SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Michael Mather, author of "Having Nothing, Possessing Everything," was a guest in University of Missouri Extension's Neighboring 101 class on Dec. 16, 2021.

He advocates for asset-based community development and never doing something for someone in a community that they can do for themselves.

"If we begin looking for people's gifts rather than people's needs, then even better things than we thought possible might materialize," Mather, former pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church located in an urban, low-income neighborhood of Indianapolis. "I discovered that the action needed was shining a spotlight on the abilities of the people in our neighborhood."

For example, if you want to improve a daycare program, the people who use daycare should be among the individuals involved in restructuring it. The people who use social services are best positioned to strengthen their benefits and remediate their failings. The same applies to our neighborhoods. It takes the involvement of the people living there.

"I began my ministry seeing scarcity, seeing only the things that seemed to be missing in the neighborhoods in which I pastored. What I learned from those with whom I worked in South Bend and Indianapolis was how to see the abundance," said Mather.


After Mather did nine funerals for young men under 25 years of age in the four-block radius of his urban church in 1991, he realized things had to change.

The transformation began at the food pantry run at the church. "We stopped asking people about how poor they are and started asking about skills and interests and assets instead," said Mather. When a lady said she was a good cook, they hired her to cook for some events.

"In a few months, she had her own small business going, and we supported her in getting started," said Mather. "At the food pantry, if we had asked her when she showed up, 'Tell us how poor you are,' we'd have all ended up poorer for it, and we would've missed a lot of great food and a business that made a real difference in the life of this family."

The questionnaire Mather used is called the Low-Income Neighborhoods and the People Who Reside There and is available from the Asset-Based Community Development Institute.

With that type of information, Mather began to build youth and summer programming around the skills and interests of people in the community.

But the church did not stop there. They hired a young man in the community to The Roving Listener to visit with people in the neighborhood and needs and also community assets.

"We would try to find ways to bring people together who all cared about the same thing. If we found people who loved trains, we'd get people together. If we found artists, we'd get people together. If we found people who grew things, we got those people together," said Mather. "We had Mexican cooking class. We had a basic auto repair class. We had a music class. We had a painting class. We had the history of the Hollywood Western and others."


At the heart of asset-based community development is the gifts of the individual. There are three keystones to asset-based community development: gifts of the individual, official and unofficial associations, and institutions.

According to Mather, they also worked out five rules of implementation.

The first rule is never do something for someone if they can do it for themselves.

The second is finding others' gifts, talents, capacities, passions, and dreams and finding a place for them in the community's life.

The third rule is don't give poor people services, give poor people income, because what poor means is people don't have money.

"The fourth rule was if people are bent on providing services rather than income, see that it comes in a way that gives people a choice, or agency, or power, however, you want to say that," said Mather.

The fifth rule is to practice hospitality.

Mather says hospitality is significant in neighborhoods and among people who do not think alike. Generally, if they spend some time together and talk with each other, they discover that they have more in common.

Mather says it is important to listen first and discover what is already going on to make asset-based community development successful in your neighborhood.

"Go where the energy is in your neighborhood," said Mather. "Rarely do you hear the reason we did that is because seven years ago in a strategic plan, that was item number 17. No, usually people will say that people got together and did this thing."


You can register for Neighboring 101 classes at to attend sessions live or get recordings of the class.

University of Missouri Extension is at the forefront of a national movement recognizing the importance of neighboring in community development. More about the impact of neighboring can be found online at or by contacting David Burton by email at or by telephone (417) 881-8909.


Media Contact