More Congregational Vitality

web resource
Different Models for Multicultural Congregations and Ministries
This web resource provides a blog written by author Ryk Van Velden who answers the question, "What is multicultural congregation or ministry?" by describing the advantages and disadvantages of seven different models including multicultural cell churches, planting a separate church, adoption and cooperation, and parallel ministries in one multicultural congregation.
book
The Relational Judaism Handbook: How to Create a Relational Engagement Campaign to Build and Deepen Relationships in Your Community
This comprehensive guide is grounded in scripture and tradition to help transform organizational life from being program-driven to becoming "engagement-driven," which makes people feel welcome and builds stronger relationships with one another.
article
28 Non-Numerical Signs Of A Healthy Church
This short blog by a small church pastor provides new factors to consider for envisioning vitality beyond numbers and dollars.
event
Wild Goose Festival
This event is part outdoor music festival, part retreat, and part justice conference. It brings speakers and performers from across the theological spectrum, and hosts interactive workshops.
web resource
New Churches: Multiply the Mission
New Churches, brought to you by veteran church start pastor and educator Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im, director of church multiplication services at Lifeway, is an online hub for church multiplication resources and offers a podcast archive of nearly 350 presentations on church planting.
book
The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health
This resource lays out the seven lifecycle phases of a congregation, beginning with "Launch" and ending with "Life Support." It also provides tools for churches to map out a strategic response to each stage.
For The CRG Created For The CRG
Revisiting Bowen Family Systems

During the 1950s, a psychiatrist named Murray Bowen created a new intervention for those with family members suffering from schizophrenia. Two decades later, Rabbi Edwin Friedman used Bowen’s theory to help clergy think about congregational life. Friedman’s acclaimed book, Generation to Generation, launched the theory as a helpful leadership method for congregations.

Congregational leadership
By now, two generations of clergy have applied the Bowen theory concepts to the work of congregational leadership. These concepts include self-differentiation, anxiety, triangles, multi-generational transmission process and emotional cutoff. In addition to Edwin Friedman’s works, Peter Steinke, Arthur Paul Boers, Israel Galindo, Ronald Richardson and Roberta Gilbert, among others, have written books that apply Bowen’s theory to congregational life. Many consultants use the Bowen method as a framework for their engagements with congregations.

Does this approach help strengthen the local congregation?
Below you will find four observations regarding the helpfulness of Bowen Family Systems.

1) It is not necessary to teach the theory to congregations. The best Bowen theory resources are those which help leaders try new behaviors, not just learn the theory. Spending too much time explaining the Bowen method to congregants has the effect of an orthopedic surgeon explaining in excruciating detail hip replacement to a patient (“then I will take a hammer to your femoral head…”). Don’t substitute sharing the theory with living the theory. Practice it.

2) Many leaders misunderstand what Bowen and Friedman mean by self-differentiation. Differentiation of self is the lifelong work of developing the ability for both autonomy and closeness. Too often this concept is interpreted as license to take alienating stands with little attention to relationships. As a leader working on self-differentiation, you learn to connect deeply with others while at the same time you are learning to be clear about what matters most to you. Self-differentiation includes both connection and boundaries.

3) It could be that the Bowen and Friedman dictum to remain non-anxious is counterproductive, at least sometimes. In Bowen Theory, one of the markers of maturity is the capacity to remain non-anxious in difficult situations. This instruction functions like the command to “love your enemy” – easy to say, but hard to do. Anxiety is not always harmful. Trying to maintain a non-anxious presence often has a paradoxical effect – it raises, not lowers, anxiety. Honesty and authenticity are virtues. It is okay for a leader to say “this makes me anxious.”

4) Bowen theory proponents have a propensity to speak assuredly of the method. I find organizations less predictable than most Bowen theorists assert. They are more certain of their theory than the word “theory” would imply. I wonder, for example, if self-differentiation as it is explained in the Bowen model does not acknowledge the way clergy often need to imagine and manage opposing thoughts within not just the congregation, but within themselves. Does Bowen Theory leave mental space for the self to be transformed by divergent views within one’s self?

Creating a framework
Certainly, though, Bowen Family Systems resources provide congregational leaders with a framework for understanding behaviors they are experiencing in congregations. However, like most things in life, it is appropriate to think critically about this theory. Its power may be in the way it is adapted to fit a leader’s temperament and  experience.

In this blog, I’ve referred to Bowen theory proponents. Here are resources that apply the theory to congregational life.

If you’d like to continue the conversation email me at tshapiro@centerforcongregations.org

 

media
Mission: Possible
This board game empowers teams to tackle problems by generating creative solutions, drawing on congregational assets and teamwork.
article
Handling Conflict
This thorough resource, covering 12 different aspects of conflict, identifies negative and positive aspects of congregational conflict to help create a culture of conflict resistance.
article
Avoiding All-Out Church War
This pack of eight articles educates readers about conflict and how to mitigate it in a congregation.
For The CRG Created For The CRG
It’s About Life

A generation ago, congregational observers noted that congregations experiencing growth were those which gave clear-cut, right and wrong, direction about life.

I want to note a subtle correction to this observation.

Vital congregations are those which give more attention to the lives of adherents than the needs of the institution. Congregations which are flourishing are those which provide education, a sense of community, and moments of meaning that help congregants navigate the challenges of life with resilience.

A balance
Certainly, your congregation needs to pay attention to its organizational life. You need people attending to budgets, the condition of the facility, the copier, the agenda for the board meeting and so forth. Yet, if attention to the operations of the congregation subtracts from supporting the lives of members and the lives of people in the community, then folks will sense that the congregation is not doing what it is called to do. The congregation becomes a purposeless community in which only those with a strong sense of obligation will stay engaged.

Paying attention to life
Flourishing congregations are those which pay attention to life. People are praying. They are asking important questions. They are thinking about what it means to be a community. The congregation serves as a resource to its members around any number of crucial matters: parenting, finances, justice, vocation, character building, and of course, one’s connection to God.

My colleague Kara Faris and I were introduced to 12 creative congregations and had the privilege of writing about them for the book Divergent Church. A divergent church focuses on an aspect of life beyond the emphasis on the church itself.

It’s about life. It’s not about the congregation as an end unto itself.

What matters most to you in life?
Let your congregation attend to such matters.

To learn more about the book, Divergent Church, here are two links:

https://thecrg.org/resources/divergent-church-the-bright-promise-of-alternative-faith-communities

https://www.faithandleadership.com/kara-faris-divergent-churches-are-exploring-innovative-ways-congregational-life

You can also read this blog about practices that connect faith and life.

organization
Saturate
This organization equips churches to create disciples through small groups at homes, moving from Sunday programming to everyday life.
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