"I like the part about the Dalai Lama and Dr. Wayne Dyer coming
to our campus to speak; that is a vision I can really get into!"
said one participant in the three-day Appreciative Inquiry Summit.
For Unity Church of Melbourne, Florida, creating the vision had
been F.U.N. That was the acronym for the Future of Unity Now, the
visioning process that Kathleen Rich-New and Bob New designed for
them. Now, the walls of the little sanctuary were covered with flip
chart pages describing the action steps that would be necessary
to bring the nine 'directional buckets' into actuality. Going from
a small church in a residential area to an award-winning, campus
facility, able to attract major speakers will be a giant leap, but
every successful organization begins with a vision.
It had all started on a Saturday last September
"What can we do to be sure that we are carrying out the wishes
of the congregation, to be sure we are serving their needs now and
into the future?" Reverend Beth Head was thinking out loud
as she shared lunch and her concerns with Bob and Kathleen, members
of her congregation. "I'm doing what I think needs to be done,
but most of the feedback I get is from people who don't want things
to change. I know I'm a new minister and I don't do things exactly
as they were done in the past. So how do we make progress? How do
we get over the resistance to change that I'm hearing? I have so
many dreams for this church, but I can't seem to get them moving."
Bob and Kathleen are partners in Clarity Works! an organizational
development consulting firm, located in Merritt Island, Florida.
They have been members of Unity Church of Melbourne for three years.
Before starting Clarity Works! they both had successful careers
in corporate human resources and organizational development where
they became acquainted with the Appreciative Inquiry (Ai) theory
At GTE (now Verizon), Bob was a member of the core team created
to work with Dr. David Cooperrider to introduce Ai to the organization.
Dr. Cooperrider is the originator of Ai and had convinced the leadership
of GTE that Ai would be the perfect vehicle to transform the corporate
culture from a regulated utility company to a competitive, major
player in the telecommunications industry. Bob and Organizational
Development team trained 67,000 employees in the Ai process, resulting
in a 'Positive Change Revolution.' The president of Telephone Operations,
Tom White, attributed over 10,000 innovations to the Ai process.
In 1997, just two years after the process began; GTE received a
national award from the American Society for Training and Development
for the Best Culture Change Initiative in the county.
"We know it works in the business world, so why not in a church?"
asked Kathleen. "It's an organization too; made up of people
working together for a common purpose." It had even worked
at "Listening to the City" where Kathleen had been one
of the facilitators using Ai with 5,000 Manhattan residents trying
to reach a consensus on rebuilding at Ground Zero. "It is a
powerful process," she added.
Beth wasn't so sure, "Sometimes getting church people moving
is like trying to herd kittens, but let's try it. I'll need a proposal
for the Board of Trustees to consider." That was the beginning
and the rest, as they say, is history.
Appreciative Inquiry is unique in that it focuses on what is working
in an organization, rather than on what is wrong. It involves the
systematic discovery of what gives life to a living system when
it is most alive, most effective. The discovery phase consists of
reflective conversations with people about their peak experiences
in the organization and their wishes for the future. Ai allows people
to connect the insights of the past and present to their dreams
and designs for the future. Ai encourages people to think and act
as if their future were a reality. These concepts give rise to the
four phases of the 4-D process. Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver.
The process began at Unity Church of Melbourne in January with
Bob and Kathleen as the guest speakers, delivering the lesson on
Sunday morning. Their talk was called "What in God's Name is
Going on Here?" It explained each of the four phases of the
Appreciative Inquiry process: Discover by asking what is going on?
Dream by asking what could be going on? Design by asking what will
be going on? And Deliver, how, in God's name, will we make it happen?
The lesson ended with a call for volunteers to be trained as interviewers.
F.U.N. was officially underway.
The forms began to pour in, as people signed up to interview and
to be interviewed. Bob and Kathleen worked closely with Reverend
Beth to identify strategically key members, long-term and new members,
youth and the elderly; to be sure they heard every possible voice
and viewpoint. Beth also shared the project plan with her associates
in the Southeast Region of the Association of Unity Churches. Reverend
Margee Grounds and two members of her board at Unity Church of Savannah
were so interested that they made the five hour drive to Melbourne
on three different occasions to see what all the F.U.N. was about.
Twenty four volunteer interviewers, plus the visitors from Savannah
and Reverend Beth gathered on a Saturday for training with Kathleen
and Bob. They were trained in effective interviewing techniques
and learned the basics of the Ai process. They collaborated with
Beth, Bob and Kathleen on the final design of the Interview Protocol.
They learned to explain that interviews would be anonymous but not
confidential. That is, the stories would be told, but names were
not attached to them. They were briefed on how to handle the most
frequently asked questions. They were coached in keeping the conversation
positive by asking, "What do you wish had happened instead?"
Each interviewer had 6 or 7 people to interview as well as several
people to invite to be interviewed. These were members that Beth
wanted to be sure were heard, but for some reason they had not signed
up. The interviewers had one month to complete their assignments.
Many interviews were accomplished face to face, before and after
services on Sundays. Many more were conducted by telephone. In the
final tally, close to 160 of the 250 regularly attending congregants
told their stories of the times when they felt most connected, most
alive and most involved in Unity of Melbourne.
