Appreciative Inquiry and the church

Having been giving some thought to Appreciative Inquiry in my work for some years now, the time seems right to use a blog to explore the ways in which this approach to organisational change is consistent with Christian faith. It’s also an opportunity to get back to blogging, after experimenting with WordPress during a sabbatical in 2014. The results of that can be seen on playfulplanting.wordpress.com

I first encountered Appreciative Inquiry when I worked as the Training Officer for one of the Synods of the United Reformed Church in the UK, and was introduced by our then Synod Moderator Revd Roberta Rominger to the work of Mark Lau Branson through his book Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. What struck me about Appreciative Inquiry was the way in which it changed the basic assumption underpinning training and adult education. It came naturally to me to look at training as a means of solving problems i.e. “Here is where we are; over there is where we want to be; if we improve our skills or knowledge we will move from here to there.” Training (using that word in its broadest sense) filled the gap and overcame the implicit or explicit deficiencies in our starting position. Appreciative Inquiry started from a different place by asking questions about the strengths that the community seeking change already had. The most obvious biblical basis for doing this was Philippians 4.8:

Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a means of organisational change was first put forward by David Cooperider and Suresh Srivastva in 1987 and has been taken up by widely divergent voluntary and commercial organisations. It’s been used by a number of churches in recent years as a way of releasing energy for mission. The purpose of this blog will be to discuss the theological implications of AI, and I’ve called it Fruitful Forays because it’s likely to be conversational and nonlinear, picking up and examining ideas that emerge from experience.