Appreciative Inquiry Assumptions

Mark Branson in his book Memories, Hopes, and Conversations lists ten assumptions that are embodied in the process of Appreciative Inquiry (AI).  Read them carefully because, once again, they differ significantly from the assumptions of a problem focused planning process.

  1. In every organization, some things work well.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Asking questions influence the group.
  4. People have more confidence in the journey to the future when they carry forward parts of the past.
  5. If we carry parts of the past into the future, they should be what is best about the past.
  6. It is important to value differences.
  7. The language we use creates our reality.
  8. Organizations are heliotropic.
  9. Outcomes should be useful.
  10. All steps are collaborative

Since I know folks are really curious about how the AI process works I’ll begin posting fuller definitions of theses assumptions from Branson’s Memories, Hopes, and Conversations over the next two weeks.

Appreciative Inquiry VS Traditional Strategic Planning

The following comes from the The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond.

Traditional strategic planning has a problem solving focus.  Traditional strategic planning has as its ultimate objective bringing about change in an organization through doing less of something the organization does not do well.  This traditional approach to planning works by:

  1. Identifying the problems in the organization
  2. Analyzing the cause of those problems
  3. Analyzing possible solutions
  4. Developing action plans to treat the problems

Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what an organization does best.  Appreciative Inquiry has as its ultimate objective bringing about change by doing more of what works.  This process of planning works by:

  1. Appreciating and valuing the best of “what is” in the organization
  2. Envisioning “what might be”
  3. Dialoguing “what should be”
  4. Innovating “what will be”

Sunday February 16th will be a Sunday to appreciate and value the best of “what is” at College Park Baptist Church.  What the day will not be is a day of wringing hands over problems.   Based on previous experience the day, I promise, will be a great deal of fun.  But for the day to be a success, your presence is needed because you know CPBC best.


