Appreciating Church: its origins and vision.
UK church interest in Appreciative Inquiry (AI) has deep and varied roots, going back some years. The Church of Scotland’s work is seen in Appreciative Inquiry: An introductory guide and a United Reformed Church conference in 2009 was led by Mark Lau Branson, author of Memories, Hopes and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. There have been similar AI developments in other denominations.
Revd Jane Weedon’s use of AI in Welwyn Garden City URC led to conversations with Appreciating People. This resulted in a residential AI Essentials course in March 2014, facilitated by Appreciating People for participants from the URC and the Congregational Federation. The Methodist Church expressed interest a few months later, as did people involved in Appreciating People’s work with the Quakers and a Church of England parish in Liverpool. Ecumenical interest and support helped to co-create the book Appreciating Church – A practical Appreciative Inquiry Resource for church communities which was developed from practice and published in 2017. It has since found its way across the world to Canada, South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and the USA. The conversation-starter cards More than Welcome were prototyped at the Greenbelt festival in 2017 and published in 2018.
Careful testing and reflection produced a delivery model offering tailored local introductory AI training based on Appreciating People’s Taste of AI, and advanced AI training to create a pool of AI practitioners. Most years since 2014 have seen at least two public Taste of AI events being offered, with further denominational courses being held in-house. Four residential advanced Developing Your AI Practice events took place between February 2016 and September 2019. Over 250 people have attended the courses. From the outset, the strategy has been to create a self-sustaining community of AI practice, embedded in the partner denominations. Trained practitioners have taken the work into Unitarian congregations, offered training for Salvation Army participants, run events for Germinate, and facilitated courses attended by participants from a variety of organisations including four Church of England dioceses.
A poster devised for the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference in Nice in 2019 explained Appreciating Church’s development and vision for the future founded on:
- Advocating: Sustaining AI as an instinctive part of the life of participating churches
- Authorising: Offering a means for authorising AI trainers and practitioners in churches
- Adventuring: Becoming known as a centre for excellence for AI and the churches
- Our courses moved online in 2020 as a response to Covid-19 lockdowns and this is being pursued during 2021.
- We are working with the International Academy for Appreciative Inquiry (IAAI) to offer an accreditation scheme for AI practitioners based on apprenticeship and continuous development.
- The governance structure of Appreciating Church is being shaped to reflect its life as an independent organisation in good standing with a wide range of denominations.