Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creating a Complaint-Free Church

Complainers abound. They are in families, offices, parks, classrooms, etc. They are the Debbie Downers of any group. For the most part, they are easily identifiable and their words are easy to brush off. Especially when there is a pattern. Let's be honest. Everyone knows who they are. And we often have nicknames for them. People say things like, "Oh yeah, that's just Bad News Bill" or "It looks like Connie Complainer strikes again." We've all seen this play out in our lives. So we ususally know how to bypass or avoid their negativity.

But complainers in the church are a whole different breed. They seem more free to...well...complain. One of my professors from seminary once said, "If people complain at their jobs, they get fired. If people complain in their families, they get divorced. But if people complain in the church, they still have to be loved. So they save their negativity for church." Sad yet true. Obviously, complaining is easier to do when people have to love you despite your negativity.

Some church complaints include: "I didn't like those hymns." "You spelled a word wrong in the bulletin." "The music was too fast (or slow or loud or quiet)." "The sermon was too long (or short or boring or exciting)." "There were too many (or too few) kids in worship." "That worship service was too long (or short or dry or showy)." The list goes on and on. After working hard to plan, prepare, and lead worship, these complaints can be tiring for pastors. Plus, to make matter worse, compliments are often few and far between. In fact, one pastor told me this: "When people aren't complaining, they are giving you high praise. They may never say 'Good job!,' but that's what a polite smile after worship typically means." So if you're looking for overt validation or frequent compliments, you might not want to be a pastor. At the same time, however, even thick-skinned pastors can get worn down by complainers.

One of the most destructive kind of complainers in the church are the "save-and-unload" types. They save up ammunition for months, carefully memorizing every negative thing they can muster. Then they send the pastor an e-mail full of negative comments. Or they trap you in a corner and give you a lecture about all the things that are wrong with the church. Or most destructively, they pass along their criticisms to someone else to tell you (anonymously, of course). In all of these cases, these complaints are unhelpful, unhealthy, and counterproductive. There is no discussion. No dialogue. No resolution. No healing. No plan. It's just a laundry list of complaints that the pastor is supposed to hear and validate. Responses other than the validation of the complaints would look defensive. So, these situations require pastors to be loving-yet-boundaried.

Pastors need to set boundaries with folks. Anonymous complains are inappropriate. Long lists of complaints are inappropriate. Saving complaints over a long period of time is inappropriate. The list could go on and on. The boundaries needed in a church can be established through sermons, prayers, newsletter articles, adult education, book studies, empowering lay leaders who are attentive of such dynamics, etc. The important thing is to be assertive and proactive when establishing and teaching these boundaries.

Pastors also need to encourage healthy communication in the congregation. Direct communication is expected. Open communication is expected. Dialogue is expected. Respect is expected. Christian love is expected. The list could go on and on. The healthy communication needed in a church can be established through modeling, sermons, prayers, adult education, book studies, etc. The important thing is to be assertive and proactive when establishing and teaching healthy communication.

Something can (and should) be done about complainers. They need to be stopped before they stop the joy of the congregation.

One more thought for today. The next time somebody complains, validate their complaint. Then ask them to list two positive things they see in whatever they are complaining about. It might just make 'em think differently!

Perhaps we should all work on not complaining. Wouldn't the world (and church) be a better place?! Well, there are people all around the world who are trying to kick the habit of complaining. It's being led by a Kansas City pastor. Click here to check out Rev. Bill Bowen's plan to build a complaint-free world. The video of his appearance on the Today Show is posted below. The basic idea is to try to go 21 days without complaining. For the people who are able to do this successfully, the result is increased happiness. This sounds like something that would benefit everyone. May happiness abound!

What are your thoughts on complaints, complainers, and/or creating a complaint-free world?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to organize your thoughts in this blog. I'm a Pastor of Worship in a church that has had a blended service with choir and orchestra for the last 18 years. I was here at the inception of the ministry. However, there is a noticeable change in the demographics of our congregation. After several moral failures among staff members, the church has taken some hard hits which resulted in nearly a 1000 person decline. Recognizing that we need to be a church that is reaching the lost, we realized that we needed to be a little more relevant to the culture around - specifically regarding music. In our current culture, horns that used to be the definition of cool "Chicago", are now thought of to be old-fashioned. We're not the kind of church that operates on the fact of "we have to be like _____ in order to reach the world. After meeting and discussing with the staff, we determined that we needed to make some modifications in our worship ministry so that the sound might be a little more current. Therefore, we have opted to have the choir and orchestra lead every other week and on the alternate weeks, we have a worship band with a small group of singers.

    The greatest disappointment that I have known at this church has come about since these changes have taken place. I never realized that my church was so unwilling to change. We clearly have a segment of people that have come from the "General Association of Regular Baptist Churches" and they are about as stuffy, stodgy and judgmental as they come. Legalism seems to be associated with every thought they have when referring to the church...especially worship.

    Recently, there have been more complaints about the "worship" than ever before in the history of this church. One person (65 year old woman from GARBC background) left me a voicemail message telling me she hates the worship at our church and that she likes the message as does her neighbor but her neighbor won't come to church because of the music. She goes on and on and on. Yes...she got my dander up because I know she's talking to others and causing division. However, it made me realize how much people are consumed with me, me and more of me. "I" don't like the music. "I" think the music is too loud. "I" think we should be doing this or that. One thing that I hope to be able to do with a loving and gentle spirit (please pray for me) is to let her know that first and foremost, our worship - whether it's singing, a sermon, praying, etc. it isn't for's for God. Perhaps we have suddenly allowed ourselves to worship the god of self instead of the God of all gods and most people don't even realize it.

    I truly have a desire and heart for our church to worship and get along. Recently, I have encouraged others to read through Revelation 5 and 6. I don't think it is going to be quiet when we gather around the throne. I can even imagine that we may be dancing - if nothing else because our souls won't be able to contain the joy of being in the presence of the Lord.

    Thanks again for your blog. It has served as an encouragement to me today!