In May 2010, Unity of Fairfax, Oakton, Va., did something revolutionary—we began asking members of the congregation how they felt about the spiritual community. This inquiry was part of the Transformation Experience (TE) and was managed by the Evolutionary Council (EC), of which I was leader. This simple, elegant idea began Unity of Fairfax’s transformation from a traditional ministry to a community-driven one.
Before launching into the “official” TE work, our EC softened the ground through one-on-one conversations with members of the congregation. These conversations became part of a process we called, “Taking the Pulse of the Community,” and our intention was simply to get a general idea of how congregants were feeling about our community while introducing the practice of dynamic feedback.
We based our questions (below) on the Appreciative Inquiry model of building upon what is working well.
1. Describe a high-point experience at Unity of Fairfax, a time when you felt most alive and engaged.
2. What one wish do you have to enhance the health and vitality of Unity of Fairfax?
3. Is there anything else on your mind that you would like to share?
The intention for these “conscious conversations” was for a deep heart-share to occur, during which the EC member listened to both the words the congregant was speaking as well as all the other ways human beings convey meaning through body language, tone, speech cadence, etc. This kind of listening is often referred to as “level 3 listening.”
The Evolutionary Council conducted 118 Pulse conversations, which included half our membership. Some of the conversations were filled with happiness, gratitude and praise for our community. Some of the conversations focused on where we were falling short as an organization. Most had elements of both the positive and challenges.
The themes generated through Pulse conversations provided leadership with a “North Star” for the TE and helped us to focus our attention on strengthening consensus-based leadership, adding more/better educational components for youth and adults, and improving our process for welcoming newcomers. At the same time, the positive nature of the questions got us back in touch with what was really working: our music program, inspiring and deeply committed volunteers, and the general love for our spiritual community.