Using family systems theory to equip leaders and improve congregational health at Harrison United Methodist Church.

Date of Award


Document Type



Drew Theological School

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry


This project uses Family Systems Theory (FST) to equip leaders and improve congregational health in a mid-sized, suburban United Methodist church. FST is a psychological model used to understand human relationships and the interaction and functioning of individuals within the family system. Since individuals do not act independently of one another, each person influences and impacts the system, such as a church system. Understanding and applying the principles and concepts of FST, the health and functioning of a church may be enhanced, resulting in growth and new ministry opportunities. Between January and April 2014, selected current and potential church leaders were invited to participate in a small group experience. During each of the gatherings, a concept of FST was introduced, illustrated, defined, shared, and applied. These concepts included homeostasis, over- and under-functioning, anxiety, triangles, and self-differentiation. To accomplish each session's objectives, various teaching methodologies were used, including the biblical narrative, personal stories and parables, life experience, and multi-media. The group entered into covenant relationship with one another, and all documents of a sensitive nature were secured and limited to the candidate's access only. Participants were also asked to be active in an evaluative process by preparing a family genogram, applying the learning between group meetings, completing a short pre- and post-instructional questionnaire, and scheduling an exit interview. This project focused on developing a process toward on-going church and self-assessment, whereby ultimate long-term outcomes cannot currently be measured. The project demonstrated successful short-term results through the Peck Hall narrative, whereby the project achieved the goal of equipping leaders of HUMC to function at a healthier level, which increased congregational well-being. The candidate, the leadership, and the congregation were all impacted by the project, and the candidate intends to use FST small groups to train and equip leaders in the future. The candidate believes that FST should be an integral part of leadership development.