WHOLE SYSTEMS, LARGE GROUP STRATEGIES for CHURCH RENEWAL
Appreciative Inquiry, Asset Mapping, Future Search, Open Space Technology, Scenario Planning, World Cafe
Part of two guides to Ministry Resources
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Index
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Overview of Strategies
- Introduction, Definition
- Visionary Reflections on the Value of Conversations
- Whole Systems Concepts
- Whole Systems Approaches
- Related Areas
Whole-Systems Design is a “convene, collaborate, and co-create” approach to church leadership. It operates from the philosophy that through high involvement of affected participants, whole systems, or entire congregations or communities, can experience significant, desirable change. This approach is also associated with Leadership and the New Science and one of its main tenets, the principle of self-organization. This principle says healthy living organisms self-organize and self-regulate, thus group facilitation should simply create the environment where this occurs most effectively. Applied to congregations, whole churches (whole systems approaches have been used effectively with groups numbering in the thousands) may convene to address crucial issues, discern mission, and shape meaningful futures.
These methods place the church leader in a more non-directive posture, as one who creates the context and climate for discussion so that a congregation may discern its own direction. In this scenario, the leader does not give answers, advocate, persuade, or defend a particular direction. Instead, the leader is the convener who focuses on how the congregation gathers for conversation and the context in which the gatherings take place. It is designed to create community discernment and ownership. Some will be comfortable with this, while others may prefer more directive models, some of which are featured in the resource guide on Strategies for Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal.
One may need professional assistance to use these techniques, but the resources below will provide necessary background to the concepts.
Visionary Reflections on the Value of Conversations
- Margaret J. Wheately, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope and Future, Expanded Second Edition — Not church-related or biblically-based, but has thoughtful suggestions on how the human community in the postmodern era may have conversations that reach beyond our diversity and allow deep understanding as a basis for social change.
Whole Systems Concepts
Ministry Resources on Whole Systems:
- Loren B. Mead and Billie T. Alban, Creating the Future Together: Methods to Inspire Your Whole Faith Community — Discusses how to gather large groups, in some cases entire congregations, for the purpose of mission discernment and planning. Provides a helpful overview of four whole-systems approaches that may be useful for churches: Future Search, Appreciative Inquiry, Open Space Technology, and World Café.
Church leaders who become convinced that large group/whole systems design will work for them should first consult Creating Our Future Together described above. It is an excellent primer, yet the unique orientation and skill set for this method may require more specialized reading/training. Most of the books in this field are written with business settings in mind, but can be mined for use in congregations. Below are a few examples.
- Peggy Holman, Tom Devane, and Steven Cady, The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource on Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems. 2nd Edition. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007. Provides vast exposure to all of the methods associated with whole systems, describing their foundational philosophies, strengths, and weaknesses, along with suggestions on how to mix and match methods. This is the standard, encyclopedic survey on the subject.
- Barbara Bunker and Billie Alban, Large-Group Interventions: Engaging The Whole System for Rapid Change. Jossey-Bass, 1996. A comprehensive overview of twelve of the most powerful methods of large group interventions in use today. Describes the methods’ origins, explores their differences and similarities, and presents vivid examples and case studies of each intervention method in action.
- Billie Alban and Barbara Bunker, The Handbook of Large Group Methods. Jossey-Bass, 2006. A series of cases of how large group methods are currently being used to address twenty-first-century challenges in organizations and communities today.
Ministry Resources – Whole Systems Approaches
LifeandLeadership.com features six large group/whole systems approaches:
For Planning for the Future:
For Discussion and Exploration of Congregational Issues:
- Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Jannoff, Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment, and Action – Potentially good for congregations that are polarized and need to be “unstuck” from the widespread assumptions, face the past and present more honestly, and open up futures more creatively.
With Appreciative Inquiry (AI), the congregation is led to focus less on unmet needs, unsolved problems, or areas of improvement, but instead upon strengthening and building congregational assets. AI assumes every organization/congregation has something that works right, things that make it vital, effective, and successful. AI facilitates the discovery and exploration of this positive core and connects congregational visions, plans, and structures to it in ways that heighten energy and inspire action for change.
Appreciative Inquiry – Church-Related Resources:
- Mark Lau Branson, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change – Branson has provided the best available introduction and overview of AI principles for church leaders, alongside the story of a congregation that used AI as a tool toward renewal and hope.
