January 5, 2015

A Foundation of Strengths

Celebrate. Listen. Be Inspired. Plan

With this new year, my ECF Vital Practices blog posts return to offering ways to engage people in prayerful discussions about the ministries and direction of their congregation. Four key practices will be explored: Celebrate. Listen. Be inspired. Plan. 

“Celebrate” and “listen” have at their heart identifying the ministry strengths that God has gathered into your congregation. In blog posts last November, I offered some examples of how to discover and celebrate these, sometimes just by listening.

ECF’s Strategic Solutions process, designed to create strategic focus and direction for congregations, begins with looking at assets, what we call “ministry strengths.” Asking, recording answers, celebrating what you find, requires intentional effort and time. Sometimes people get a little impatient when all the joyful discussions about strengths do not address problems. 

Recently, a member of the steering committee overseeing the process at an older, downtown congregation wondered aloud if the emphasis on strengths wasn’t glossing over serious issues that needed to be addressed at the church. 

His concern was natural. In the workplace, we are used to spending time on defining and rooting out problems. It even seems more practical to focus on weaknesses… “If only we had more young families,” “If only people would give more money.”

Dr. Rob Voyle, Founder and Director of the Clergy Leadership Institute which provides leadership training and coaching for church leaders, asserts that building on strengths creates stability for moving into the future:

“We cannot build a life on weaknesses, or even patched-up weaknesses, for to do so would be to build a house on sand. We need to discover our strengths and then grow and develop them to create a firm foundation for our lives.” 

(Core Elements of The Appreciative Way, Robert J. Voyle and Kim M. Voyle, 2006) 

One way to get as many people as possible engaged in a discussion to help discover the ministry strengths of the congregation is a methodology known as Appreciative Inquiry. The “inquiry” involves asking people questions that reveal what exactly happens when their church is functioning at its best. Great questions prompt or outright require, stories. Here are some examples:

  • What drew you to Trinity? What do you treasure at Trinity?
  • Tell me about a time when you witnessed or experienced God’s Spirit alive and moving within your congregation’s life.
  • Tell me about a time when Trinity was at its best in representing Christ. What made that possible?
  • An apostle means someone who is sent forth. What about your experience at Trinity has prepared you to be an apostle in the world today?
  • How might Trinity offer a different sense of belonging, meaning, purpose and security to the people of the surrounding neighborhood, or to anyone in our city?

It’s quite likely God has already supplied the ministry strengths your congregation needs to create a thriving future – not merely for your survival but to fulfill God’s desire to bring more people into relationship with Him. Once you discover the ministry strengths God has provided, the next step is to discern what God is calling you to do with them. More on that in my next blog. 

Here are a couple of resources to learn more about Appreciative Inquiry:

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