As a former church staff member, I’ve seen it happen over and over.
A growing congregation, fully unified and working toward the same goal, starts to slowly splinter off into pockets of like-minded people.
Those pockets live in harmony—for a while. But then, you start hearing rumors about someone unhappy with the direction the church is going, or disagreeing with what’s happening, or being angry with someone else.
The rumors evolve into slander. And the slander evolves into division. Then, before you know it, there’s an emotional rift the size of the Grand Canyon running between the pews every Sunday morning.
If you find yourself here today, take heart:
As a leader, you are the person with the most power to restore unity in your church.
You are the one they listen to, the one they’re following, the one they look to for guidance. And they’ll also look to you to lead them back into harmony with their church body.
Because I’ve watched this happen as a staff member, I’ve seen how this unhealthiness develops within the staff and the members of a church. So my goal is to offer you a little perspective you might not normally get as a pastor: the perspective of a staff member who heard things the pastor didn’t.
Here are 3 ways to restore unity in your church:
- Listen—and Then Take Action.
In my church, rifts started forming between the youth department and the leadership. They happened because the youth department felt that the leadership didn’t take time to understand how their actions affected the youth program.
This caused the staff—and many volunteer leaders—to harbor negative feelings against the leadership. And you can bet those feelings came out in plenty of conversations all around the church.
In the staff’s minds, the problem was simple: The leadership might have heard, but they didn’t listen.
That is, they didn’t do anything about it. And they didn’t communicate why they weren’t going to do anything about it.
Listening is more active. It requires a response. Even if a response simply means you have an honest, caring conversation about why you’re not taking action.The same thing works when the problem doesn’t involve the leadership. If you have two groups of people at odds with each other in an unhealthy way, listen to both sides. Make them feel heard, valued, and understood—even if you disagree—and you can solve so many conflicts in your church body.
- Make Good Communication a Priority.
After you listen, keep the line of communication open.
Our youth program didn’t feel like they had a voice. The leadership was making huge, sweeping decisions for the youth program…without actually talking to the leaders about how that would affect them.
If you know you’re going to have to make an unpopular decision, keep the communication wide open. You might even find that you turned out to be wrong, and they were helping you avoid a huge mistake.
Regardless, keep communicating. Keep listening. Keep loving. Let them in on more than you think they “deserve” to be let in on. Help them understand your decisions.
When negativity starts cropping up between two groups, it’s normally a tragic misunderstanding.
Maybe the children’s department feels like the choir isn’t respecting their space. So they retaliate by locking the doors, which makes the choir angry. This all happens without anyone sitting down and having a good old-fashioned conversation.
The enemy works best in darkness. But communication is a giant spotlight.
- Work to Better Understand the People Involved.
Most disagreements can be chalked up to one thing:
We project our own personality onto other people.
We figure, “I’d never say something like that unless I was angry. So they must be angry.”
Or, “I’d want someone to confront me about this. So I’m going to confront them.”
Problem is, we’re all so different. So learn people’s personalities before diving into a dispute. By understanding their personalities, you’ll know exactly how to talk to them, exactly how they handle conflict, and exactly how to make them feel loved.
The best resource for understanding people, in my opinion, is the Enneagram. A lot of people in staff positions are Enneagram Type 1, so I’d start there. Here’s a resource to get you started. It’s great for understanding people’s insecurities, their desires, how they try to get love, etc.
Bottom line? Don’t assume everyone thinks like you, and your congregation will be much healthier.
Above all, PRAY.
We so often forget this as leaders, because many of us are wired to fix problems ourselves. Remember, prayer involves both talking and listening to God. When negativity and slander are happening in your church community, the best thing you can do is pray.
How do you respond to negativity in your community?
Tim Branch is a Christian blogger, former youth pastor, and Chick-fil-A aficionado. He writes at timbranch.com, a blog about how to understand your purpose and grow into who you were uniquely created to be.