The year 2008 marked the 30 year anniversary of Primary Health Care, the health policy of all member nations of the WHO. Community participation was one of the key principles of this policy. This article reviews the experiences of and lessons learned by policy makers, planners and programme managers in attempting to integrate community participation into their health programmes. The lessons, identified in an earlier article by the author, are still relevant today. They help to identify three reasons why integrating community participation into health programmes is so difficult. These reasons are: (1) the dominance of the bio-medical paradigm as the main planning tool for programmes, leading to the view of community participation as an intervention; (2) the lack of in-depth analysis of the perceptions of community members regarding the use of community health workers; and (3) the propensity to use a framework that limits investigation into what works, why and how in community participation in health programmes. Despite these challenges, evidence suggests that community participation has contributed to health improvements at the local level, particularly in poor communities, and will continue to be relevant to programme professionals.