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Appreciative Inquiry Appreciative Inquiry is a practice used in the development and evaluation of organizational strategy and tactics. Appreciative inquiry asks three questions, “What is?” “What could be”” and “What will be?” The design of LC gatherings follows this same format. Each session begins with “What is”—where churches report out their progress— where they are today. Through a series of creative exercises done in cross-functional teams, individuals and churches design “What could be” models of ministry—what their ministry would look like if they were successful beyond their wildest dreams, or if they had unlimited resources. It is this “What could be?” stage that opens the pathway to new understanding and breakthrough ideas. “At its simplest, creative leadership begins when a person imagines a state of affairs not presently existing.”69 Each gathering ends with several hours of “What will be” where church teams create their next six-month “ActionLearning Plan.” LCs are built on the premise that one cannot get different results from Open Space Technology, available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Space_Technology; Internet; accessed 25 May 2007.


Ibid., 153.

doing more or better of what we have done in the past. To create a different future, one needs to think different, be different and do different Action Learning “[A]ction learning is … a process …that involves a small group of people solving real problems while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can benefit each group member and the organization as a whole.70 There are two foundational principles built into the design of each three-day gathering (from noon on Tuesday to noon on Thursday). The first is “Experience first…explain later.” In other words, don’t spend a lot of time explaining. Get people doing something first, even if they are a bit confused. Clarity will come through, not before, the actions. Second is appreciating the cycle of “knowledge, understanding, decision-action.” In other words, in the LC process, the facilitator never exposes participants to new knowledge via a speaker, a short reading, a video clip or presentation, etc., where participants are not given the opportunity to answer three questions: “What did you see?” “What did you hear?” and “What does it mean?” These questions are most often followed by presentations of new actions individuals and teams will take as a result of the new knowledge and understanding.

Lateral Thinking In his book, Lateral Thinking, Edward deBono distinguishes lateral thinking from vertical thinking in which the definitions become clear.

Lateral thinking is quite distinct from vertical thinking which is the traditional type of thinking. In vertical thinking one moves forward by sequential steps each of which must be justified. The distinction between the two sorts of thinking is sharp. For instance in lateral thinking one uses information not for its own sake but for its effect.

Marquardt, 4.

In lateral thinking one may have to be wrong at some stage in order to achieve a correct solution; in vertical thinking (logic or mathematics) this would be impossible.

In lateral thinking one may deliberately seek out irrelevant information; in vertical thinking one selects out only what is relevant. Lateral thinking is not a substitute for vertical thinking. Both are required. They are complementary. Lateral thinking is generative. Vertical thinking is selective.71 So, in view of lateral thinking, participants at an LCs might read a short article on ant colonies, the Coca-Cola annual report, or an article on Thomas Paine, and then based on their reading, build a model of ministry based on their newly-gained insights. Although most of the readings do not pertain to ministry per se, it is these types of readings that create insight into ministry.

Collaborative Learning LCs provide a learning environment where people from diverse churches can learn collaboratively, work through issues, and formulate new strategies and approaches for doing externally focused ministry. Although the group consists of senior pastors as well as lay volunteers, LN asks that everyone “take their stripes off at the door” to allow for the greatest learning environment. Collaborative learning promotes the belief that the greatest ideas can come from the least “qualified” person because his or her contribution is most in line with the mission. James McGregor Burns blurs the distinction between

leaders and followers when both become servants of a larger goal:

[Transforming] “leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality…. Their purposes, which might have started out as separate but related, as the case of transactional leadership, become fused. Power bases are linked not as counterweights but as mutual support for common purpose. Various names are used for such leadership, some of them derisory: elevating, mobilizing, inspiring, exalting, uplifting, preaching, exhorting, evangelizing. The relationship can be moralistic, of Edward deBono, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, (New York: Harper & Row, 1970; reprint, Harper & Row, 1990), 12.

course. But transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leaders and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both.”72 Collaborative learning is one of the elements of an LC that makes the process so exhilarating.

Goal Setting and Accountability Creating a three-year strategic plan at the first gathering and subsequent sixmonth “Action-Learning Plans” at each of the four gatherings are critical to the LC process and partially what distinguishes a “leadership community” from a “learning community,” which may simply coalesce around what they are learning. Each team is encouraged to think of “exponential” more than “incremental” progress. Teams need to set goals that stretch beyond their current capacity and ability. Bernard Bass writing on the importance of goals writes, “Transformational leaders motivate others to do more than they originally intended and often even more than they thought possible. They set more challenging expectations and typically achieve higher performances.”73 Part of the strategic plan includes a clear mission and vision of what each church is attempting to accomplish. A clear vision and mission is essential for transformational leaders. Mission, vision, and goals are essential in the exercise of transformational leadership. Bernard Bass writes: “The transformational leaders articulate a sense of vision and purpose to followers. They align the followers around the vision and empower followers to take responsibility for achieving portions or the vision.”74 The absolute necessity of goal

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setting and accountability is affirmed in the writing of James McGregor Burns: “All leadership is goal-oriented. The failure to set goals is a sign of faltering leadership.

