I was recently coaching a group of ministry leaders to help them unpack their faith community’s experience with the Innovation Lab’s Community Discovery Package. Guided by the resource, they’d completed community research, conducted in-depth interviews with people in their context, and mapped their community’s current assets, all with the hopes of uncovering new opportunities for ministry.

Here’s what stood out as I listened to what they’re learning about their context: 

  • The number one challenge that people of all ages articulated during the community interviews was feeling lonely and isolated (much like the rest of America).
  • There’s a growing number of young families in the local area, but they aren’t engaged with the faith community. 
  • The faith community sits on a vast amount of land, which includes a currently neglected sports field. 
  • The faith community already has an expansive ministry that helps feed hungry neighbors living in the surrounding food desert. 
  • The faith community has an ongoing relationship with the elementary and middle schools across the street. 

When I talk with ministry leaders, my favorite sentence to hear is “Oh, I hadn’t ever considered that!” More often than not, that sentence follows a conversation about the faith community’s assets for ministry, many of which go completely unnoticed. 

Many of a faith community’s assets for ministry go completely unnoticed. 

From an emerging awareness about existing assets, a faith community can begin to be unleashed from the narrative of lack and decline. The potential for transformational ministry becomes endless as new information begets new possibilities.

The faith community I coached recently is now dreaming about hosting a sports camp or after-school program for kids using their land and that forgotten sports field, involving their multigenerational congregants as volunteers, and capitalizing on their relationships with nearby schools. They’re imagining how they might expand their definitions of “ministry” by offering the faith community’s physical assets in service to their changing context.

How to overcome negativity bias and expand your ministry

As humans, it’s too easy to overlook the assets present within a community. That’s because our brains are hardwired to notice deficits and lack, and to initially gloss over gifts and resources. This phenomenon is called the negativity bias and the Church is far from immune. 

“Many psychologists think that this has evolutionary roots; that is: It’s more important for people, for survival, to notice the lion in the brush than it is to notice the beautiful flower that’s growing on the other side of the way,” said Dr. Laura L. Carstensen, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, in a 2018 Washington Post article

But as the living body of Christ — the Church — we are divinely called to be people who DO notice the beautiful flower, the signs of new life breaking into the world, even in the most unlikely places. 

As the Church, we are divinely called to be people who DO notice the beautiful flower, the signs of new life breaking into the world. 

And we can’t stop at simply noticing. We’re called to then be stewards of those flowers in a world that seems filled with despair and death. Our creative and creating God calls us to move past negativity biases and to witness, name, and call forth goodness and hope, and invite others to do the same. 

You can begin moving from a focus on deficits to assets in your ministry by asking yourself these four questions: 

  1. In what ways are YOU more prone to noticing the proverbial “lion in the brush” rather than the beautiful flower? In other words, noticing deficits rather than assets? 
  2. In what ways is your faith community collectively more prone to noticing deficits rather than assets? 
  3. Challenge yourself to make a list of at least 10 assets in your faith community and local context. These could be skills and experiences people have, physical assets like the faith community’s building spaces, financial resources, partnerships with other organizations or groups, etc.
  4. What current need or challenge facing people in your community are you aware of that one (or more) of the assets from question #3 might help address? What ministry possibilities might exist?  

If your faith community feels stuck in the narrative of lack and decline, the Innovation Lab can help. Learn more about our Community Discovery Package, a resource specifically designed to help you identify opportunities for innovative ministry with a focus on community assets. 

About the Author: Meghan Hatcher is the director of the Innovation Laboratory at CYMT. She holds degrees in journalism, sustainable development and applied sociology, and a Master of Divinity. Meghan has served diverse faith communities through pastoral leadership, youth ministry, new church development, community engagement, and ministry innovation.