Count your blessings: How churches thrive with assets

October 25th, 2021

While driving the byways of the rural Midwest, one might see fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice. Or you will notice livestock ranches for cows, pigs, poultry, and goats. You might also see natural assets in lakes, rivers, bluffs and caves, or human assets in dirt racetracks, railroads, flea markets, festivals, and mom-and-pop shops. 

These wonderful and unique geographies, economies, and attractions influence the field of ministry for a congregation. While encouraging churches and leaders to engage with their community by seeking to be the hands and feet of God, we should rejoice that this engagement can and should look different than an actuarial table or a business balance sheet. By adopting a broader understanding of what it means to be “thriving,” our hearts and minds learn to see God’s image and divine grace reflected in a variety of blessings. 

There is no formula for creating a thriving rural church, but there are practices and tools for engagement that promote the health and growth of a congregation, which is relevant to its context.  

To reorient thinking around the notion of a “thriving” congregation, begin by identifying assets. When naming the things that you have and represent, be encouraged by an “opportunity mindset,” which acknowledges that everyone has something to offer. Community members have gifts, including skills, experience, and passions. For examples:

  • Peggy, the Sunday morning technology coordinator, works at the post office during the week and knows everyone in town by name. 
  • Larry, who leads the mission team, is also the head of maintenance at the high school and loves to golf on his days off. 
  • Local associations and networks, such as the Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce, circulate power in connection and communication. 
  • Local institutions, such as schools and banks, have places and spaces, as well as supportive functions for the whole community. 

These tappable resources and strengths can be leveraged toward a common goal, or fulfill a need, or channel an interest. The asset mindset is based in the idea that local people play a powerful role in responding to needs and questions. It promotes a sense of shared ownership as people feel inspired and energized to contribute their own gifts.

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Communities of faith are connected to their context and can identify assets in a variety of ways. If the desire is to partner with a local school or district, identify people in the congregation, such as your Larrys, who are employed in education and can be a first step toward making a connection. As a path of communication is opened, the church will have an opportunity to listen to the school or district to learn firsthand what they are experiencing, thus informing the church’s response. Responses across the state of Missouri, for example, included donations of school supplies and books, appreciation for teachers and staff through meals or gifts, and the presence of mentors and reading buddies. The COVID pandemic exacerbated the needs for educational resources in rural communities. The shift to virtual school meant challenges for some families in having reliable internet connections or care for their children while guardians worked. One congregation with an existing local school partnership applied for a pandemic-related technology grant from our conference. With these funds the church was able to increase their internet strength and capabilities to become a satellite site for education. They mobilized church members to be present during the school day, creating a consistent and structured space for virtual learning. Their connection to people in the school fosters a partnership that utilizes people, time, and physical spaces to open opportunities for youth to thrive educationally. 

The idea of connection also holds value in thinking beyond the church and congregation. One congregation made a connection with an organization in a nearby city to offer a program locally that provides support and education for citizens to reach independence. The group of volunteers who operate the program walk alongside families as mentors, using love, life skills, and community resources to assist them in setting SMART goals aimed at reducing their debt, increasing their education or skills, improving their confidence, purchasing a home, and more. The group also started a community garden that provides opportunities to improve life skills and promotes living a healthy and fulfilling life in community with others. Their connection with another organization enhanced the reach, capabilities, and support of the program, while leaving space for local flair. Participating families can thrive economically, physically, emotionally, and socially. 

Parts of every state are affected by mental-health and substance-use challenges. The needs often overwhelm accessible resources from healthcare providers. One congregation recognizes how this is negatively affecting many people in their area. In connecting with another area ministry, they gathered insight into the difficulties at-risk individuals face financially, emotionally, physically, or spiritually while actively experiencing or in recovery from one of these challenges. With desire to offer hope and a supportive environment, the church partnered with a former addict to lead a new program in the area, which uses a mixture of life-planning classes, inspirational messages from speakers, and small-group discussions. Those who might feel disenfranchised in other environments, can now thrive with the love and support of an understanding community. 

More structured assessment or inventory asset tools can be used with prayerful discernment to foster health and growth in the community. By listening to where God is leading us, challenging us, or supporting us, we allow the Holy Spirit to renew and strengthen God’s people for the work of ministry. The fruit we experience (Matthew 7:16) are the result of the Spirit working within us and through our faith. 

Various assessments can help you identify the individual strengths and skills of your members. Use of these tests and inventories will likely yield a wide response. You don’t need to use all of them right away to be a thriving church. Consider identifying a theme among the local skills and assets, then expand from there. Perhaps you have a group of members who identify their skills as handiwork and craftsmanship, such as painting, home decorating, fixing things with their hands, or ensuring the safety of their community. Try gathering the group around this theme, discussed in light of local context, and then brainstorm a collective response based on the owned abilities. Most communities include elderly living nearby who would benefit from light maintenance on their homes. Or the local fire station is gearing up for their annual safety awareness week, and would welcome the church or someone in the church to host outreach events. 

Where are you being nudged to use what you have and who you are to share God’s love in your community? 

Community surveying, asset mapping, and data about area demographics and economics provide insights about the population that lives, works, and plays around your church. Data can be insightful, but it doesn’t always paint the full picture. As with internal connections, data could be a starting point for conversation and connection. Consider what is important or relevant from the data, then take it to the next step and find a way to gain proximity to the group you are interested in learning about or connecting with. For rural communities, conversation and connection tends to be a more successful way of learning about people, history, hopes for the community, and more. 

In all things, remember dignity. As each person is made in the image of God, and each community represents the body of Christ, each member or congregation contributes their own gifts and can thrive in their own unique and awesome way. 

Engaging with a rural community can happen through internal and external connections, identifying strengths and skills, and by living out our faith. As a result, we celebrate the achievements and growth that come in all different ways and sizes. 


Edwards, L. (September 25, 2019). A spiritual approach to community assessment. Retrieved from

Mind Tools Content Team. (n.d.). SMART goals: How to make your goals achievable. Retrieved 


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