Do you know the term “Asset-based Community Development”? It’s a specific term used in – you guessed it – Community Development circles. It refers to building a community not simply by identifying its needs, but by examining its assets – the people (especially), the indigenous resources, the geographical ties, and any other elements that could be used to assist the community in largely developing itself.

Becoming familiar with this theory through resources like When Helping Hurts has led me to ponder its application in campus ministry. (I first did that publicly last summer.)

For one thing, we could look at our entire campuses through this lens, seeking to help it flourish as we have that chance. But while that would connect more directly to Asset-based Community Development, it’s also a larger undertaking.

But today I wanted to discuss a little more accessible opportunity: Looking at your own collegiate ministry members through the “asset-based” lens. An intriguing question frames the discussion:

What if your college ministry brainstormed opportunities based on the students God has brought you?

A couple of comments:

  1. College ministers already think this way in part. As I’ve chatted with hundreds of collegiate ministers, it’s clear that many readily recognize that the different ministries on campus excel at certain things. One ministry may reach the fraternities really well; another may draw the “thinkers”; one finds a multiethnic crowd comes easily; another may be an easy open door to the “party crowd” on campus. This recognition may be a fledgling notion of “asset-based college ministry”: Each ministry – because of whom it’s already drawn – has a particular opportunity to reach others.
  2. But this isn’t only broad – it’s also narrow. This particular idea isn’t only focused on identifying your strengths or present makeup and “doing more with that” – although that’s certainly a useful principle as part of this discussion. This specific notion – “asset-based college ministry” is what I’m calling it today – would generally include a narrower, more individual focus as well – down to recognizing that in some cases even one student might be God’s tool for setting your ministry on a new path.
  3. And it’s not only surface-level; this looks deeper. As you’ll see in the example below, true “asset-based college ministry” should look beyond what can be learned in an initial “Get to Know You” card or through casual conversation. Really understanding the amazing assets God has brought to your ministry may require an awful lot of “mining.”

Now that those explanatory notes are out of the way, I want to offer one example of this notion – pulled from a post from four years ago. By example, I hope it gets you pondering Asset-based College Ministry with me. Then as I have opportunity, I’ll explore/imagine/theorize more in the days to come.

Ask Them Their Passions

My guess is you have some pretty good info on your students: Class Year, Major, Phone Number, maybe a Birthday or their Hometown.

Have you asked them their passions? (Surprisingly, these may not be the same as their majors…) Have you asked them the ways they really like to serve others, or what they’d do if they had unlimited time and opportunity? How do they hope to change the world? How do they hope to change their world, and soon?

Might God want to speak to you about the future of your ministry through the passions, strengths, talents, and other characteristics of the students He’s brought you? Or is the format and programming of your ministry far more about your passions, personality, etc., than it is about theirs?