Tell me if this sounds familiar. An opportunity or concern recently came to the attention of your local church. As a pastor, staff member or layperson of the congregation, you gather with others concerned to brainstorm about how to address the issue. The meeting begins, the need is explained, someone cracks a joke, there’s a round of laughter and the leader calls everyone back to order to address the business at hand. That’s when it happens- the talk about all of the things we need, but don’t have, to meet the challenge before us. Does this sound oddly familiar?
Deficit mentality is not a new thing but rather an old one. It dates back to the beginning of humanity’s journey with God and is a theme repeated over and over throughout the Scriptures. It is painfully evident in the biblical narrative that people tend to begin with what they lack when addressing a challenge. From Abraham and Sarah’s lack of an heir (Gen. 15-16) to the disciples’ misgivings about Jesus’ command to feed the 5000 (Mark 6:30-34), it seems even people of faith are not immune to a feeling of inadequacy when it comes to solving those problems for which there is no immediate or easy answer.
What if we are beginning in the wrong place? Could there be another way to address need in a way that does not begin in a place of disadvantage? I believe there is such a method and it is sound from both biblical and sociological standpoints.
What is Asset Mapping?
Asset Mapping or “Asset-Based Community Development” (ABCD) began at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, through the work of John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann. It is a methodology for promoting the sustainable development of communities on the basis of present strengths as opposed to perceived deficiencies. The process of asset mapping involves assessing the skills, experiences, and resources available to a community; coordinating members around issues that motivate them to act, and resolving to take appropriate action. The ABCD system is unique in its propensity to empower citizens to make use of what they already possess to affect positive change in their local environment.
Asset Mapping makes use of several core principles to accomplish its task. These precepts are anchored in the premise that the solutions to community issues exist presently within the community’s assets. The goal of the ABCD system is to name, catalog, and put these resources to work. The key principles are as follows:
- Everyone is gifted and each member of a community has something to contribute.
- Relationships build a community and connect people to promote sustainable community building, improvement and growth.
- Citizens at the center as actors and not just recipients (clients) of services.
- Leaders involve others from the wider community and not just those in their circle. This is done by fostering trust and building relationships with other local entities. These may include other civic entities, congregations, small businesses and groups unique to the specified area.
- Everyone cares about something. Listen for it. Every person has an issue they want to address, a dream they wish to realize, and/or a talent they want to contribute. The best way to challenge apathy is to listen to these motivations, encourage group conversation and invite people to contribute in their own way.
- Listen to others. Utilize one-on-one and group conversations to make decisions. These discussions promote ownership and invite corporate change.
- Ask, ask, and ask again. Asking for ideas is better than giving solutions. People tend to solve problems when they are given ownership through participation.
- Inside-out organization is key to community engagement. When community members are in the driver’s seat and set the agenda, positive change tends to follow.
- Institutions serve the community as servants. Governments, non-profit agencies, churches and local businesses should create opportunities for community-member involvement, then "step back."
Asset Mapping in Action
At this point, you may wonder how all of this looks in action. Where does “the rubber meet the road?” I found myself in a similar circumstance in 2017, as my congregation sought to implement a congregation-led homebound ministry in our rural township. Our church invited Dr. Gaynor Yancey, of Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, to facilitate the discussion.
Dr. Yancey began by drawing everyone’s attention to two maps placed on tables parallel to one another in our little fellowship hall. Starting with a few basic questions about the perceived need, we began discussing geriatric concerns of our area as a group. Since many of our number were themselves senior citizens, questions naturally began to flow from within the group. Among these were:
- Where do the homebound get food and sanitary items?
- How do the homebound get their medications?
- How do the homebound get to and from medical care appointments?
- How often do the homebound have contact with others?
- How can we spiritually care for the homebound?
We invited participants throughout the exercise to place color-coded dots on the map to signify assets such as local grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics, churches and other resources. In the end, we had a very colorful map and the knowledge our task was not nearly as titanic as we originally believed. We realized helping our homebound senior citizens involved three main objectives:
- We will form one-on-one, intentional relationships with 10-15 homebound residents of our area.
- We will provide rides to and from medical appointments with our homebound residents who need transportation.
- We will advise the homebound of community services available to them.
The ABCD method helped us take a large issue and break it down into very practical actions we could take to help our homebound neighbors. I am happy to say we laid a foundation that day which we have continued to build upon until this day. Perhaps the same thing can be true for you and your church family as you seek to engage your local community with the Gospel.
Morgan A. Woodard serves as pastor at Golinda Baptist Church in Lorena and is a member of Leadership Texas Baptists Cohort Five.