Appreciative Inquiry – Standard Guides
- First Read: Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging — As a follow up to The Answer to How is Yes, which describes AI philosophy, The Structure of Belonging describes AI practice. Block describes how to use AI to help people connect meaningfully through the use of precisely stated questions structured around five aspects of belonging.
- Web: Several prominent AI scholar-practitioners associated with Case Western Reserve University maintain a strong web community. Also, visit the online resource, AI Practitioner — International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry, for a list of encyclopedias, case studies, guided applications, and web resources by noted authors such as David Cooperrider and Sue Annis Hammond.
- David L. Cooperrider, Diana Whitney, and Jacqueline M. Stavros, Appreciative Inquiry Handbook: for Leaders of Change, 2nd Edition – Cooperrider is the father of AI. Here he teams with other renowned AI scholar-practitioners to produce the closest thing to an AI encyclopedia one may find.
- Sarah Lewis, Jonathan Passmore, Stefan Cantore, Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management: Using AI to Facilitate Organizational Development – An excellent introduction to AI, but also does a good job integrating with other Whole Systems approaches to organizational transformation.
- Brief: The standard brief guide on AI is Sue Annis Hammond, The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, 2nd Edition. Hammond is not enough for in-depth practice, but it is an excellent invitational and introductory guide. If Hammond is unavailable, see David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change, which is essentially a shorter version of the Appreciative Inquiry Handbook above.
- Case studies: Sue Annis Hammond and Cathy Royal, Editors, Lessons from the Field: Applying Appreciative Inquiry, Revised Edition – This is an extensive collection of case studies of the many applications of AI, including an essay targeted to churches.
- Consultant/practitioner: Jane McGruder Watkins and Bernard J. Mohr, Appreciative Inquiry: Change at the Speed of Imagination – A true consultant/practitioner guide to lead entire organizations in a process to “create shared images for a preferred future,” and find innovative ways to realize that preferred future.
- Luther K. Snow, The Power of Asset-Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act Upon Its Gifts — Describes a practice to help congregations focus on gifts rather than needs or deficiencies. It is designed as an expression of stewardship, faithfully building on current assets. He reflects his learnings from the National Demonstration Project on Congregational Asset Mapping for the 11,000 congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
- Bob Sitze, Not Trying Too Hard: New Basics for Sustainable Congregations — Sitze presents asset-mapping as an alternative to benchmark-based assessments (e.g. Diagnostic/Prescriptive Church Renewal) which, according to this philosophy, may demoralize and cripple.
- Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World — Schwarz proposes an atypical visioning process. Instead of all participants gearing toward one model of the future that is articulated by the leader(s), he suggests an environment where everyone is brought into the discussion to imagine the worlds that could be (scenarios) and then planning with these in mind.
- Harrison Owen, Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide. Third Edition. Revised and Expanded – While useful for planning, the primary benefit of OST is for bringing large groups together to discuss problems and solutions to organizational issues. It operates by the philosophy that groups can be helped to self-organize and deal with complex, critical issues with less time and cost than with other directive facilitation models.
- Juanita Brown, David Isaacs, World Café Community, The World Café: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations that Matter – A creative methodology for hosting conversations of 12 to 1,200 in a way that taps into the collaborative intelligence of organizations.
Related Ministry Resources
See Other Resources on Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal:
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal, Index
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Theological Foundations, Ecclesiology
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Philosophical Foundations – e.g. Church Growth, Missional, Emergent, and Other Missionally Responsive Trajectories
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Church Dynamics and Research
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Congregational Culture, Church Identity
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Church Size, Size Transitions
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Practical Foundations, Research and Case Studies on Effective Churches
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Special Situations, Small Church Development
- Church Leadership, Church Health and Renewal – Strategies for Renewal
Ministry Resources on Related Areas
- Church Administration
- Transition and Change in Church
- Conflict in Church
- Elders, Church Governance
- Church Giving, Tithing, and Financial Stewardship
- Involvement, Using Spiritual Gifts for Ministry in Church
- Christian Leadership
- Managing Volunteers in Christian Ministry
- Church Staff, Ministry Teams
- Ministry Transitions, Interim Ministry
- Missional Perspectives, Intro
- Missional Strategies for Christian Ministry
- Pastoral Theology
- Social Ministry, Social Justice
- Spiritual Formation for Christian Ministry
- Theology of Mission and Ministry
See Resources on Over 100 Areas of Christian Ministry: