Process Frame is best characterized by “the way we do things here.” By examining the processes of a local congregation, you can examine the ways in which a congregation makes decisions, discusses and solves its problems, and plans for the future. You will examine the social dynamics of the congregation, examining the norms of the community such as the how new ideas are brought to the group as well as how minority opinions may be strategically downplayed to reduce conflict. The process frame helps to manage interpersonal division and conflict through working to better understand how communication and activity works within the congregation.
The processes within congregations are pervasive — everyone within the congregation experiences processes of worship, of decision-making, of community-building. “How we do things here” is a concept that is replicated within congregations, whether it be in terms of deciding who will assist in particular rituals to nominating individuals for the Finance committee. These processes of “how things are done” occur within the social exchanges of everyday congregational life, but they aren’t easy to uncover because the interaction is short-lived. The process occurs during the course of a conversation, and once the conversation is over part of the process is over too. But it is in looking at patterns of behavior — patterns of situations occurring in similar ways over time — that you can begin to use the process analytical lens to better understand how your congregation works.
A better understanding the processes of your congregation can provide for greater committee efficiency, stronger and better-run programming, and more engagement by members.
When looking at the various processes that occur within a congregation, one distinction is often central in understanding how action takes place in the congregation: whether the process is formal or informal.
- Formal Processes are the legitimate practices, procedures, and policies that have been broadly accepted by the congregation, either because of its membership in a denomination or because the congregation drafted the rules (such as a constitution) itself. When a congregation deals with a controversial decision, it often looks up the formal process to attempt to use the legal procedure outlined to reduce controversy and conflict.
- Informal processes are processes that occur without explicit guidelines, but have been habituated over the years. Informal processes can often fit in well with formal processes, but over time the informal processes can become dysfunctional and destructive, but it is hard to change because people assume it is “the way things are done here.” Many congregational processes occur in an informal way.
Think back on a time when a new pastor came into your congregation. The tension between “how things are usually done” and the formal process the pastor may have learned in seminary or from the congregation’s constitution. For example, the pastor may be surprised that the organist picks all the hymns each week. The pastor may want to attempt to match the hymns to the lectionary readings, whereas the organist keeps an ongoing schedule of how often the congregation sings each song and ensures that no song is played too repetitively. Attempts by the pastor to try to change this tradition, particularly when working with the long-standing, beloved organist, can lead to conflict within the congregation. That conflict is exacerbated by the relative positions of authority and the power allotted to each party in the conflict.
It can be useful to examine how things are done in your congregation broadly, examining governing boards, teacher selection and training, how the budget is negotiated and prepared, how new programs are developed and launched, how worship is planned, and even who has control over who can use the kitchen. Look at the formal and informal processes of how these things work, and you may have a better understanding of the life of your congregation.
Related Articles: Congregational Conflict: Listening to the Conflict, Maintaining Boundaries: The Process of Enforcing Expectations, Building Your Community: The Process of Assimilation, Changing the Way “Things Are Done”: Process Review
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Click here for a bibliography of scholarly examples of the cultural frame.