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The Basics of Appreciative Inquiry 

Appreciative Inquiry is both a  philosophy  and a  strategy .  
The Philosophy

 Appreciative Inquiry: The Philosophy 

The change philosophy of AI focuses on what people appreciate about their life together. Through listening, learning and innovating AI helps people to discover and build on what is working well. The philosophy behind the AI strategy helps congregations move through change with minimal resistance by:

∙ Protecting the best of what the congregation values.

∙ Discovering the language and stories of the congregation.

∙ Building on the strengths of the congregation.

∙ Honoring relationships within the congregation.

∙ Involving EVERYONE.  


Appreciative inquiry helps congregations identify the words and stories they use to talk about their life together. The primary philosophy behind appreciative inquiry is social constructionism. This theory understands the power words have to create reality. People say all kinds of things, but some of what they say becomes the story they tell about their congregation.  If they emphasize the words that speak about the decline in their congregation, they feel hopeless, but if they accentuate the stories of love and care expressed between them, they feel hopeful. 


Appreciative inquiry does not ignore problems. Instead it helps participants imagine what the flip side of the problem might be.  For example: When I complain about the old, red carpet in the sanctuary, it’s because I can see how much better everything would look if the carpet were new and blue. If I couldn’t see how it could be better, then I wouldn’t consider the current carpet a problem. Appreciative inquiry motivates change by focusing on the vision of how things could be better in blue, rather than on the problem with the old.  Appreciative inquiry recognizes that something is described as a problem because it is being compared to a vision of how it could be better.

The Strategy

 Appreciative Inquiry: The Strategy 

The appreciative inquiry strategy moves through the four stages of Initiate, Inquire, Imagine and Innovate.  It’s illustrated as a repeating circle of stages, since one thing leads to another and in the end, there may be enough focused curiosity to initiate another cycle. 


In any of the Living the Resurrection workshops participants will:

  • Initiate:

    • Gather a team of folks who care about what’s next. Learn the AI process. Learn how to ask questions that invite deep reflection.  Learn how to listen beneath the words for the whole story of what a person may be truly saying. Learn how to record the key words and emphatic phrases from the interview.

  • Inquire:

    • Extend curiosity.  Interview every member of the organization using appreciative questions you have designed to generate stories from the experiences of your members.  Learn how to share what you heard in the interviews with the larger organization and participate in a value voting session.

  • Imagine:

    • Explore the piles of words, phrases and stories the interviews produced. Focus on those that received the most votes because those are the words and stories that resonate most deeply with your congregation. Receive inspiration from the words and stories you hear, and let God use your imagination to create a vision of what could be. Learn how to create a possibility proposal to engage your congregation and recruit folks to help with the next step. Learn to use the internal relationship network of your congregation to get everyone involved.

  • Innovate:

    • Learn how to design an innovation that leads your congregation to take the first step toward that future.  Evaluate the innovation and decide what to “initiate” next.


The One Day workshops abbreviate each of the stages so that participants can get a sense of the complete process by the end of the workshop.


The Eighteen-Month process moves through the full cycle twice, in the first cycle the focus is on the congregation, the second time through guides the congregation as it builds mutual relationships with its neighbors. 

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