In recent years, many congregations have asked about the use of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).

Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry is the process of identifying, considering and leveraging strengths. It is inclusive, engaging the entire congregation, in asking important questions such as, “what gives life to our congregation when it functions at its best?”

Implementing AI
Many pastors and congregational leaders have asked us about the practical implementation of this process. How is it used, where do you start and what is my role?

Here are some important things to consider:

  1. Read and understand all you can about Appreciative Inquiry, the theory that underpins this positive change approach, and the principles that support it. This will help you explain it to congregational members. Most folks are more familiar with traditional strategic planning processes, so understanding of AI is important to start.
  2. Start out small. Although AI has been used successfully in large scale gatherings in the congregation, it can have a powerful impact in smaller settings. For example, consider using an AI-type question at the start of staff meetings or a small group gathering: “Where have you noticed the presence of God in our congregation during the last week?” or “What is one good that has happened to you since our last encounter [meeting]?” This practice can help you observe participants’ reaction and the energy that is generated by asking a single powerfully, positive question.
  3. Engage others in your congregation about the value of using AI. Gather an exploratory group to learn more about the special features of Appreciative Inquiry and how it could work for your congregation. If your congregation has gone through endless planning processes with little buy-in or follow-through, AI may be a fresh and viable alternative.
  4. If you are hoping to use AI on a large scale, involving the entire congregation, then consider using an outside facilitator. It is difficult for a congregational leader to facilitate and participate. This can get tricky. Participating and facilitating at once is an art both in terms of credibility with the group and your own energy level.

The Center for Congregations, through the CRG, recommends many resources on Appreciative Inquiry and positive change to help you get started. As always, we stand ready to answer your questions.

Susan Weber by Susan Weber

Susan Weber is the director of the evaluation and communication project. She has additional training in Appreciative Inquiry and leads the Flourishing Congregations events.