History of Healthy Congregations

Healthy Congregations is an outgrowth of the work and thinking of a number of people over the past fifty years.

Early influences were the theoretical foundations of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST) and Dr. Murray Bowen as well as the application of BFST as pioneered by Rabbi Edwin Friedman.

In response to his work with Rabbi Friedman, Dr. Peter Steinke published a book in 1993 entitled “How Your Church Family Works.”  That publication initiated conversations about how to communicate important principles about Bowen Family Systems Theory as it applies to life in communities of faith and particularly with regard to encouraging leadership in congregational systems. 

In 1994-1995, material was developed that centered on the themes of systems thinking, responding to anxiety and change, leadership, and relationships.  That material became four 5 to 6 hour workshops.   Training programs for the workshops were developed and the first generation of workshop facilitators was born, with Dr. Steinke overseeing the training. 

The Advanced Workshop was introduced in 1999 as a means for continuing education for trained facilitators.  In 2000, two additional workshops were added to the project focused on themes of stewardship and spiritual care.  The six workshops continue to be available to people trained through a fifteen hour program of didactic presentation and activities that encourage integration and application.  In 2003, Healthy Congregations began to train those interested in further study as teachers of the theory and program. 

Dr. Steinke retired from the project and as Executive Director of Healthy Congregations in 2005. Healthy Congregations, Inc. was incorporated as a 501(c)3 organization in Ohio in 2006 under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Emlyn Ott.

Reflecting on its mission and purpose at the beginning of 2011, Healthy Congregations is an ecumenical and interfaith organization.  With a Board that represents a variety of traditions, Healthy Congregations provides training, consultation and education around emotional process through the Internet, an online journal, the membership network and a monthly leadership series that includes distance and on-site presentations and small group coaching.  The Advanced Workshop made a transition in 2007 into a yearly event called the National Gathering that is open to all people interested in Bowen family systems theory and its application to congregational life.