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Faithful Families Eating Smart and Moving More


Recruit faith communities: Partner with relevant organizations to identify potential faith communities for program implementation. Cooperative Extension centers, local health departments and local hospitals will have good information on faith communities they have already partnered with or who have a presence on their boards and/or committees. North Carolina followed this pattern to develop a working list of faith communities and faith leaders. The Faithful Families program coordinator trained and provided technical assistance to the nutrition/physical activity educators as they personally contacted faith leaders to determine their level of interest. Individual meetings were held to introduce the program and review the materials. Prior to initiating the program, faith leaders were requested to sign a commitment form that outlined both the expectations and benefits of participating in FFESMM.

Recruit faith community lay leader: To effectively recruit program participants, maintain energy throughout the program, and lead the policy and environmental change discussion, people in these positions should be leaders within their faith communities. They use scriptures, readings and faith-based practices to connect health information to a particular faith tradition. They also lead four of the nine nutrition/physical activity sessions. Lay leaders help faith communities plan and implement policy and environmental changes that support healthy eating and physical activity. They should be comfortable leading an educational session, which includes teaching in front of a group.

Train faith community lay leader: Lay leaders need training to understand project goals and their role as partners with the nutrition/physical activity educator. A Lay Leader Training session, which is included in the FFESMM curriculum, is an effective way to clarify the lay leaders’ many roles and to promote a strong partnership between the educator and the lay leaders. The training lasts approximately two hours. Time may vary depending on discussion and/or if you choose to model a food demonstration and/or share a meal.  

Recruit faith community members to participate in the sessions: Lay leaders are key to recruiting participants for the FFESMM sessions. The curriculum provides ready-made posters, bulletin and program inserts to assist lay leaders in recruitment. Announcing the program details at regular faith community gatherings is also recommended. In North Carolina, faith communities recommended offering classes at night or on weekends to provide the greatest opportunity for members to participate. As part of ongoing recruitment, lay leaders track attendance, remind participants of the next session, and encourage absentees to return.

Administer environmental and policy assessments: Assessing faith community policies is important. The faith leader should complete a Faith Community Assessment, which provides the nutrition/physical activity educator and lay leaders a sense of environment, policies and practices before implementation of the FFESMM program. Then, through discussions during the nutrition/physical activity sessions, the lay leaders hear members’ ideas to establish and/or modify the current environment, policies and practices of the faith community. The faith community should commit to at least one environmental change (e.g. marking a walking route around the parking lot) and one policy change (e.g. requiring that fruit be a dessert option) during the first year.

Implement FFESMM curriculum and Eating Smart and Moving More Planning Guide for Faith Communities: Faith communities can develop or adapt their own materials to promote increased physical activity and healthy eating; however, materials should be easily accessible and understandable to members. The Eating Smart and Moving More Planning Guide for Faith Communities was developed for use in concert with hands-on technical assistance from county and state staff. This guide allows faith communities to take a more active role in promoting, enacting and sustaining their community's health programs and policy and environmental changes. (See Intervention Materials section for link to download the Planning Guide.)

Keys to Success: 

  • During the initial meeting with the faith leader, fully explain program expectations and time requirements and conclude the meeting by asking for a signed commitment.

  • Schedule a follow-up meeting with the faith leader as part of the initial meeting. The follow-up meeting should be held after the education series is completed. The meeting’s purpose is to emphasize the importance that the faith community follows through with making policy and environmental changes happen. Meeting soon after the sessions are completed will help sustain the energy and continue the feedback that the lay leaders and nutrition/physical activity educator receive from participants.

  • The FFESMM program includes both nutrition education and policy and environmental changes. Both need to be maintained for the intervention to succeed.  

  • Flexibility is important when scheduling with faith communities. Sometimes meetings and events will arise, forcing the postponement of a session. Other priorities of the faith community may come before FFESMM.

  • Some faith communities have to work through committees, business meetings and/or trustees to adopt a policy or environmental change. Patience and understanding of their process will help spur the adoption of these powerful changes to take place.

  • Be prepared to explain in basic terms why policy and environmental changes are effective in creating a healthier environment in faith communities. Provide relatable and affordable examples such as policies that faith communities adopt regarding building use and meals.

  • Different faith traditions may require different approaches. Flexible methods are necessary.

  • Consistent encouragement and follow-up will help retain faith communities and participants in the program. Keep the lines of communication open with lay leaders and faith leaders. Learn the best way to contact each partner.

Barriers to Implementation: 

  • The faith community recruitment process is time consuming and it relies on building local relationships. Ensure the number of faith community contacts you gather from local partners far exceeds your goal.

  • To fully implement the program, costs include materials and supplies for the FFESMM series. Environmental changes, such as a community garden, will also involve a cost. Securing grant funds is one strategy to meet these needs.