March 2020 Letter

Dear Friends in Christ,
As we embark on our journey of discovery and discernment as part of the Vital Congregations Initiative, I am reminded of an improvisational exercise we did at our presbytery’s leadership summit last fall. Yes, you read that correctly: Presbyterians doing improv! It was very different than what you would expect at a presbytery meeting, but it was illustrative of a key component of Vital Congregations* that will be a be a guiding factor for us over the next two years.

First, the exercise. Presbytery commissioners were to pair off and imagine they were planning an outing. Person A would start the exercise by suggesting an idea of how the two would spend their time together. Person B would then offer a reply, at which point Person A would reply, and so on. We did this in two rounds. In the first round, Person B was to respond to Person A’s suggestion by saying, “No, let’s . . .” It might go something like this:

A: Let’s go to the movies.
B: No, let’s stay home and order Chinese.
A: No, let’s go shopping.
. . . and so on

. After a bit, we went to round two where Person B was to respond to Person A’s idea by saying, “Yes, and . . .” The second round might go like this:
A: Let’s go for a hike. B: Yes, and let’s pack a picnic!
A: Yes, and let’s get sandwiches from that new place in town!
. . . and so on.

Can you see the difference? The second time around was so much more engaging because we were affirming one another and building off of the other person’s suggestion. By the end of this exercise we had some awesome adventures planned! Conversely, the first round was quite deflating and disjointed—every idea was shot down and nothing got accomplished in the end. Maybe you’ve experienced something along these lines in real life!

How does this improv experience relate to the Vital Congregations Initiative? In a nutshell, the Vital Congregations process will be very much like the “YES, and . . . !” exercise.

Vital Congregations is based on a process called appreciative inquiry, which means looking at organizational change from the perspective of strengths rather than weaknesses. Appreciative inquiry is a term that comes from the business world, but in the church we might think of it as giving thanks to God for who we are, the gifts God has given us, and for whom God is creating us to be.

The idea is that to get to where you’re going, you begin with what you have and what you’re good at. You take those strengths and you build off of them. Then you start taking some steps forward, and eventually you experience transformation.

You’ll be hearing more about Vital Congregations and how you can take part in this journey of discovery and transformation. Be on the lookout for small group studies that will be forming in late March/early April. Until then, find a friend and try some improv yourself—discover first-hand the power of “YES, and . . . !”
Godspeed,matt sig