As a Resource Minister in our Region I was occasionally called in to address church conflict. While there were many reasons for the various conflicts, one seemed to be found in almost all of them: a lack of communication. So many times people would tell me that there was little or no communication between church leaders and the congregation.
Most of the time this wasn't intentional. Often, the leaders felt they had communicated with the congregation. Obviously, they had not done so in a way that was received by the congregation. When people feel leaders are keeping things from them they quickly begin to distrust those leaders. They become suspicious of everything that goes on in the church fearful that somebody is trying to get away with something.
Even worse, when people do not have the facts they begin to create their own. Rumors begin to fly and the gossip mill begins to churn out information hourly. Often, these made-up facts are not even close to the real truth, but because the truth has not been communicated to the congregation this is all they have.
Where there has been a history of poor communication there is often a low-trust church. Such churches must begin immediately to improve their communication. In such cases it is almost impossible to over-communicate. This communication will, in time, begin to restore the trust needed for a church to enjoy an effective ministry.
Communication is critical in times of change. Many churches do not handle change very well. It creates a level of stress that these churches would prefer to not have. It is important that the WHY of the change is communicated. In fact, this should be communicated before discussing the WHAT of the change. John Kotter, author of
Leading Change, tells us that most change efforts fail because the leaders failed to create an urgency around the change. Talking about the why of the change does create this sense of urgency in the minds of the congregation.
It is also critical during times of pastoral transition. As I've often told pastor search teams, "Inquiring minds want to know." The church is very interested in the progress the search team is making. While it's important that the team keeps the congregation informed of where it is in the process, it must also maintain certain confidences such as the persons with whom they are speaking. Most people in the congregation will be satisfied with knowing that the team is making progress and won't push for more information that should not be shared.
One pastor was proposing something that the church had never done previously. Rather than make a big announcement at a business meeting that may have generated a lot of opposition, he presented it first to the church leadership. When they approved, it was taken to small groups within the church for feedback. Although there were some questions, there was no real opposition. More importantly, people felt that the pastor had not gone behind their backs and tried to do something new. Good communication had occurred, people had been heard, and it was possible to move forward with the suggestion.
This is the way good communication should work in a church. Make sure people are informed and any concerns they have are heard. Over-communicate if necessary. I have found that most people in the church can be trusted to do the right thing if they have the right information.