Healthy Communication at Church

Christmas is next month. Did that just stress you out? Sorry, that was cruel. But it is that time of year, when stress begins to slowly escalate. And like last year, COVID seems to escalate the escalation. Masks, physical distancing, bills, existing debt, upcoming Christmas debt, family, travel, work, school, need I go on? And with holiday stress comes a need to keep our emotions/behaviors/reactions in check. So, what better time for a reminder on how best to communicate our needs, especially at church! I mean, shouldn’t the church be a leader in healthy communication practices? If you answered yes to that question, please read on!

Let’s start with how not to communicate at church. That way we can end on a positive note! So, here are a few ways we do not communicate at church, as the leaders in healthy communication that we are:

·       We do not communicate with our absence. As a pastor, there is nothing more disheartening than having a parishioner leave and having no idea why because they never said a word. Their leaving was the communication. I hear people all the time say that they come to church because it’s like family to them. So, would this kind of communication fly in your family? If a parent left for work one day and never came back, wouldn’t we expect some sort of explanation/communication? Of course! Why not in a church family?

·       We do not communicate with our checkbooks. So many times, without words, people will communicate their displeasure over something by decreasing or stopping their financial support. Aside from how unbiblical this is, it’s a clear case of shooting oneself in the foot. Without financial support, churches choke to death. That can’t be their intention, right? I hope not, because that would be abuse, of the self-harm kind. I’ve known too many churches who have lost key staff, even their pastor, because the church could no longer afford their salary. And then who suffers? Not the pastor or staff, the cold hard truth is that there are always other churches for them to find work. It’s the congregation left behind that struggles to pick up the pieces.

·       We do not communicate indirectly. Otherwise known as triangulation. We’ve all experienced this from some angle. It’s when a person says something to another person about a gripe of some kind, hoping that the complaint will get to the person that can actually help, instead of going directly to them. That’s triangulation, and it’s so unhealthy, not to mention destructive, because it is disrespectful and dismissive of the leadership. Power structures vary by church and denomination. In my church, the fastest way to make something happen, is go directly to the pastor. I’ve had people say, “I love when you put an image on the screen during your sermons. We should do that every Sunday!” Done. “Can we adopt a family with the local UU church for Christmas?” Done. I’m not saying I’ll always say yes, I’m just saying there’s no faster way to a yes! (And I hate to tell people no! But you didn’t hear that from me!)

·       We do not communicate with threats. If you find yourself communicating by threatening to leave or withhold your offerings or volunteer time, then you have skipped some vital communication steps along the way. It amazes me how quickly people seem to jump to threats. But in reality, it’s not quick at all, not usually. It’s the product of long-held misgivings that have been festering for quite some time. All because of a lack of desire to communicate them much earlier in the process. How do you respond to threats? Pastors and lay leaders respond the same, not well. More often than not, it doesn’t go the way you think it’s gonna go. Worse yet, threats can do irreparable damage to relationships.

So, what do we do when we have issues, concerns, complaints at church?


Communicate with words!

Communicate early!

Communicate often!

Communicate directly!

Communicate lovingly!

Communicate healthily!

Your pastor and church leaders love you so much! They could not do what they do if they didn’t! They have sacrificed so much for you! Love them by practicing healthy communication at church…and everywhere! Think of it as your Christmas gift to them during these stressful times we all have to endure!

Thank you for reading. And thank you for all you do to keep church going. We couldn’t do it without you! And we wouldn’t want to.

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