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The Flow of Anxiety

A major budget deficit can cause anxiety in any congregation. Diagramming the flow of anxiety can help leaders understand and manage that anxiety.One church I worked with faced a $40,000 budget deficit. They chose an approach that solved the immediate problem by calming the majority, however the approach heightened anxiety for a small group.

Here’s what the flow chart looks like for what took place at Unity West:

This diagram shows a $40,000 deficit leading to anxiety in the congregation including the staff and the clergyperson. The clergyperson responded immediately by volunteering to take cuts in salary for herself and for the staff she directed.

This alleviated the anxiety in the congregation as a whole, but it increased financial and emotional stress for the staff and the clergyperson. This eventually led to more financial tension in the congregation as a whole.

In this case, leadership could try creating a flow chart to examine other possibilities. One possibility is for the clergyperson and lay leadership to respond to the crisis by waiting and finding ways to control their personal anxiety.

This would give them time to explore options and make a thoughtful response instead of a reactive response.

Here is an example of what this approach might lead to:

Diagram 2

Diagram 2

In the end, there is still some anxiety (indicated by the red lines), but not nearly as much as earlier. In addition, the congregation, lay leadership and clergy feel a sense of shared responsibility for the outcome.

Other possible approaches could also be diagrammed in order to figure out a response that will best manage and reduce the anxiety.

Now try your own flow chart. Think of an anxiety producing situation in your home or congregation. Try diagramming the flow of anxiety that took place.

Next, think of alternative responses. How might the flow of anxiety be diagrammed for each of those responses?

As you make your diagrams, remember that you can only change your own choices and responses. You cannot change anyone else. You can however predict how others might respond to your actions and map that on your diagram.

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