VISIONING: Three Success Stories
Molly Lineberger
November 20, 2011

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
Healthy congregations know who they are and where they are going. They have a sense of their reason for existence (mission) and what they must do to fulfill that mission (vision). However congregations, like all organizations, change with time. Periodically, they must redefine their mission and vision. The Center for Congregational Health has successfully guided dozens of congregations through a visioning process. This is not a top-down process of simply engaging key lay leaders and staff; it is a signature Center for Congregational Health, radically congregational process – a bottom up approach based on the 1 Corinthians 12 model. In this client-centered process, every member of the body is invited to participate.
This is the story of three churches, in three different settings, and how the Center’s approach – built on engaging the congregation in conversation – enabled each to clarify mission and vision. In the role of consultant, Center for Congregational Health President Bill Wilson guided each through a several month long process designed for their particular needs. Describing the process, Wilson said, “When the Center for Congregational Health is called, we go, we listen and we ask question after question of the planning team. The genius of our approach is that we believe the true experts on the future vision for the church are in the room. We come in as process consultants, not expert consultants, and that makes all the difference in the world. In the end, it is THEIR God-inspired dream for the future, not ours.”
First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville, GA is part of a vibrant community northwest of Atlanta. Their weekly worship attendance averages 275. Rev. Ted Smith has served as senior pastor for 15 years and the church was nearing completion of a decade-long capital/building campaign. “A new vision for the future appeared needed for me personally and for the congregation,” Smith said.
Park Road Baptist Church of Charlotte is an affluent, urban church that averages 200 in Sunday worship. After serving as co-pastors for nine years, Reverends Amy and Russ Dean returned from sabbatical in the summer of 2009 with ideas for change. They invited the Center for Congregational Health to facilitate a deacon’s retreat to discuss those ideas; it was that discussion that led Park Road into the visioning process.
Central Baptist Church, of Midlothian, VA, has grown over the past decade from a rural, family congregation to a suburban, commuting-to-Richmond congregation averaging 300 in weekly worship. After seven years as senior pastor, Dr. David Turner was hearing requests for the church to begin fundraising for capital needs, but he knew they needed a compelling mission and vision first. Discussion of whether or not to undertake a capital campaign lead to the visioning process. Interestingly, the congregation decided on six strategic initiatives, which did not include a capital campaign.
As each pastor spoke about the visioning exercise, a clear theme emerged: a deep appreciation for the inclusive, bottom-up nature of the process. Hearing from various segments of their congregation allowed each church’s visioning team to consider all perspectives. The congregational model was the reason Smith’s session opted to use the Center for Congregational Health. Smith said the congregational gatherings and consultant-led discussion gave the leadership team “helpful, tangible feedback.” He said the visioning process allowed the congregation to “celebrate our past, accurately assess our present ministry and context and then to anticipate the future God is leading us into.”
The Deans cited listening to the congregation as key to success. Their leadership team for the visioning process consisted of four ministry staff members and eight lay members of the congregation – all enthusiastic about their work. Amy was surprised by the high turnout for Sunday afternoon congregational conversations. Around 125 people attended each one. The conversations gave the congregation a greater sense of community.
Similarly, Turner said his congregation’s three conversations were a crucial part of a process that opened multiple new opportunities for communication. He was surprised by the diversity of ages of those who participated. People perceived that their input was welcome – even those with different perspectives from the majority. He was impressed by Wilson’s connection with the leadership team and congregation.
Each pastor cited some part of the visioning process that they can use in the future. For Smith it is resources for learning demographic context and potential for growth. Amy Dean will use congregational asset mapping in the future, along with asking questions to determine what to keep and what to change or let go. Russ Dean said listening intentionally to the congregation is one thing he will use again. Turner agreed that church forums for large, guided conversations are important for the future, adding that having a trusted, outside voice mattered as well.
The process led to positive outcomes for each church. For Smith and the congregation of First Presbyterian Cartersville, there was a strong clarification of values – ministry to children, worship life and mission/community outreach. As is typical for Center for Congregational Health consultants, Wilson met weekly with the committee in person or by Skype to guide them throughout the four-month process. Smith said, “It has given us a road map in writing, and the session is all on the same page about following that road map over the next decade.” The most challenging parts of the process involved wrestling with the future plan for worship services and “distilling down the 21 recommendations from the report to some smart goals.” Smith interviewed another consulting group by phone before hiring the Center for Congregational Health. He said it would have cost twice as much to use the other group.
Russ Dean described the vision for Park Road Baptist as “a church product, not a staff or even a lay-lead leadership product. It has already changed the church.” Now nine months into the new vision, one concrete thing they are doing, Amy Dean said is “preaching our way through the Bible.” They heard the congregation say they wanted to know the Bible better. Another result is that the church has moved from a committee-based structure to a team-based structure. Teams are self-selected. Individuals sign up and then decide on leadership and frequency of meetings. It has been a major change for lay leadership. “People who have never served on a committee have just come to life on a team,” she said. “People feel heard and ready to lead.” One of their goals is to become more mission-oriented – to give away 50 percent of their budget by 2020.
Turner said that with the high degree of buy-in from the Central Baptist congregation, the vision plan proposed by the leadership team was unanimously approved. He told of a new, thirty-something member who participated in the congregational conversations before joining the church. At the vision plan presentation lunch, he spoke out about his excitement over the direction of the church and his family’s decision to join. Turner said it was good for older members to hear that excitement. Also gratifying to Turner was the fact that the vision plan affirmed to the staff the missional direction of the church. This process took a huge time commitment from the staff and leadership, he said, but the results were very rewarding. “I would not trade it for anything.” That sentiment was echoed by the other pastors as well. All said the visioning process was well worth the investment of time and dollars and that they would highly recommend it to others.

Asking the Big Questions by Bill Wilson

Jethro helped Moses create one to deal with a gargantuan task of leadership. Noah would have been all wet (literally) without one. Nehemiah used his to rebuild a wall and signal hope to God’s people. Paul’s guided his itinerant ministry from church to church. The common tool shared by all these great leaders was a plan. More specifically, they utilized a strategic plan to carry out their work. Few would argue against the need for effective leaders to utilize strategic thinking and planning. But what about congregations? Don’t congregations also need to think and plan strategically in order to be effective?

The American Heritage dictionary defines a strategy as “A plan of action . . . intended to accomplish a specific goal.” For a congregation, having a strategic plan is a way to help them achieve the mission they believe God has called them to pursue. A strategic plan begins with the end in mind. It begins with the congregation asking what might be called “the big question” namely, “What is God calling us to be and do, here and now?” What makes a plan strategic is creating a specific and workable plan of action that seeks to fulfill the vision they believe God has called them to pursue. In other words, a strategic plan puts feet and hands to our good intentions in fulfilling God’s call to mission and ministry.

