Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach to community transformation in which those who work for community change do so by working with local leaders rather than delivering services to them or for them. I first learned about this approach while leading a city movement in Muncie, IN in the early 1990’s. Simply defined, ABCD is a way to find and mobilize resources a community already has. This approach is central to transforming communities and became an important part of my DMin at Bakke Graduate University in Transformational Leadership in the Global City. At the end of this post is a 4 minute video of Rev. Andy Sytsma explaining ABCD principles.
Asset Based Community Development is always rooted in a local community and draws on the assets within the community. In this way local knowledge, understanding, gifting and calling is strengthened, so that people are empowered and the community is strengthened. Below is the story of how ABCD principles are being applied through the Old Town Spring Heights Task Force in Spring, TX.
Rev. Andy Sytsma is the pastor of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Spring, TX, a city of 53,000 about 30 miles north of Houston. The older part of Spring grew up along the railroad that still runs through town. The newer portions of this fast growing small city are much more upscale than the older portions of town. Old Town Spring is composed of storefront merchants and a residential community across the tracks that only recently was named, Old Town Spring Heights. This is a community of roughly 600 residents and eighty homes surrounded on three sides by a sub-division. Old Town Spring Heights was established in 1885. The first church was formed in 1902. In the Peaceful Rest Cemetery, former slaves are buried. For many years, it was known by most of the residents of Spring as the community "across the tracks."
Old Town Spring Heights is:
- Mostly senior citizens raising children, whose parents are not present for a variety of reasons.
- Economically challenged.
- 80% African American with the rest being Hispanic and Anglo
- Composed of hard working shop owners, business persons, ranchers, and farmers.
The ABCD effort began when Rev. Sytsma’s predecessor in 2006, Rev. John Medendorp, began prayer walking in Old Town Spring. He decided to cross the tracks to Old Town Spring Heights and quickly became aware of the crack houses, gangs and other issues faced by this community.
One day, while prayer walking, Pastor John connected with Pastor Frank Callaway of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church, a practical-minded former business person. Both sensed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something. Together they believed that they could make a difference.
This led to the formation of the Old Town Spring Heights Task Force in 2006 that included the leadership of five churches (2 Methodist, 2 Baptist, and 1 Christian Reformed Church). Today there are seven churches involved in the Task Force, an example of Christian unity in action.
They began their collaboration with activities like prayer walks, days in the park, a monthly worship service on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Church pastors now swap pulpits and the churches have built a sense of unity in mission. On the first Sunday of each month there is an assembly of the residents of the community in which the question is asked, “What do you want to do together?”
The nature of this meeting is like a Home Owners’ Association. Out of these sessions, so far, Old Town Spring Heights has engaged in several community initiatives...
10 benefits from Asset Based Community Development.
- A community garden initiative is now growing fresh fruits and vegetables.
- A New Identity for the Community: the naming of the community as Old Town Spring Heights. The group put up a sign and the identity of the community helped residents begin to dream about what could be.
- Street Lights: The residents asked for street lights and the churches worked with Xcel Energy to put street lights in the community. They held a service called “Jesus is the Light of the World.” At the end of the service, they lit the street lights for the first time.
- Honoring the Past: Peaceful Rest Cemetery had become overgrown through lack of maintenance. The churches got the cemetery designated as a historical landmark. The people of the community now have become stewards of this important and sacred place.
- Seniors Activities: At the local community center, activities for the seniors of the community were begun.
- Police/Community Relations Improved: Criminal and drug issues were addressed by inviting the County Sheriff’s office to have a regular presence in the community. Old Spring Antioch Baptist Church hosted a meeting with local police officers and community residents to improve communications between the community and police.
- Health Initiative: The churches are offering a free health clinic in the community.
- Community Clean up: Heavy trash pick up days.
- Learning Center: A learning center for kids, youth, and adults grew from community initiative.
- Infrastructure: The sewage and water system has been inadequate, so that rains often brought flooding. Engineers from churches are addressing this with county and city authorities to solve the problems.