A New Approach to Problem Solving

The Bunner’s Ridge Community Church was a nondenominational church which prided itself in its openness to all people. It had grown rapidly until the COVID pandemic. Although its services were streamed, church participation declined. The debt service on its new building was becoming more and more difficult to meet. 

The pastor had convinced a group of established leaders to problem solve about the declining church participation. The approach used followed the common problem-solving approach:

  • Identify the problem
  • Analyze the causes of the problem
  • Identify and select possible solutions
  • Develop an implementation plan.

The discussions accomplished one thing: they led to dismay among the participants. One of the participants decided to speak up: “As many of you may know, I work with troubled organizations. I’ve been reluctant to interject my own approach into the discussions but let me suggest another way.” 

Maddie continued: “I suggest that we take a more positive approach to thinking about our future. Let’s start with an analysis of what works well and identify why we are successful in those areas.” 

The group followed Maddie’s suggestion and were surprised by how many things that were positive. Then Maddie asked: “Now, let’s envision what we want to be a success story in the future. Be imaginative. Describe your vision as a story, not as a goal statement.” While the participants struggled with this at first, the vision stories just blossomed after the initial struggle. 

“Now I want each of you to own a story and present it to the congregation. Let’s see what gets everyone excited. We will reconvene to develop an action plan. This is when we’ll need to be realistic but remain hopeful. We also have to be mindful that we can’t do everything at once.” 

The group came up with an action plan which they then presented to the congregation. Additional members of the church became active at this point. Over time, the membership returned, and the church again became a vibrant part of the community. 

The approach that Maddie used has been called appreciative inquiry. It is a problem-solving approach structured around what works, participative discussion, and a positive idea of what can be achieved. Its focus is more on the future than finding a fix for a present problem. 

Just imagine how society would change if we took a more positive approach to problem-solving. Can we convert despair to hope? Can we work on the problem by being positive rather than blaming others? And how might such an approach lift the creative abilities of all?

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“We need to discover the root causes of success, rather than the root causes of failure.” – David Cooperrider (Professor)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.