Surprisingly, the fundamental issue of discerning God’s calling and purpose for the congregation is scarcely talked about in most churches. Though churches talk about lots of things, they often shy away from discussing the “big questions” of purpose and mission. The big questions are usually about “why” not “how.” The single biggest and most important question a strategic plan process seeks to answer is, “What is God calling us to be and do as a congregation?” Once a congregation can answer that question with some clarity, the other smaller questions are much easier to answer.

For some congregations that recognize they have a diversity of perspectives, it may seem frightening to begin such a discussion. For congregations that are prospering or facing no discernable difficulty, having a discussion about purpose, mission, and strategic planning may simply seem unnecessary. For congregations that are experiencing distress, such as those suffering from declining attendance, giving, or growth, a discernment and planning process about God’s call and future ministry may seem too daunting a task. The result is that most churches simply don’t do it. The starting point for most churches in planning their ministry for the next year is simply to evaluate how well existing programs worked this year and find a new date for them on next year’s calendar. This is not a strategic plan. In fact it’s not really a plan at all. In practice, it is simply a way to “keep things going” in congregational life. It is a maintenance posture at best.

Without a well thought out plan, a congregation can unintentionally create obstacles to its own effectiveness. It may just end up in a cycle of repetition—doing what it has always done—because it has always done it that way. These congregations also run the risk of missing key opportunities for mission and ministry because they become blind to the new opportunities emerging around them. Without a sense of mission and purpose shared by most of the members, a congregation can become a breeding ground for conflict as different groups begin to compete for resources. Without a shared sense of God’s calling and the future, a congregation has no clear way to make decisions about whether or not to undertake a given mission or ministry, how to plan for staffing or facilities, what opportunities to embrace or reject, or how to be the best stewards of the human, physical, financial, and spiritual resources with which God has entrusted them.

The irony is that churches are at least occasionally quite adept at planning. They usually plan carefully when they build a building, conduct a vacation Bible school, provide a special worship experience, or conduct a mission trip to another country. While all this kind of planning is important, this is not strategic planning at a congregational level. A strategic plan developed by a congregation provides the church a standard for knowing whether they need to build a building and the purposes for which it would be used. A strategic plan can guide a congregation in deciding whether they ought to pour time energy, and resources into things like a VBS, a special worship experience, or a mission trip to another country.

Almost every church could benefit from calling “time out” and taking the time to ask each other and, more importantly, to ask God the big questions about purpose and mission. Congregations change. Communities change. We believe God’s call to congregations is also dynamic and changing. It is not enough for a congregation to know who it has been in the past or to be able to point to past achievements as markers of health and effectiveness. Congregations, like individuals, have to keep asking the same fundamental question again and again, “What is God calling us to be and do . . . today?

The Center for Healthy Churches is vitally interested in helping congregations become healthy and strong. We believe one of the keys to achieving effective congregational ministry today is for the congregation to have a clear, shared sense of identity, purpose, and direction. Along with that sense of purpose, a congregation needs a workable plan in order to achieve the things they believe God has uniquely gifted and called them to pursue. If your congregation is willing to spend the time and effort to ask big questions, the Center has consultants and resources to guide them through this process.

Getting Unstuck by George Bullard


In the midst of a region of the world where the impact of a churched culture is fading, many congregations in North America are stuck in an overly churched culture perspective. As a result these congregations become insulated, isolated, and inoculated from people who are preChristians, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched.

These congregations did not mean for this to happen. It was not intentional. It just crept up on them over a number of years—even decades.

What is an Overly Churched Culture Congregation?

An overly churched culture congregation tends to happen when the active membership is composed of 30 percent or more people who are 60-40-20. These are people who have all three of the following characteristics. First, they are at least 60 years old. Second, they have been professing Christians for at least 40 years. Third, they have been attending their current congregation for at least 20 years.

As a result of being 60-40-20 people they are deeply grounded in how to do church from a perspective of the past to the present, but having trouble understanding how to do church in a rapidly changing future-oriented culture. Rather than adapting to the transitions and changes around them, they reinforced church as it has been.

