Appreciative Inquiry:
A Positive Way of Ministry

Appreciative Inquiry (like Natural Church Development) can be more than a method for developing a Mission Study. As Appreciative Inquiry trainer Rob Voyle notes, it can be a “ transformational way of ‘being and seeing’ that leads to a life-giving way of ‘doing’ in the world” It can be an ongoing way of life and way of ministry. I encourage you to consult Rob’s website for information and training. Here I will attempt to give a brief overview.

Appreciative Inquiry (often known as AI) was developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s for the corparate world. The approach is based on the premise that “organizations change in the direction in which they inquire.” (Jill Russell, “Appreciative Inquiry: An Overview”) AI seeks to ask questions which elicit positive memories about the past and/or positive dreams about the future. In this way IA seeks to be a “solution- centered” rather than “problem-centered” approach. By tapping the positive feelings it generates emotional energy and momentum which can be channeled into forward motion in ministry.

AI moves through a predictable progression. This process can be applied both to large questions such as a Mission Study and the everyday decisions that demand problem solving. The order looks like this:

  1. Choose a positive focus of inquiry: Rather than asking, “Why can't we get people to volunteer?”, we ask, “When was a time when we felt enthusiasm for volunteering and what was it that made that possible?” By focusing on times when we experienced the outcome we want or need now, we both shake us out of the pain of our present problem or struggle and we provide an insight into what needs to go right in the future.
  2. Evoke positive stories about tat area of life or ministry: The answers we provide to the positive questions will usually contain truths we have experienced and perhaps have not examined or utilized. Sometimes people have not had a positive experienced in that area of life or ministry. For them, God provided imagination. “Imagine what would cause you to be enthusiastic about volunteering.” Again, with our imagination we can often bring out hidden truths about the solutions we need.

    Pointed curiosity plays an important role at this point. Asking people to speak more and in more detail about their stories or imaginings help us find those nuggets of truth hidden within them.

  3. Locate themes that appear in the stories and select topics to explore for building a positive future outcome: As we share the stories we may see one or more aspects that the stories have in common. As we abstract these themes out of the stories we can seek clearly the solutions we need to seek to achieve our goals. Perhaps we volunteered in the past because we saw clear, compelling purpose to the work being done and felt that the goals being sought were important enough to us to draw us to willingly give our time and effort.
  4. Create shared vision of a preferred future: We begin drawing together a clear picture of how we will live out these themes in our future so that we can regain the results we saw in the past. We may also see that we may desire to adjust our life or ministry toward better directions. If the areas of ministry which lack volunteers no longer serve a compelling purpose, then we may move on to better ministry; ministry with a compelling purpose and important goals. In this sense, AI is not “nostalgic”. In AI we seek to use the wisdom of the past to create the future. Any attempt to recreate the past has failed to effectively pursue step #35;3.
  5. Find innovative ways to create that future and implement them: In order to attain that future, we will need to take positive actions. These can be developed into SMART goals and implemented in an accountable manner. Implementing them is, of course, crucial.

Different practitioners of AI use different nemonic devices to help others remember the IA process. Some refer to the 5-D model:

  • Define (the areas of inquiry and the questions to ask)
  • Discover (the ways your church has lived the answers to these questions already or might in the future)
  • Dream (the way your church will look/live as you live into these answers)
  • Design (the plan/process by which you will reach that future)
  • Deliver (the results by working the plan)

Others speak of the 4-I approach of

  • Initiate (the process of inquiry by designing the areas of inquiry and the questions to ask)
  • Inquire (into the ways your church has lived the answers to these questions already or might in the future)
  • Imagine (the way your church will look/live as you live into these answers)
  • Innovate (by designing the plan/process by which you will reach that future and follow that plan)

All of them incorporate the fives processes and steps listed above. l

For more information see: