Ideas for our on-going “Appreciative Inquiry” into our Congregational Missional Ministry

The Standing Committee on Ministry of the Ecclesiastical Province of BC and Yukon is presently preparing a resource for congregations facing major change that is based on the “Appreciative Inquiry” model. Appreciate Inquiry, however, is a model of organizational reflection that, as an on-going part of congregational life, can sustain our parishes as they become more ‘thinking’ entities.

Our diocese is certainly aware of the power and usefulness of models of congregational and regional reflection engaged in with positive change in mind. I was first introduced to the principles of Appreciative Inquiry by Paul Borthistle who practiced AI in his work at the Synod Office. He aroused my personal curiosity, and I began to ` appreciate` manifestations of AI in our Ministry Assessment Process and our ‘Missional’ approaches to conducting our ministry as Anglicans, supported by people such as Alan Roxburgh. The worst thing we can do in this whole context is to see the Ministry Assessment Process and the presentations by people such as Roxburgh as ‘one shot deals’. “Maybe if we ignore it, it will go away” is not an option.

Our May 7 pre-synod day is strong evidence that ìt` is not going away. And that`s a good thing. Organizers of our Plan 2018 are ready to move ahead with parishes engaged in or prepared to engage in Appreciative Inquiry based processes such as the Ministry Assessment Process. And we will move ahead in ministry as a diocese if we focus on these efforts. There are already many innovative approaches to parish community ministry in our diocese that are having an impact on both church and world. May such initiatives increase.

In his May 25 article in The Huffington Post, Brady Boyd, Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, outlined his `Five Predictions for the Future of the Local Church`. Here they are with some commentary about how we are doing.

1. The places where we gather will become smaller

Many congregations face smaller regularly participating members and supporters due to reasons that are all too familiar to us: changing demographics, changing social, spiritual and personal values and activities, as well as lifestyles crammed with things to do; witness the pressures on young families in particular. It`s little wonder families find it hard to cram regular church participation in already overly full schedules. Appreciative Inquiry can help congregations take a positive approach to the reality of a smaller dedicated volunteer constituency. It helps put ministry possibilities in perspective. Consciously guided downsizing which may even involve amalgamation with a near-by parish is not necessarily a bad thing.

2. The church will be launched into real mission

Our diocese is engaged in a process of dreaming and wondering, led by the Holy Spirit, as we discover new `missional`approaches to community ministry. We are addressing the tough questions: what is the nature of Christian mission in 21st century Canada? how do we regroup for effective engagement with a multi-faith and no-faith society? what does the Gospel of Jesus Christ mean in a post-modernist ethos? Appreciative Inquiry helps us engage with these central issues.

3. The church will return to its ancient roots

Megachurch movements and the whole quest for `relevance`has led the church off into some novel, but unhelpful directions where the past has been looked upon as totally irrelevant. We are learning, however, that when God does a new thing among us it`s never in a historic or tradition-rejecting vacuum. We continue to wrestle with issues of social justice and human equality in the context of our Biblical and Christian world view roots. As Anglicans, we forge the new from the old without rejecting the best of what we have. What Robert Webber once called `the once and future church`is alive and well within Canadian Anglicanism, and so it should be.  Here is another powerful context for our own on-going Appreciative Inquiry.

4. The church will talk more about really important issues

Anglicans are used to engaging the issues that capture the interest of Canadians as these arise. It`s not a vain quest for `relevance`as some have suggested, but rather engaging the gears of ministry by having a voice worth hearing and considering. Environmental issues, the hunger for spiritual meaning, gender and sexuality issues, specific instances of social injustice, inter-faith and general social dialogue with those who differ, even significantly, from us in their world views and practices – all further what educator John Goodlad called `the human conversation`.  As a church, we need to be there – thoughtfully and consistently.

5. The church will return to wonder and awe

As Phyllis Tickle points out in her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why we are moving out of an Enlightenment obsession with theology based on propositional truth to one based on the realities of the mystery of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – in all the possible meanings which that implies. Many younger Christians are being drawn back into the depths of Christian experience that can be found in `the new monasticism`or in ancient practices of meditation and liturgy. `Spiritual, but not religious`is a mantra repeated by many in our Canadian society. We can promote practices in our parish communities that engage these seekers. Again, Appreciative Inquiry based on our own various social contexts can give birth to effective ministry.

I believe Brady Boyd`s `Five Predictions`speak to us about our ministry. I think our reflection on them indicates that we are on the right track. That`s why the Standing Committee on Ministry for our Anglican Province of BC and Yukon is recommending that parishes engage in some form of Appreciative Inquiry – and the resources developed right here in our diocese play a major part in that recommendation.

reference: Boyd, Brady. `Five Predictions for the Future of the Local Church`, Huffington Post, Wednesday, November 25 2011.

Steve Bailey is deacon at St. Laurence Anglican Church in Coquitlam and currently chairs the Standing Committee on Ministry of the Ecclesiastical Province of BC and Yukon. The Committee`s resource, `Parishes in Transition: A Process Guide`will be presented later this year.

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What is your parish`s experience with processes that engage members in deliberately shaping new directions for ministry? What processes are you engaging in? Your comments are always welcome.

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