The basic dictionary definition of social action is “individual or group behavior that involves interaction with other individuals or groups, especially organized action toward social reform.” Within the discipline of sociology the concept is associated with the work of Max Weber, who understood social action in terms of the relationships people have between social structures and the individuals whose actions create them. Acadia University professor Peter Horvath defines social action as “participation in social issues to influence their outcome for the benefit of people and the community” and concludes that “[s]ocial action can, under favorable circumstances, produce actual empowerment, impact, or social change.”
Horvath underscores the importance of seeking and implementing necessary change on behalf of others who do not have access to power for needed change. This can be seen within the social service and welfare arena in which the term “social action” is often used simply to mean efforts to improve social conditions or to address the needs of a particular group within a social setting or societal structure. Social action can be understood as attempts to improve human welfare and to develop commitment to each other, advocating for and/or making changes in social structures (whether at the individual, community, or legislative levels) for the betterment of all.
Social action, therefore, is principally the means by which one group offers alterative means to an end for another group, taking action or advocating for action to address social issues and community life. Within the context of poverty, social action is not merely charity, alms-giving, or the transfer of wealth. It is actions taken to address relationships between the poor and the non-poor and, as well, the relationship between the poor, the social structures that can cause or promote poverty, and individuals or groups whose actions create those social structures. Social action is, therefore, associated with actions taken by individuals or groups on behalf of others, in particular advocating on behalf of marginalized or powerless individuals or groups whose access to the systems of power are limited or nonexistent.
What, then, is evangelistic social action? Throughout the studies in Wasted Evangelism, I frequently reference Mark’s programmatic use of OT contexts regarding the economically vulnerable and the land, particularly contexts that reference Exodus land-laws (e.g., Exod 21–23; Mal 3:1–5; Jer 5:2; 7:9; Amos 4:1–2; etc.), which, for Mark, informs his understanding of the gospel (Mark 1:1–3; note Exod 23:20; Mal 3:1). The Exodus land-laws are operating behind his programmatic theme, informing the reader/listener of the gospel’s content (i.e., what the gospel is and what it means). Land-laws were given to ensure that the economically vulnerable (i.e., the land-less) were full participants in the benefits of living in the land. This supports the importance of considering the poor in relationship to the Christian community’s social context.
In light of Mark’s association of the kingdom with the gospel (1:14–15) and the gospel’s programmatic association with the Exodus land-laws, I propose that biblical social action is a means to ensure that the blessings and benefits of living in society reach to the poor. Stephen Mott, former Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, points out that the Bible speaks of what is called “social action” in terms of carrying out justice and caring for the needs of the weak. In her book, Social Justice Handbook, Mae Cannon affirms a similar understanding of the biblical concept of social justice:
The resources that God provides were made available to his people from the very beginning. Justice is expressed when God’s resources are made available to all humans, which is what God intended. Biblical justice is the scriptural mandate to manifest the kingdom of God on earth by making God’s blessings available to all.
As my Wasted Evangelism, that is, the six deep, exegetical studies (i.e., the chapters), affirm, social action is a relevant and legitimate evangelistic activity when it promotes actions and outcomes that demonstrate the inaugural presence of God’s rule and reign over creation. Thus, social action, the advocacy and activities on behalf of the economically vulnerable, should be an intentional component of a church’s task of evangelism.
A slightly adapted set of paragraphs from my book, Wasted Evangelism: Social Action and the Church's Task of Evangelism. All royalties received from sales of Wasted Evangelism go to support our church plant in The Hill community of New Haven, CT.
Further Wasted Blog on Barriers to discussing biblical, evangelistic social action >> Barriers
 Social action. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/social action (accessed: May 27, 2013).
 Weber, Economy and Society, 1:78; also see Weber’s Theory of Social and Economic Organization for an in-depth understanding of his social theory, which includes his view of social action.
 Horvath, “ Organization of Social Action,” 221–31; also see Townley et al.,“Performance Measures,” 1045–72.
 What is being advocated for throughout [my] six studies is biblical social action that addresses the needs of economically vulnerable individuals and families and activities that seek to reduce the causes of poverty. Although [Wasted Evangelism] does not intend to endorse any particular method or specific type of activity for evangelistic social action, I feel compelled to stress the importance of community development models over paternalistic methods of charity or wealth distribution. I am grateful to Doran Wright, pastor of Grace City Church Bridgeport (CT), for recommending to me A Heart for the Community: New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry (John Fuder and Noel Castellanos, eds.) as a text that underscores the importance of Christian community development for addressing the needs of poor neighborhoods and communities. Also, see Lupton’s Toxic Charity. For a catalog of various social action and anti-poverty related ministries see Mae Elise Cannon’s Social Justice Handbook.
 By “programmatic” I mean that a concept, phrase, or an event described in the text contains a main theme of Mark’s Gospel, which offers a referent for meaning, definition, and/or content (an internal hermeneutical orientation) that Mark sets forth, assisting his audience to understand more clearly the parts or plotline of the story in view of the whole story.
 See Brueggemann’s The Land regarding the biblical responsibilities of God’s people to the land and to the land-less (i.e., the economically vulnerable and the poor).
 See chapter 2, “Wasted Evangelism.”
 Cannon, Social Justice Handbook, 22.
In light of Mark’s association of the kingdom with the gospel (1:14–15) and the gospel’s programmatic association with the Exodus land-laws [in particular see the connection in the opening (Mark 1:1-3) references to Exod 23:20 and Mal 3:1-5 and the texts surrounding context], I propose that biblical social action is a means to ensure that the blessings and benefits of living in society reach to the poor. Stephen Mott, former Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, points out that the Bible speaks of what is called “social action” in terms of carrying out justice and caring for the needs of the weak. In her book, Social Justice Handbook, Mae Cannon affirms a similar understanding of the biblical concept of social justice:
The resources that God provides were made available to his people from the very beginning. Justice is expressed when God’s resources are made available to all humans, which is what God intended. Biblical justice is the scriptural mandate to manifest the kingdom of God on earth by making God’s blessings available to all (Mae Elise Cannon, Social Justice Handbook, 22).
*Adapted from the introduction ("Evangelism and Social Action: An Exegetical Argument") and the 2nd chapter of Wasted Evangelism, "Wasted Evangelism (Mark 4): Social Action Outcomes and the Church’s Task of Evangelism."
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.