Successful leadership points in a direction; it is also the vehicle of continuing and achieving purpose.”75 Measuring Progress and Results As previously mentioned, at the outset of the project, each church team creates a three-year strategic plan against which their achievements will be measured. Participants will also evaluate each of the four gatherings of the LC. Each gathering ends with a report of each church team’s six-month goals and each gathering begins with a presentation of what each church team accomplished in the previous six months. Each year churches are asked to measure and give an account of their progress (or lack of progress) in launching volunteers into community ministry to LN, the sponsoring entity.

This accountability is designed to accelerate each church's progress from incremental to exponential. “[Measuring] is important because one cannot declare a transformation without the measurable results to demonstrate the change. A transformation in thinking is not hidden. Transformed thinking produces resulting actions and altered actions create changed results.”76 Outside Teachers For all gatherings beyond the initial meeting LN brought to the LC gatherings transformational leaders who were adept at teaching their craft. The teachers included Don Simmons, senior consultant with Creative Potential Consulting and Training, whose

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emphasis was on transforming church volunteers into laborers for the harvest. John Handy, former Senior Vice-President of Mattel Toys, who took us through a series of exercises designed to turn information into innovation. The final presenter was Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith.org—a recognized division of Catholic Charities, whose mission is to transform churches into instruments of mercy and justice. James McGregor Burns highlights the role of teachers in transformational leadership. He writes, “Leaders can also shape and alter and elevate the motives and values and goals of followers through the vital teaching role of leadership. This is transforming leadership.”77 I also had a teaching role at the gatherings themselves and during my visits to nearly all of the churches. In addition to teaching I also co-authored two books on externally focused ministry—The Externally Focused Church78 and Living a Life on Loan: Finding Grace at the Intersections79 and several published articles on externally focused ministry.

Teaching and writing help create common language for a movement. Again, Eric Hoffer writes, “The mass movements of modern time, whether socialists or nationalists, were invariably pioneered by poets, writers, historians, scholars, philosophers, and the like.

The connection between intellectual theoreticians and revolutionary movements needs no emphasis.”80 Burns, Leadership, 425.

Rusaw, Rick and Eric Swanson, The Externally Focused Church (Longmont, CO: Group Publishing, 2004).

Rusaw, Rick and Eric Swanson, Living a Life on Loan: Finding Grace at the Intersections (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 2006).


Multiplying Impact Key learnings and insights on externally focused ministries from the LC were captured and developed into practical tools and concept papers that will hopefully enhance the externally focused ministries of churches and diffuse the externally focused model throughout the broader church. This process is commonly referred to as the diffusion of innovation.

Diffusion of Innovation LN recognizes that of the approximate 350,000 churches in North America, a small number of these churches have exhibited extraordinary influence in introducing innovations to other churches. These innovators and early adopters are the client base for LN. Innovation and influence are very important values of LN. It is also important to understand how innovation diffuses to a broader audience.

Several years ago Everett Rogers wrote a book entitled Diffusion of Innovations.

In this classic study on change, he seeks to answer the question: “How do new ideas and practices become commonplace within a social system?” His thinking is most helpful in understanding how innovative change occurs within a social system—in this case, the church. He defines diffusion as “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. It is a special type of communication, in that the messages are concerned with new ideas.”81 Rogers defines five categories of individuals in any social system—the innovators, the early adopters, the middle majority, the late majority and the laggards.

Everett M Rogers, The Diffusion of Innovations (Fourth Edition), (New York:

The Free Press, 1995), 5.

Innovators The first 2.5 percent of individuals in a social system to adopt an innovation are called “innovators.”82 They are those who come up with new ways of thinking about something and doing things that challenge the status quo. James McGregor Burns writes of the vital role of the innovator.

Interaction begins when the innovator rallies support to carry out the change he intends. Innovators have a triple burden: they must break with the inheritors among whom they may have been numbered; they must mobilize followers by appealing to their wants and hopes and other motivations; they must adapt their intentions to those of would-be followers without sacrificing their essential goal.”83 Early Adopters Early adopters make up 13.5 percent of a social system.84 Though perhaps not innovative themselves, they recognize an innovative idea, and because they possess a bias towards action they begin to implement the new ideas without the need to ask, “Who else is doing this?” Middle Majority Middle majority (adopters), comprise 34 percent of a social system.85 They may understand the new and innovative thing but need a bit more certainty before they can adopt it for themselves. They ask, “Where is this working? Are there models I can take a look at?”

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Late Majority Late majority (adopters) comprise another 34 percent of a social system.86 Like their Middle Majority companions, they also want to know where the new idea is working, but they have another stipulation. Where is it working in a setting like theirs?

They might ask the question, “I can see this working in Little Rock Arkansas, but are there any places in the Northwest where this is being implemented?” Laggards In a social system Laggards comprise 16 percent of a given social system87 and “are the last in a social system to adopt an innovation…[because they] tend to be suspicious of innovations and change agents.”88 What is important about understanding the diffusion of innovation is within a social system people need different amount of information, experience, and time before they are willing to adopt the innovation. Ideally LCs are composed of innovators, early adopters, and early middle majority adopters. It is the structure and model of LCs that as the early adopters create new models and new practices, these new ideas and (hopefully more effective) practices are adopted by an ever-increasing group of churches.

Understanding diffusion of innovations is helpful in understanding how ideas and practices, like worship bands or Saturday evening services, which were once unusual, are now seen as commonplace.

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