The Common Threads in Transformed Churches

The Common Threads in Transformed Churches

Researcher points to power of appreciation, the invitation and storytelling

Churches that have introduced Appreciative Inquiry (AI) are seeing what researcher Cameron Eccleston calls “transformative” results, but what’s most at play in these outcomes?

In a recent Axiom News interview, Eccleston, who is completing graduate research on the use of AI in North American churches, found three common threads in the churches that saw results.

First, he found that appreciating what’s working was important in some cases.

This was particularly true in churches that had gone through some recent challenge.

In two scenarios, churches had suffered trauma and were on the brink of closing their doors.

“Speaking in terms of what was good about the church and not what was wrong was essential in breathing life back into those churches,” says Eccleston.

“In both cases the churches now appear to be thriving under new leadership.”

In addition to appreciating, Eccleston found it was essential that the AI process be introduced by church leaders in a spirit of true openness and belief that the whole system has solutions to offer and can help co-create a new future.

“As soon as AI is imposed on a congregation rather than invited in, I believe it is destined to fail,” says Eccleston.

He notes the successful processes he studied were largely laity driven and had a very supportive leadership team. They were prepared to trust the process and accept any outcomes that emerged.

In addition to the appreciative and invitational approach, most essential to the success of AI is the ability to listen and tell stories, says Eccleston.

“Without a doubt, the common thread that links those churches that saw results and transformation came as a result of the storytelling.”

As people listened and shared, they realized, for the first time in many cases, ““that they weren’t alone, that others felt the way they did.”

In one of the cases AI didn’t have the same transformational impact. Eccleston says he believes this was because the AI interviews were largely substituted for the process of online surveys that were complex and neglected the importance of storytelling in forging a common narrative.

He adds his belief in storytelling as an integral success factor was deepened after seeing that even in churches where the discover and dream phases of the AI model were done well but the latter two, design and destiny, somewhat neglected, these churches still saw transformation and increased health. It was the power of the storytelling that happened in the first two phases that generated these outcomes, Eccleston says.

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger aims to lift up the gifts and possibilities of community through her work as a Generative Journalist, connector and curator with Axiom News. She is also dedicated to finding ways to illuminate what the Axiom News team has learned, gathered and accomplished over the years. Michelle has more than 15 years of experience with Axiom News. She's  most grateful for the incredible people she's had the privilege of encountering through this work.

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