Meanwhile, Reverend Beth continued to teach the concepts of Appreciative
Inquiry in her lessons each Sunday and made announcements to promote
the upcoming grand finale, the three-day Ai Summit. The announcements
were accompanied by rollicking renditions of You've Got to Accentuate
the Positive, the theme song for F.U.N. "It wasn't hard to
include Ai in my lessons," Beth explained, "because Ai
is very much in line with Unity teachings. Ai says 'what you focus
on is what you get' and we say that 'thoughts held in mind reproduce
after their own kind'. Ai says that 'the words we use create our
reality.' Unity says that 'thought is creative.' Ai is all about
the power of the positive image of the future. It was the perfect
process for our church."
When the interviews were completed, the interviewing team, plus
Beth and the Savannah contingent reconvened to share the stories
they had heard. They broke into four small groups to share the stories
in round robin sessions. They documented the main points on flip
charts and went through their stories looking for the common themes.
"That Saturday was one of the highlights for me," said
Reverend Beth. "Listening to the stories of what attracted
people to Unity and what got them excited about their involvement
was inspiring and uplifting, but for me personally, it was the validating
feedback I had been missing. I was only hearing what a few people
thought I was doing wrong, but now I was hearing the approval of
the majority. They loved our involvement in Habitat for Humanity
and our Chaplain Program. It really helped me to hear that I was
on the right track. That day alone was worth every penny of our
contract with Clarity Works!"
The common themes from the interviews produced the more focused
Discovery questions that kicked off the three-day Summit. "We
really wanted to get the widest possible involvement, but we knew
it would be tough to get people to give up a whole weekend to participate,"
said Bob. "So we urged them with messages from the pulpit,
personalized F.U.N. postcards and even bribed them with free pizza
on Friday night of the Summit." Eighty members, plus Beth and
the trio from Savannah, turned out to complete the visioning process
with more Discovery, followed by Dream, Design and Delivery.
The paired interviews using the focused Discovery questions on
Friday evening led to several very clear common themes. "We
used the themes to create the positive core or a description of
the life giving forces at Unity of Melbourne. The positive core
consisted primarily of the atmosphere of caring and intimacy that
everyone wanted to maintain, even as we grow and change," Kathleen
explained. "And we are all more comfortable going into the
future if we can take the best of the past with us." Kathleen
blended the positive core into a guided meditation to lead off the
Dream phase on Saturday morning. Participants were asked to 'Imagine
' where all of the attributes they had listed were
included. They were given time after the meditation to document
the elements they had visualized and then they met in small groups
to share their visions.
Each group was tasked with developing a creative enactment of a
scenario that would be as if their dream had come true. Props and
costumes were available to inspire their creativity, and though
no one chose to wear the bunny ears, the sombrero and dark glasses
were very popular. The skits were funny and fantastic as they portrayed
bus loads of visitors touring the award-winning Unity of Melbourne
campus and flocking to hear the Dalai Lama who was scheduled to
speak. News broadcast touted the classes and outreach programs while
Reverend Beth delegated to her large staff from her rocking chair
on the wrap-around veranda of the new administration building. The
joy of imagination combined with the synergy of the group was contagious.
Bob explained, "The acting out is a key element in the process.
It is not only great fun, but as the players say the words and act
as if it were real, it becomes real for them. At an emotional level,
they are involved in the future they want for their church."
After the skits, the large group convened to document the implications
of their journey into the imagination. They documented the staffing,
facility and financial requirements to meet their dream scenarios.
With these requirements in mind, the participants broke into small
groups again, this time to write Provocative Propositions, or possibility
statements. The propositions were to be:
- Stated in the present tense. "Unity of Melbourne is
They express a specific aspect of the future ideals as if they
- Grounded in what works. They are based on the stories of the
peak experiences of the past that surfaced during Discovery.
- Provocative. They stretch the church beyond its familiar boundaries.
- Desirable. They take the church where people want to go.
By the end of the day on Saturday, the various groups had created
19 provocative propositions. These bold statements each captured
a key aspect of their collective Dream. Reverend Beth commented,
"Each statement is almost like an affirmation. It is so clear
to me why this process works." Each proposition was written
on a flipchart page and posted around the room to await the Sunday
afternoon conclusion of the Ai Summit.
An Ai Summit is designed to get the entire system, or at least
representatives of each stakeholder group, in the same room for
a 'sleep twice' meeting. "The time frame is important,"
explained Kathleen. "The process gives participants ample time
to mull over ideas. The subconscious mind continues to nurture and
incubate ideas, even while you sleep." By Sunday afternoon,
there were two more propositions posted for consideration.
When the group gathered for the final session, there were some
new faces and some who had been in previous sessions were missing,
but one of the axioms of the process is 'whoever shows up are the
right ones.' The newcomers quickly caught on to the spirit of the
process as each proposition was read aloud, again looking for common
themes and opportunities to consolidate and combine the statements.
In the end, the twenty one propositions were distilled down to
nine "directional buckets." The buckets included finances,
facilities, adult education, youth education, outreach to the community,
inreach to the congregation, a theater group, and a team to keep
the vision alive. Each of these nine topics became the focus of
an open discussion group, tasked to devise an action plan to move
in the desired direction. Actions plans were documented and interested
persons signed up and agreed to continue meeting to create the Future
of Unity Now. It was F.U.N. and it proved once again:
- What we ask determines what we find.
- What we find determines how we talk.
- How we talk determines how we imagine together.
- How we imagine together determines what we will achieve