What's Tony Thinking

Improving Communication in Churches (and other human communities)


(Note: this is something I wrote a while back for another project, which didn’t come to fruition at the time. But it may still be of some value. I hope so.)

We are imperfect people. So, our communicating with one another in the church will often be flawed. Sin gets in the way. But we can do better. Here are some suggestions for improving the ways we communicate with one another in church.

  1. If you have a complaint or concern, an opinion or suggestion about your church or for its leaders, take responsibility for what you have to say by using “I statements.” Say, “I think . . .” or “I wonder . . .” or “I am troubled by . . .” Avoid saying things like, “Many people are saying . . .” or “Some people are feeling . . .” or similar statements that avoid personal responsibility and contribute to confusion.
  1. As a corollary of # 1, do not ever send unsigned or anonymous letters of complaint.
  2. Speak directly to the person, e.g. Pastor, Moderator, Chair of Board, Music Director whose work or actions are of concern to you. Avoid talking to a third party if your concern is an action by the Pastor. Avoid talking to fellow members of the church about a person or their actions that have upset you — except to get a reality check or counsel on how best to proceed. Speak directly to the person whose words or actions are of concern to you.
  3. If you do not feel safe in speaking directly to the person involved, ask that a trusted third party (trusted and agreed upon by all those involved) to sit in on your conversation.
  4. Do not use email, especially the “Reply All” function, if you are expressing a complaint about church life or leadership or responding to someone who is. Refrain from social media complaining as well. It is easy for critical or charged communications to be misunderstood or amplified exponentially via email or social media. Remember, “it only takes a spark to get a fire going.”
  1. Make a point of expressing appreciation or gratitude to those who have done a good job or made a contribution that you appreciate. Avoid blanket statements like, “You’re great,” and instead be specific, e.g. “You really led that meeting in a focused and effective way. We even ended on time! Thank you.”
  1. When interactions have occurred that are painful or upsetting, ask for an opportunity to talk through the experience with those directly involved at a later time (but not too much later). Again, if you need to invite a trusted third party to sit in in order to feel safe, do so after checking that plan with the other person (s) involved.
  1. When broken relationships happen, don’t forget the rituals and sacraments of the church as occasions and opportunities for facing hurt and failure, for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. For example, in regular worship or possibly in a special or more intimate setting, confess in prayer your part in the problem, hear the assurance of the gospel, and express your wish that God’s peace might prevail or be restored. Services of Communion, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and healing (see the UCC Book of Worship for all of the above) provide particularly important opportunities for confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. Consult with your pastor regarding such services and the theological insights and affirmations they offer the church in times of conflict.
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