Just as individuals, couples and families can sometimes benefit from therapy, congregations can sometimes benefit as well. I have developed a six-step process for counseling congregations that uses techniques from mental health counseling as well as a system of diagramming relationships and interactions called the Congogram.
As with group counseling, the steps are specific and structured, but they can be adjusted to meet the particular needs and goals of your religious organization.
The congregational counselor meets with a group of official and unofficial leaders from the congregation. I use facilitated discussion and visual enactment techniques to help these leaders reflect on the current situation in the congregation and their own roles. I obtain a written history of the congregation if one exists.
• Participants begin to describe emotional systems patterns in the congregation.
• Participants begin to reflect on their own roles in the continuation of the patterns.
• Participants are encouraged to reflect from a congregational systems perspective with a
focus on process rather than content.
The counselor breaks the congregation’s history into five or six time segments during which people currently in the congregation were present. I work with groups of people who were in the congregation during each time period and lead reflection regarding key events in the congregation during each time period and the actions, reactions and emotions that resulted.
Each meeting lasts 1 ½ to 2 hours and includes 8-25 people. If additional people are interested in participating, multiple groups can meet for each time period.
• Participants share their perspectives on key events in the history of the congregation and reflect on their own responses and interactions as well as those of others.
• Participants gain insight from the questions asked, and from hearing what they personally choose to share in relation to what other participants choose to share
• Counselor uses all the information gathered in these sessions to compile detailed congregational diagrams and a congregational analysis.
The counselor holds as many individual sessions as possible with people who have been active in the congregation. I ask questions which encourage people to share personal views on the core mission of the congregation and how that is lived out, as well as naming the strengths and challenges of their personal involvement over the years. Time permitting these sessions can also include reflection on family and congregational systems issues. Sessions are 30 to 45 minutes each.
• Participants share their personal perspectives regarding their own involvement in the congregation over the years, including their own needs and expectations, joys and disappointments and their perspectives on the mission of the congregation. They reflect on the past, present and future of the congregation.
• Participants gain insight from the questions asked and continue to reflect at home.
• I keep confidential information private, but use themes from these individual sessions in compiling the detailed congregational diagrams and congregational analysis.
Overview of participant involvement
Step One: Counselor works with leaders.
Step Two: Counselor works with small groups.
Step Three: Counselor works with individuals.
Step Four: Counselor works with leaders.
Step Five: Counselor works with entire congregation.
Step Six: Counselor works with The Action Planning Team. Team works with congregation.
The counselor presents a detailed analysis to the leadership group who participated in Step One. This analysis includes the ways people in the congregation have interacted with each other and responded to each other from an emotional perspective over the history of the congregation, as well as a Powerpoint presentation of the Congogram diagrams that I have developed using information from all of the sessions.
I accept input on the analysis, including additional information and alternative perspectives, and pose questions. At the end I introduce a detailed self-reflection process for participants to engage in over the coming weeks. Between steps 4 and 5, I work with leadership to develop an Action Planning Team.
• Participants reflect on emotional process patterns in the congregation and begin to evaluate which are destructive and could benefit from change and which are constructive and worth continuing.
• Participants continue to reflect on their own roles in the emotional processes of the congregation.
• Participants understand the value of the individual reflection homework and enthusiastically engage in the process over the coming weeks.
• Leadership prepares to lead the congregation in the reflection and action planning processes.
The counselor revises the analysis and diagrams, then presents a detailed analysis to the entire congregation. The large group then breaks into subgroups to engage in a facilitated small group reflection process.
At the end of the subgroup reflection process, the small groups share their perspectives with the larger group. I then introduce a detailed self-reflection process for participants to engage in over the coming weeks. (This is the same process that leaders have already begun.) Self-reflection leads to forming more relevant and meaningful congregational goals.
• Participants reflect on emotional process patterns in the congregation, recognizing patterns identified by the counselor and identifying additional patterns or perspectives.
• Participants reflect on their own roles in the emotional processes of the congregation.
• Participants understand the value of the individual reflection homework and are willing to engage in the process over the coming weeks.
• Participants begin to evaluate which patterns are destructive and could benefit from change and which are constructive and worth continuing.
• Leadership who were involved at the last session are ready to encourage and support others in engaging in the individual reflection work. Leaders who did not do the work are now motivated to complete it.
• If one has not already been chosen, an Action Planning Team is chosen during the weeks between this session and the next.
The counselor works with the Action Planning Team to guide them in how to form a complete Emotional Process Action Plan with guidelines for follow-through. Goals relate to emotional process not to programming, materials, or facility.
The Action Planning Team meets with small groups from the congregation to engage in group reflection based on the self-reflection exercises of the previous weeks and considers ideas for an Action Plan. I then meet with the Action Planning Team again to process the ideas gathered in the small group sessions.
• By the end of this session the Action Planning Team has clear guidance on how to form a complete Emotional Process Action Plan including time frames and follow through.
• A clear process is outlined by the team as to how to gain the support of the congregation for this plan.