Appreciate. Appreciate. Appreciate. It’s nearly impossible to create a congregational culture where people feel too appreciated. And it doesn’t take long to cultivate an attitude of noticing the good things that people do. Look around for someone doing something to help out and say “thank you. “Hey, I saw you clear the table and make sure all the recycling got separated. Thanks!” “I think it’s wonderful that you give Walter a ride to church when you can.” “Your calm presence really made a difference in how that meeting went.”
Once you get used to it, a practice of appreciation is easy. It also benefits you as much as the people you appreciate. When you begin to focus on the good things, you see more of them. And the moments when people aren’t at their best are easier to handle because you can put them in context. When someone you know is usually caring and level-headed makes a comment that was uncomfortably pointed, you might think, “I wonder what’s wrong…” instead of “how dare she say that to me?” And if you ask, you may find out something that helps you build a deeper and more caring relationship.
A culture of appreciation is a great preventative to so much of what ails churches. When people feel noticed and appreciated they rarely get to a place of feeling burned out. When differences of opinion come up, people are likely to remember that the person on “the other side” is the same person who took out the trash or who noticed when they took out the trash. And best of all, a culture of appreciation and a culture of complaining can’t coexist. And that makes church more fun. Meetings are shorter. (It takes less time to say thank you than to complain.) People are more relaxed because they don’t feel they are constantly being judged. More people pitch in because people applaud good effort rather than awaiting perfection.
Personal appreciation can make using tools like Appreciative Inquiry easier too. People begin to understand that by focusing on what we do well we can learn what works and do more of it. We can even begin to apply what we learn to the places in congregational life that aren’t working as well. For instance, if a congregation learns that they are excellent at putting on parties and events, they can apply that to how they do social justice work, planning parties and events for communities that would benefit from celebration and social events.
Some people fear that appreciation is insincere and leads to a congregation that doesn’t see things clearly, but through “rose-colored stain glass windows.” I think it’s far more likely that people who feel appreciated and valued are willing to look at things honestly, assessing strengths and acknowledging weakness. There’s no need to “front;” no need to fake perfection. Instead, people can afford to take risks, be experimental, and try new things, knowing that what works will be appreciated and what doesn’t can just be let go. And that flexibility and creativity makes congregational life interesting, creative, and fun.