Organizations are increasingly revolutionizing their management styles to meet the demands of the changing society. One of the concepts that have continued to gain currency is systems thinking. Systems thinking is the “process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole” (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2012, p. 162). The principle is that each organization is a system of interdependent parts that work in harmony to achieve the desired goals and objectives (Meadows, 2008).
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In an organization that comprises people, processes and structures that work in harmony in the whole organization, problems that arise are solved by viewing them as part of the entire system. The functioning of one part of the system can best be understood by looking at it in the context of other parts (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2012). The United Methodist Church can be used to illustrate how the concept of systems thinking is applied in church organizations.
The United Methodist Church believes that the church as a system, as much as God created the world as a system, with both internal and external components. As an open system, the church draws its members from the external environment, processes them through various training programs, and then releases them back to the environment where they will preach and win more church members for the growth of the church.
When new members come from the environment, they are ignorant about the regulations that guide behavior in the church. These people come in after being converted, while others come in out of their own volition. Outreach and evangelistic ministries are responsible for bringing in new members.
Once they get to the church, the converts are socialized in the ways of the church. Among the church programs in place include Bible study, new believers’ classes, intercession groups, baptismal rituals and practices, among others (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2012).
Some are given vocational training as a way of developing them as useful members of the church and the outside word. Conversely, the church relies on the members for revenue in terms of tithes and offerings. These are the funds that are used to maintain the preachers and other church workers.
After being equipped with skills and the ability to conform to the ways of the church, the members gain the competence needed to go out and preach to others who get converted and join the church. The cycle of events continues. Some of the converts, upon reaching maturity and with a calling from God, opt to set up other United Methodist Churches in other parts of the world, leading to the expansion of the church.
From the foregoing, it is evident that the United Methodist Church espouses system thinking in its operations. If any part of then system malfunctions, the entire system will grind to a halt (Hardman, Drew, & Egan, 2012). If the evangelist component of the system fails to effectively evangelize and bring in more members, the church will fail to grow, and may eventually collapse.
If the pastoral or apostolic department fails to teach the new converts to be grounded in the doctrines and practice of the church, the result will be weak church members who cannot be relied upon to evangelize for the growth of the church. The church as a system carries out periodic evaluation exercises to determine the effectiveness of its programs, and take corrective measures where need be.
System thinking in the United Methodist Church has been made possible by the kind of structure that has been put in place. The Episcopal polity ensures stability of the entire church. There are sub organs charged with the responsibility of managing certain aspects of the church.
All these sub-organs work together to achieve efficiency and communication plays an important part in coordinating their activities. The Bishops are in charge of the conferences, but do not operate independently. Components of the United Methodist Church can, therefore, be seen to be highly interdependent.
Hardman, M.L., Drew, C.J., & Egan, M.W. (2012). Human exceptionality: School, community, and family (11th ed.). Boston: Cengage Learning.