, schools, and civic centers, training the local leadership and providing support. In this way, the Faith in Action Network serves as initiator, trainer, and advisor for these local groups (called Faith in Action Federations), focusing on developing leadership and getting people involved.

Ordinary People Speaking Out

Faith in Action bases its actions on a strong set of core values, resting on principles of democracy, empowerment, and inclusion. The voice of "ordinary people" must be heard in political life; they know their communities best, and are the best people to identify the needs and and problems facing a neighborhood—and to call government officials to account for their policy decisions. [2] Diversity is valued, and religious diversity is not regarded as an obstacle, but as a means of coming together for change. Above all. Faith in Action values the importance of involving "ordinary people" in the decisions that affect their communities: "given the proper training, motivation and support, [they] can take extraordinary steps to improve the quality of life for their communities." [3]

Four times a year, Faith in Action offers training on a national level to local leaders. For six days, leaders review the theory and practice of its community-based organization model. A similar National Leadership Development Seminar is offered yearly in Spanish. Local Faith in Action Federations then continue the process by offering adult education to interested individuals on “how to build and sustain strong organizations, research and analyze community issues, develop budgets, plan for their communities and work with public officials to implement changes in public policy.”[4]

The Community-Based Organizing Model: The Faith in Action Organizing Model stresses listening to the neighborhood, changing local circumstances before city and statewide initiatives, and taking public political action.[5] This model draws from the organizing model developed by Saul Alinsky of the Industrial Areas Foundation, but directly involves faith and religious communities. The central parts of this model involve the solidarity and understanding built through one-on-one meetings; research and testimony from members; “challenging” and “holding accountable” both internal participants and external authorities; and the public, constructive use of political tension.[6]

A federation begins by holding numerous one-on-one meetings with congregation members, neighborhood residents, and other involved persons, learning about which questions affect a community most and inviting people to reflect further on those issues and become involved in the federation. As a particular situation comes into focus, Faith in Action federations do research on the levers of power, learning “who really has the power to make changes”-in the process, federation members “become experts” and can address “the root causes of problems facing their communities.” Public actions--large-scale meetings, rallies, letters, etc.--are organized by the federation; these often challenge a political figure to take a definite stance on an issue. Finally, Faith in Action federations are prepared for compromise and negotiation, but are also ready to declare a firm, unwavering moral stance on an issue and use the resulting tension to demand action.[7]

Through one-on-one meetings and leadership development, a Faith in Action Federation does not hop from issue to issue, but rather acts out of a “comprehensive vision” for the neighborhood.[8] The constant self-evaluation and “holding accountable” of its own actions keeps Federation goals relevant, immediate, and grounded in the needs of the community.

Local Leadership, Local Results: This model has proved successful in many different environments,with achievements ranging from collaborations with local school districts to ballot measures on healthcare, improved street lighting, and housing support. Accomplishments of the Federations are listed on Faith in Action's News & Media page and updated regularly.[9] Health care, school improvement, citizen empowerment, housing, and neighborhood safety form the central issues, and the Federations use the resources and training of the national network to achieve their local goals.

For example, in 2005, Congregations Building Community in Colorado protested unjust immigration enforcement and defeated a city council resolution. Louisiana Interfaith Together (LIFT) leaders traveled to Washington to pressure national leaders on stalled recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together successfully advocated for a program to train staff members at schools in the culture and communication styles of Alaskan Native children.[10]

Regional and National Impact: In his 2002 study of Oakland-area Faith in Action federations (at the time called PICO Federations), Richard L. Wood noted that organizing efforts such as PICO gained state-level influence in only a few areas, primarily California and Texas.[11] Action on a statewide level, with the corresponding increase in complexity, presents some difficulties for the community-grounded PICO federations. However, in the past few years, Faith in Action's regional and national impact has increased in other ways.

Due to its community focus and close attention to specific situations, Faith in Action has created policy recommendations based on concrete examples. “These solutions come out of specific places and problems, but offer models for communities and states across the United States.”[12] The New Voices Initiative of the National Network has begun work to advocate for federal, bipartisan legislative action on specific domestic policies, with Faith in Action federations meeting with congressional representatives and senators.[13] Faith in Action's Tools & Resources page has several papers addressing federal policy on matters of immigration, health care, and education.[14] Concrete models for policy and New Voices leadership papers provide a means of national and regional change.

The Importance of Faith: In all these projects, Faith in Action organizers concentrate on the idea of “Faith in Action.” Faith in Action primarily starts within congregations seeking to translate their beliefs into change in the neighborhood around them. Faith in Action encourages groups to use their faith in developing a comprehensive vision for their communities, rather than focusing on issues or anger. Clergy Caucuses, which bring together clergy from a variety of traditions, seek to develop social ministry and strengthen lay leaders. Faith in Action's value statement also emphasizes the importance of religious diversity, and states that religion can bring people together rather than divide them.[15]

Wood suggests that a symbiotic relationship develops between a congregation and the local Faith In Action federation. The congregations provide an existing infrastructure and moral communities with a transcendent purpose; the federation provides a structure for civic engagement, democratic participation, coexistence with varying religious traditions, and a means of pursuing action on the values of that moral community. “The religious community [can] pursue reform in the social world while protecting its core practice--religious worship--from being swallowed up in the political demands of organizing.” Likewise, the federation does not have to create a social movement from scratch, but “can draw on religious symbols and meanings to which members are already committed.”[16]

Through its community focus and development of local leadership, the Faith in Action National Network continues to strengthen neighborhoods nationwide. The power of a democratic civic engagement with leadership training and the moral grounding of interfaith community is manifested in the gains of its 50 federation members. As one of the largest community-based organizing networks in the country, Faith in Action invites “the ordinary person” to use her faith and make a change in her own neighborhood.

[1] PICO Mission. Retrieved December 6, 2005 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[2] PICO Values. Retrieved December 6, 2005 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[3] PICO Staff. Retrieved December 6, 2005 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: Staff information is no longer available on the website, but more information about the organization's executive director can be found here:]

[4] Leadership Training. Retrieved January 18, 2006 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[5] PICO Organizing Model. Retrieved December 6, 2005 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[6] Wood, Richard L. Faith in Action: Religion, Race, and Democratic Organizing in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Faith in Action Organizing Model.

[9] PICO News and Events. Retrieved December 6, 2005 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[10] Ibid.

[11] Wood, 2002.

[12] PICO Issues. Retrieved January 18, 2006 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[13] PICO Staff. [Editor's note 2020: Staff information is no longer available on the website, but more information about the organization's executive director can be found here:] 

[14] PICO Resources. Retrieved January 18, 2006 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

[15] PICO Values. [Editor's note 2020: now available at] 

[16] Wood, 2002.

Further Reading

PICO's FAQ page contains useful answers to common questions. Retrieved December 6, 2005 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

PICO's Resources page offers the New Voices federal policy papers, as well as many reflections, sermons, case studies, and research papers. Retrieved January 18, 2006 from htt p://ww [Editor's note 2020: now available at]

Other community- and congregation-based organizing networks include Gamaliel Foundation, the DART Center, and the Industrial Areas Foundation. All three sites retrieved January 18, 2006. [Editor's note: URLs updated 2020.]