Again, this is often not intentional. It just crept up on them. Many people in many congregations are sufficiently myopic that they cannot see how their world has changed from a churched culture to a non-churched culture. They honestly believe the way things have happened in the past should continue forward into the future. This perspective seems natural to them, and they do not realize it is out of touch with reality.

When the percentage of active people in a congregation who are 60-40-20 people reaches 50 percent, the congregation is definitely an overly churched culture congregation where myopia turns into blindness.

What is the Perspective of an Overly Churched Culture Congregation?

Because they are trapped in a churched culture, they assume certain things. First, they assume people from the non-churched culture will want to come to the churched culture congregation where high quality programs are offered that have a long tradition of excellence.

Second, they assume the way they entered and matured into a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship with the Triune God is the same way people from a non-churched culture would enter and mature into a Christian relationship. Third, they assume that in a religiously pluralistic North America that people from a non-churched culture would see Christianity as the only viable route to a deep relationship to God.

Fourth, they assume that people from a non-churched culture have some basic understandings about Christianity and the Bible. They are shocked to hear that when the friend of a preschooler died, and the parents are trying to explain why the friend will not be around to play anymore, they say it is because the friend has gone to be with Jesus. The preschooler says, “He has gone to Chuck E. Cheese’s?” The preschooler says that because he has never been to church and never heard the name of Jesus mentioned.

Fifth, they assume their friendly atmosphere, their nice facilities, they wonderful staff, their great music and solid preaching, their dedicated Sunday School teachers, and their sacrificial missions projects are exactly what non-churched culture persons are looking for. A corollary to this is a sixth thing which is that if their church has a good nursery and preschool, a superstar youth minister, and engages in direct evangelism they will attract people from the non-churched culture.

Seventh, they wonder, who in the world are these non-churched culture people and what is the meaning of terms like preChristian, unchurched, underchurched, and dechurched? If the My Hope message about the cross from Billy Graham will not reach them, then how in the world do you expect us to reach them? Maybe they are just not our kind of people.

Eighth, they believe they do not have the resources, inclination, or desire to do the things the new contemporary congregation in town is doing and attracting hundreds or thousands of people. Maybe there is no hope for us anyway, and we do not need to worry about it.

Ninth, they do not have a vision for the future. Perhaps God is finished with them anyway. They see so many congregations in the same situation. Perhaps they are the faithful ones, and we cannot worry about those who are not interested in God and church. To make the changes necessary they will have to give up some of our beliefs and convictions, and that would be wrong.

Tenth, their perspective is that too many of the things these people from a non-churched culture are doing are sinful, and they are not sure they want to introduce their lifestyle into their church. Yes, a Christ-centered, faith-based relationship to the Triune God is for everyone. That does not necessarily mean our church is for everyone.

Any of these sound familiar? Are any of these present in your congregation? Stay tuned and we will talk more.

Used by permission of Associated Baptist Press

Wild Saints

Welcome to my blog, Wild Saints. Wild Saints is intended to help Christians pursue Jesus with passion. At the outset, however, Wild Saints is intended to help College Park Baptist Church as we attempt to discern God’s direction for the future. My hunch is that as we at CPBC discover God’s direction, we’ll understand the need to be Wild Saints—disciples of discipline and strength.
You can read more about the intent and direction of Wild Saints under the About section. I’ll be posting numerous articles to help CPBC members understand the challenges of today’s churches. Some of these will be articles by Bill Wilson who is leading our church in the discernment process. Additionally, I’ll post my reflections from books I’m reading that I find helpful to the discernment process. So, for the time being, Wild Saints is aimed at CPBC members during this time of discernment.
One other thing. Here is a quick review of how the phrase wild saints came about. The phrase wild saints comes from an attempt I made several years ago to translate the Greek word PRAUS as found in Matthew 5:5. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The problem for me was PRAUS translated poorly into English. Meek communicates weakness or timidity. PRAUS, however, was a word used in Jesus’ day regarding the taming of wild animals, in general, and often of wild horses, in specific. PRAUS communicated strength brought under control, i.e., a wild horse, though tamed, whose spirit had not been broken. Since no English word existed that quite conveyed the meaning of PRAUS, I came up with the phrase wild saint. A wild saint, for me, is someone who submits to Jesus’ will and follows Him passionately.