Evangelical Christians have traditionally been less engaged in work that bridges divides between faith communities. As a result, few Evangelicals are equipped to be interfaith leaders. And yet, these same Evangelicals are among those most in need of interfaith leadership training. As one illustration, according to a 2017 Pew survey, Evangelicals display the lowest levels of positive sentiment toward those in other faith communities.
Despite the need, existing interfaith leadership initiatives have had little success in recruiting Evangelical participants. At the college and university level, few Evangelical students join the many interfaith programs at secular universities, and almost none of the 150+ Evangelical colleges that train the movement’s thought leaders have interfaith leadership programs.
To promote greater interfaith engagement by Evangelicals, AVDF awarded a three-year, $300,000 grant in 2020 to Neighborly Faith, an organization that seeks to build interfaith leadership capacity among Evangelical students. Neighborly Faith is a national, student-led movement, that works to build relationships between Evangelical college students and Muslims in their communities.
“Neighborly Faith has a strong track record of training students and faculty at Evangelical colleges to become more informed about religious traditions other than their own, especially Islam. Their programming addresses common concerns about multifaith initiatives, resulting in emerging Evangelical leaders being eager and equipped to engage people in other traditions,” said AVDF Director of Programs John Churchill.
With AVDF funding, Neighborly Faith hosted more than 20 events with Christian college partners. Nearly 2,400 students were trained in interfaith leadership and 90,000 others watched Neighborly Faith events online. The organization also designed a resource toolkit to help students implement religious literacy programs on Evangelical college campuses and launched an online hub with content that encourages interfaith engagement.
“The Neighborly Faith team works diligently to earn the trust of Christian students who are skeptical of multifaith programming and shows them how interfaith friendship is a form of loving one’s neighbor. AVDF’s investment has contributed to the growth of our organization and increased our reach across the Evangelical community,” said Neighborly Faith Co-Director Kevin Singer.
As a result of Neighborly Faith’s early successes, AVDF awarded the organization a follow-up grant for $300,000 to continue its efforts. The new grant will provide Neighborly Faith with resources to bring interfaith leadership training to up to eight Evangelical colleges for the first time over a two-year period.
Neighborly Faith uses proven strategies and begins the engagement process by recruiting members of the faculty, administration, and student body to promote their campus interfaith event. The event consists of a two-day conference that includes Evangelical and non-Evangelical speakers and presenters.
After the conference, Neighborly Faith provides each host institution with funding that allows campus leaders to carry out follow-up activities. Activities may include service projects with Muslims in their community, or an interfaith dinner with Jews and Muslims.
Neighborly Faith’s programming allows Evangelical students to learn about the value of interfaith leadership in a setting that is non-threatening, and to practice what they learn on their campuses and in their communities.
“By creating bonds across lines of religious difference, Neighborly Faith helps to improve relationships between communities that are often highly polarized, and creates opportunities for genuine community and collaboration,” commented AVDF President Michael Murray.
Neighborly Faith has been featured several times in the media including the Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Outreach Magazine, and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Magazine.