John Maxwell has stated correctly that change is inevitable, but growth is optional. No one in the world is safe from the effects of change. Even if we lived in the same house in the same town, worshiping at the same congregation for all of our lives, we couldn’t escape the grasp of change. Resolute as we might be, our bodies will change, our culture will change, and as a result of all these natural processes, our churches will change, too.
Because change is inevitable, it is worth investigating how we can benefit from what changes rather than spending all our energies resisting it. It’s better to surf on top of a wave than to be rolled around underneath it.
The single most useful tool I’ve found for learning about a group of people and leading them into a period of change is called Appreciative Inquiry. AI is a relatively new approach to analyzing people groups which started off as an effort to generate better ideas for problem-solving in organizational behavior. If you’d like a more extensive history of the approach, here is a good place to start.
My first encounter at AI was at Lipscomb University, as it was part of the training we received in the Doctor of Ministry program. The best resources for churches I’ve found is Mark Lau Branson’s book, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations. We used the first edition, though I am delighted there is now an updated edition with more case studies and better integration to missional theology.
AI is built on several assumptions of how organizations behave. Depending on the source and date of the information you’re reading, the number of assumptions will vary, but in my experience, all lists are within range of each other. These assumptions lead to particular types of questions and actions which will ideally produce a high level of insight and ownership from a group in authoring and creating their own change.
I’m going to spend several weeks reflecting on ten assumptions of AI and how these affect a group’s process of change in a healthy way. I’m calling this series Questioning Forward. It is through asking better questions that we produce better results.
After reflecting on the ten assumptions, I’m going to share some specific stories of how AI has helped me to effect positive renewal in several of the ministry settings where I’ve been.