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Create Healthy, Positive Congregational Change

The process of congregational change can be frustrating, at best. At worst, committee members can become defensive, resistant and oppositional. Church members might leave, or withdraw their financial support or limit their time among the congregation or working in a ministry.

There is a better way to bring change and it tends to secure broad community alignment and minimize (if not eliminate) hurt feelings: Appreciative Inquiry. The name comes from “appreciating” and “inquiring” about an element or process that needs transformation. “Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what is working (appreciating) and learning more about it (inquiry),” writes Katie Lindberg, staffer for the Center for Congregations, an Indiana-based consultancy that helps Indiana congregations recognize and address opportunities and challenges. In a downloadable PDF on the process, which includes reflection questions, Lindberg writes that Appreciative Inquiry makes two basic assumptions: that “something in the target area is working or it would not exist,” and “whatever we focus on (inquire into) grows.” The goal is to learn more about what people value in a program, process or ministry, and then to learn more about how the community can build on the target area’s strengths and successes. For more on building from your congregation’s strengths, see the U.S. Congregational Life Survey website and products. The USCLS studied thousands of congregations, and distilled ten core strengths, some or many of which are present in every congregations. For more on church conflict and effective conflict management, see our feature article, “Managing Conflict Constructively.”

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The American Theological Library Association (ATLA) is a professional association providing support of theological and religious studies libraries and librarians. ATLA produces a prestigious line of electronic resources to support the scholarly study of religion and theology. Learn more.

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