Tim Slack and Fiona Thomas
Appreciating Church: A practical appreciative inquiry resource for church communities
Publisher: Fiona Shaw www.appreciating.church
Appreciating Church is a handbook style resource book based on an ecumenical project of the same name. The aim of the project is to create ‘communities of practice’ – groups that foster change in positive, hopeful, inclusive and encouraging ways. Behind the project, and behind the book, is the organizational practice of Appreciative Inquiry, a practice that is based on looking for the best in people and in organizations. Developed by David Cooperrider, appreciative inquiry and, by extension, Appreciating Church start NOT from the viewpoint that organizations are problems to be solved, but that they are miracles of human organizing and ingenuity – to be appreciated.
I heard Cooperrider speak once. He is both the son and the father of Christian ministers. His belief in the potential of human goodness to bring about positive change in the world was palpable and deeply inspiring. He was perhaps the most hope filled person I have ever met. Cooperrider’s key insight is that if you go looking for problems you will find them – and you are then likely to get bogged down in them. If you ask different questions – questions about when an organization is at its best, when its people are at their best, you don’t cover over the difficulties but you do help to generate the imagination, the creativity and the energy needed to move beyond them. In every system, every church, every person – something is working, something good is happening. Appreciative inquiry seeks to find that goodness and to grow it.
Appreciating Church is a practical resource for bringing some of that hope filled appreciation into churches and church projects. It does this by bringing together a bit of theory, a lot of stories and a lot of resources to help communities see themselves and the future a little bit differently. As a church leader, I particularly liked – and will be able to quickly and easily use – the practical suggestions for introducing an appreciative approach into meetings and also its use for the discipline of spiritual journaling.
Richard Rohr describes contemplation as a way of seeing that includes recognizing and appreciating. I have worked with appreciative inquiry in the past and recognize its overlap with the contemplative path. Appreciating Church seems to me to be one more way in which the essential spiritual path of contemplation is being reinvigorated for today’s church.