Communication and miscommunication seem to be universal issues among churches. People need to be informed, but the word often doesn’t get out. Leaders are misunderstood and members feel out of touch. How does this happen?
A common mistake is for leaders to believe that because they know, everyone else knows. At elders’ meeting issues are talked about over and over and over again. The shepherds know about issues and activities amongst themselves, but they fail to inform the congregation. An item might be put into the bulletin – but not everyone reads the weekly newsletter. Something might be announced, but announcements often fall short because people are thinking about what they are going to do after church rather than paying attention. What we need is what marketing people call “buzz.” A few people are excited and share the news repeatedly in every forum and in every format.
Unfortunately, most buzz is like a Twitter feed or a marketing pitch: it must be attention grabbing and especially short. Buzz doesn’t work well for complicated issues, issues that require education, or items that must be reviewed in depth. Here the “key man” concept may help.
In every church there are certain outspoken individuals that others listen to. If an idea can be effectively communicated to them, they will communicate it to the rest of the congregation. People naturally listen to what these people have to say and respect their conclusions. “If Brother Jones thinks it’s a good idea, I’m all for it.” Unfortunately, those key individuals, in my experience, are rarely the elders. Why?
It could be because elders only have a limited amount of time and that is generally spent with the other elders. The group becomes closed off from the rest of the congregation. This isn’t the case when the elders are leaders of smaller groups in the church like a Bible School class or a small group or they are diligent in exercising hospitality. But if the elders are only talking with other elders, a disconnect occurs.
Have you ever been to a store where the employees are all talking with each other and ignoring the customers? Do you feel like an outsider or like you are intruding if you try to interrupt them? Unfortunately, church leaders can be like that with their congregations. So how can we change that sad situation?
Paul says one of the qualifications for serving as an elder is “hospitality” (1 Timothy 3:2). That term includes being friendly and serving others, but it is much more familiar than that. When an elder and his wife open their home to others, it changes relationships from superficial social banter in the back of the church; it changes politeness into transparency, intimacy and love. No wonder the very first Christians met daily in the Temple and “in their homes” (Acts 2:46)!
However, whenever I have suggested this, the idea is met with a great deal of resistance. I think that’s because modern Americans have forgotten the difference between entertaining and hospitality. Entertaining mean setting out a formal dinner party that requires a great expenditure of effort and money. It means setting the table with the best china, polishing the silver, and arranging entertainment. Good old fashioned hospitality doesn’t care about clean houses and gourmet fare. TV trays and pizza are perfect! Laughing and telling stories is the stuff of intimacy and the foundation of hospitality. It also is the perfect setting for sharing dreams and visions and honest communication which raises another point.
Communication is a two-way process. Putting something in the bulletin or making an announcement involves only one direction and may or may not get the job done, but when you listen to what people think, it involves two directions and communication is much more likely to occur.
Maybe we should all listen to my grandmother’s advice: “God gave us two ears and one mouth Johnny so we need to listen twice as much as we speak.” The foundation of good leadership communication is listening as well as speaking.