June 3, 2021

Appreciative Spotlight

The dark pandemic storm caught congregations in their own deep and familiar forests. Paths habitually taken to stay safe and comfortable suddenly washed away. Lightning-like bolts of truth jarred the consciences of many in pulpits and in pews.

As the storm subsides, some congregations, realizing they are still in the dark about the impacts of racism, injustice or poverty in their own communities, are heading out with flashlights or even flood lights. They are peering into nearby neighborhoods to discover ministry needs.

Certainly many needs exist, but how are churches to discover what God is calling them to find? One way is to simultaneously turn on another search beam – one pointing inward. This can be just as intimidating because shortcomings have a way of blocking light.

Our church isn’t big enough. Most of our members are too old. We can’t give up the ________ ministry we’ve always done – we barely have enough volunteers to keep THAT going. Our space isn’t accessible. Our budget is always in the red…

Nothing weights down good intentions like fear and a culture of scarcity. Even the most inspiring reasons to start or grow a ministry can be easily dismissed if the focus is on “problems.”

Instead, shine a spotlight on how God has gifted your congregation for ministry. What do you do well? More importantly, what do you love to do? What past experiences as a congregation still have people bursting with pride or joy?

An appreciative approach can be used to discover answers to these questions. Small group meetings – socially distanced or even via Zoom – can be used to ask the questions and gather answers. This is a format for “Appreciative Inquiry” which is based on one major assumption: In every organization – even a congregation - something works and change can be managed through the identification of what works.* In church terms, what “works” are the gifts God has given you for ministry.

Another assumption of Appreciative Inquiry is that “what we focus on becomes our reality.” If the focus is on the gifts of your congregation, such as a love of cooking, art, education, or service to the poor, then build on those things. Energy, commitment, even money will follow when you when you use your God-provided gifts.

The location of your church may be a gift. How can you make the most of it? Could you hold a neighborhood cookout in the parking lot and invite the neighbors to eat with your church-going regulars while games are led for kids of the congregation to play with children from the neighborhood?

Having a core of retired teachers is a gift. Is after-school tutoring a need to help neighborhood kids catch up from the pandemic? Well, use your gift! Invite non-teachers to support the ministry by raising funds for books or providing snacks or take-home meals for the students.

The Holy Spirit has assembled many gifts in your congregation to use to God’s glory. An appreciative approach will help you discern what the Holy Spirit has in mind.

* These “basic assumptions” are from The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry by Sue Annis Hammond.