On Saturday, I joined a few others from Open Door in attending a Jim Diers workshop, Neighborhood Power. I was first introduced to Asset-Based Community Development at Emory, and it has greatly influenced my view of community, my approach to ministry and even my understanding of Jesus’ work and revelation. So I was excited to attend this with some of our members to help gain a shared vision for “asset-based ministry.” Here I’d like to share some of what makes this vision unique and how ABCD can be utilized in faith communities.
Asset-based community development, as indicated by its name, is designed around the skills, resources and associations of a community. Community development takes place when the community itself is impassioned and motivated by hope for improvement and change. These community resources can be found in gifts of individuals, community groups and associations, and local institutions. This sounds like common sense, and it is, but the vast majority of non-profits, churches and aid organizations operate under the antithetical principles of “needs-based” change and growth. Rather than being internally focused and relationally driven, the traditional “needs-based” approach is setup by an outside agency assessing the needs of a community, coming to external solutions to those needs, and finally supplying those needs with outside resources. The resulting actions, however genuine in their efforts, send the overwhelming message that the community is not capable of resolving issues on their own, reinforcing the lack of empowerment already experienced. Asset-based community development requires more work, more innovation, creativity, and collaboration, but the results are sustainable change, restored dignity and an empowered community.
Churches and other faith communities have found value in these basic principles by identifying individual capacities of its members to mobilize the church and by acting as yet another resource of the community in collaborative development. Multiplying a faith community’s impact by focusing on both internal and external mobilization is obviously preferred, and I believe mutually beneficial to the church and the broader community. The easy part of this discussion is to acknowledge and take advantage of the abilities and capacities of individual members of a faith community. To call on someone for the musical talent to support or lead a worship team is a no brainer, and to use a business connection to save the church money is simply good business sense.
Asset-based strategies, however, are more about engagement than about business sense (although it has that added benefit). Engaging people in the life of the church requires discovering unique gifts of individuals and then allowing their passions to deepen community and to shape the outreach of the church. At Open Door Church, we’re exploring a new warehouse communal space for our gathering grounds that would serve the community and the church in endless ways. While the idea developed over leadership meetings, it took life when we began asking for congregational input. Excitement grew as each individual shared their own ideas and passions about how to engage the community with our new space. Can we offer bike repair, or teach others? Can we invite local bands for shows and talent nights? Table tennis? Mechanic work? Their gifts and vision for growth in our community will shape the outreach of Open Door as we continue, and if we fail to foster this engagement, we will ultimately fail in engaging our community as well.
Read here about how these concepts are supported and understood biblically.
 J. P. Kretzmann and J. L. McKnight, Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets, ACTA Publications: 1993.
 S. Rans and H. Altman, Asset-Based Strategies for Faith Communities, ACTA Publications: 2002.