Author Luther K. Snow begins all of his workshops backwards. Right at the beginning of his Alban Institute workshop on asset mapping, Snow told the participants what the outcome would be. “You can only learn what you already know,” he said, drawing from a Sufi parable. It sounded mysterious, but in the end it turned out to be true.

What Is Asset Mapping?
Asset mapping is an approach to bringing out the wisdom, gifts, and experience already known to exist within our congregations and organizations. Instead of using a problem-solving methodology that puts us in a position of focusing on our needs and deficiencies, Snow sees asset mapping as a way to break the negative cycles that can threaten to consume our communities. Asset mapping can start positive cycles concentrated on bringing together the strengths of a community and create energy for new areas of ministry.

Welcome to ‘First Church’ in ‘Centerville’
From his background as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago, Snow knows that people learn best by actually taking part in a project rather than just listening to a lecture. At his Alban workshop, participants were led through a hands-on exercise together, imagining that we were all members of a suburban congregation—“First Church” in “Centerville.”

As we brainstormed about what this imaginary congregation might look like, it turned out that First Church had a lot of problems with which actual churches would be familiar: a declining membership, a lack of connection to the wider community, and debates about worship styles. We also imagined, however, that First Church would have plenty of the untapped assets that are common in many congregations, such as members and leaders with a sincere faith; ample space in a large building and property; great musicians; and even better cooks.

Snow showed workshop participants how asset mapping could be used bring out these gifts, connect them to each other, and lead congregations to a clearer sense of what God’s will might be for them and the future of their ministries.

The Three Steps of Asset Mapping
Snow outlined the crucial steps of congregational asset mapping:

1. Recognizing Our Assets
By discovering our assets we honor the talents and skills of individuals and our communities at large. These gifts include the obvious—like physical and financial assets—as well as assets that are often overlooked—such as relationships, our personal stories, and the gifts of nondominant cultures. Within the process of identifying our assets is a recognition that each of us has something valuable to contribute.

2. Connecting the Dots
By connecting our gifts with the gifts of others we can discover the creation of something totally new. Finding affinity in our assets can create the reality of a sum that is greater than its parts—a “snowball effect” where new energy for ministry builds on itself to reveal unexpected opportunities.

3. Vote with our Feet
Because congregations are voluntary associations we should not take each other for granted. The asset mapping approach can help us see that there is something to be gained by joining our assets with those of others. By joining together with others, we can have more success than by working alone. By bringing together the assets of many, groups can build on the strengths of all its members and everyone grows.

Asset mapping makes it easier to understand that no one individual has to do it all. Rather you can feel good about committing yourself to one aspect of ministry because you know others have committed themselves to their calling, as well. Snow warns congregations about falling into a “fixed-sum” mentality that limits the imagination about what can and can’t be done.

Assets of Faith
The values behind the asset mapping process can be found throughout scripture—from Psalm 23, where David proclaims that with God as his shepherd, he does not want, but lives in abundance, to Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, where the meager offerings of the crowd are brought together to create a great feast.

The principles of asset mapping can even be seen in the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, for through the recognition of our own gifts, we are better able to recognize that our neighbor has been blessed with gifts as well.

As Snow pointed out, the moral of the workshop was that we only learn what we already know. Indeed, as members of faith communities, the participants in this workshop found that they were already well acquainted with the values of asset mapping and the way it can be applied in our congregations!


Featured Resources

The Power of Asset Mapping: Acting on Your Congregation’s Strengths by Luther K. Snow

Asset mapping isn’t a new system or theory. It’s a way of thinking, a doorway into an “open-sum” perspective rooted in the Bible and common experience. The Power of Asset Mapping, by long-time community developer Luther K. Snow, shows congregational leaders how to help a group recognize its assets and the abundance of God’s gifts and to act on them in ministry and mission.

Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson

Memories, Hopes, and Conversations recounts the experience of First Presbyterian and outlines a process that any congregation can utilize to harness the energies of the congregation at all levels of its common life. Branson first leads readers through the foundations of appreciative inquiry and bracingly explores biblical texts for understanding the practice in a faith context. He then outlines and illustrates a four—step process—Initiate, Inquire, Imagine, Innovate-that creatively employs constructive conversations and questions to evoke storytelling and spur imaginations.