How can you become the church you dream of? By talking about what you already do well, according to the creators of the Appreciating Church programme
In 2009, Jane Weedon had been the minster of her church in Welwyn Garden City for two years, and she had a problem. Despite her best efforts, she could not get the congregation to talk about the future of the church. They were happy to talk about their past, before huge changes in local industry reduced their numbers, but were reluctant to look to the future, as if afraid that they didn’t have one.
Then she read a book by Mark Lau Branson, Memories, Hopes and Conversations and was inspired. The book takes the principles of appreciative inquiry (AI) – which aims to transform organisations through more positive conversation – and applies them to church life. Used in international development and public sector organisations across the world since it was developed in the 1980s, AI helps groups to see their strengths and build on them, rather than focusing on problems. It starts by finding the right question to open a conversation, looks for the positive core of the organisation, and uses what people know they can do well to tackle what they want to do better. The book outlines how these principles can be used in churches, and Jane introduced them in Welwyn.
Jane called the process ‘Collecting the Stones’, inspired by the Bible story of Joshua setting up 12 stones at the point where the Israelites entered the Promised Land, to keep the story alive. The plan was to investigate and develop the church’s vision for the future. Elders were trained in AI, and they came up with questions to ask every member of the church – good questions which got members enthused about possibilities and dreams, rather than focusing on problems. Cafe discussion mornings followed, exploring the themes that emerged from the questions, and so the church ended up with a series of ‘provocative proposals’ about their future…
This is an extract from the November 2016 edition of Reform.