Congregations stink at communicating.
Leaders often think that communicating means putting something in the bulletin or email newsy thing or announcing it from the front on Sundays. Not only do people not pay the kind of attention for which we hope to these kinds of communication, but they often fail to give them the info they really need to decide why this information might be important for them. Imagine what a wife might think if her husband communicated the way we do in congregations. Their marriage counselor might agree that he is a poor communicator. The way people find out what they really need to know is through meaningful human networks. And congregations pay little attention to these interpersonal networks.
Beyond this problem, however, lies the reality that leaders in congregations tend to think of communication as one-way. We tell, you listen. I seldom find a congregation that has planned, dependable, and open opportunities for feedback. This does not mean that leaders don’t get feedback. They do. But because there are few systematic attempts to listen to the congregation, that feedback tends to be negative.
I am not a fan of congregational business meetings. Nor am I a fan of congregational “open mic” nights where the shrill voices tend to dominate. I am a fan of regular congregational conversations that are planned in such a way so that everyone shares (typically at small table) around a determined topic in an attempt to get a sense of the room. (If you can’t have a congregational conversation, I have reservations about your status as a congregation. What you very well may have is an organization in which the leaders produce a product that passive members consume).
I hear about congregations that are having trouble inching forward changes, usually in worship, in the face of increasing hostility and resistance. Often, this is the result of leaders who have “studied the issue” and now are hoping the congregation agrees with them. I think that in the face of such resistance, little can be done to improve things. People have dug in and drawn lines and now no amount of conversation or persuasion can materially change things. Early, open communication that has as its goal mutual understanding, rather than some strategic outcome, is the most likely way to prevent hostility and resistance around change.
These notions of communication are more than just good organizational strategies. They are spiritual commitments grounded in theological beliefs. The Spirit of God is among the people of God, not just among the leaders. Good two-way communication, and the virtues necessary to keep that communication vital, create the space necessary for the Spirit of God to move among God’s people and for the Word of God to continue to be heard.
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