A focus of our work at Alban is facilitating congregations and their leaders in the development of “changed imaginations.” This was certainly a goal of a recent Alban seminar for clergy. One of the tools that we used to move toward a changed imagination was appreciative inquiry.

Appreciative inquiry holds ten basic assumptions:

  1. In every organization, some things work well.
  2. What we focus on becomes our reality.
  3. Asking questions influences the group.
  4. People have more confidence in the journey to the future when they carry forward parts of the past.
  5. If we carry parts of the past into the future, they should be what is best about the past.
  6. It is important to value differences.
  7. The language we use creates our reality.
  8. Organizations are heliotropic.
  9. Outcomes should be useful.
  10. All steps are collaborative.1

Building on these assumptions, the appreciative inquiry method asks questions to recall the best of the known, to give voice to deep values, and to imagine the possibilities the future might hold.

For clergy, the questions might be framed like this:

  • What attracted you to professional ministry? What were some of your most positive impressions of ministry prior to working in the field?
  • Remember a time when you made a difference by doing the work of ministry. Can you tell me the story of what happened?
  • What do you value most about yourself as a leader? What would others say?
    Think of a time when someone else provided you with an opportunity to take a risk, to stretch, or to grow. What was going on? What was it that you value most about the leader in that story?
  • Think of a time when you provided someone with an opportunity to take a risk, to stretch, or to grow. What was going on? What do you value most about your leadership in this story? How did you persist in keeping a positive image of potential?
  • Can you think of a story or an example that stands out for you, something that exemplifies the kind of leadership approaches we should aim for more often?
  • Picture the church as you always imagined it could be—the way you believe it ought to be. In terms of church leadership, describe what you see happening. How is it different?

In Alban’s Balancing Your Ministry, Renewing Your Life seminar, participants interviewed each other, listening to the other’s story, and then wrote that story in first person as if it were their own. Hearing the stories shared out loud by another was simply breathtaking. The appreciative inquiry into the best of ministry surfaced a power that was not only sustaining but transformational. Building on the best of the past, while imagining a future that was even better, these stories named important themes that we then worked into “provocative propositions.”

Provocative propositions “keep our best at a conscious level. They are symbolic statements because they have meaning well beyond words, reminding us of what is best about the organization and how everyone can participate in creating more of the best.”2

Out of the seminar’s stories of ministry, the following are samples of the provocative propositions we developed:

  • We are prodding, poking, leading, nurturing, goosing, and flying-in-the-face-of individuals so they can claim their calling from God.
  • We walk in faith in spite of fear.
  • We are reformers and rebels, not curators.
  • We are called into lavish Gospel.
  • We are pastors only within the place of partnership with parishioners.

By using these statements that reflect the best as guideposts, positive action steps may be created that will enhance our ability to live more fully into that proposition. Appreciative inquiry helps us notice why we began the work of ministry, where we have been moved to goodness, and where we might yet go.


1. Mark Lau Branson, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute 2004), 24.
2. Sue Annis Hammond, The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry 2nd edition (Plano, TX: Thin Book Publishing 1998), 39.


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AL284_SMThe Power of Asset Mapping: Acting on Your Congregations Strengths by Luther K. Snow

Asset mapping isn’t a new system or theory. It’s a way of thinking, a doorway into an “open-sum” perspective rooted in the Bible and common experience. The Power of Asset Mapping, by long-time community developer Luther K. Snow, shows congregational leaders how to help a group recognize its assets and the abundance of God’s gifts and to act on them in ministry and mission.

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