In our churches, we typically are drawn to complaints, many times responding to them as best we can.  Sometimes this is necessary and sometimes it is not.  It’s up to leadership to know the difference. When a large church I served for many years did a survey of our members, we discovered our happiest and most contented members were the older long-term members. I was surprised because that was often where the most complaints came from. They weren’t unhappy, they just complained about change and occasionally the weather.

Complaints are a terrible way to evaluate where we are as a church. This is why metrics are so important; worship attendance, giving, professions of faith, the effectiveness of our outreach and mission, the expansion of small groups, the stories of life transformation and outreach. These are how we evaluate success.  If these metrics are strong, we are probably going in the right direction.

On the other hand, when people are constantly saying “I don’t know what’s going on? This might be a more serious problem and a forecast of a troubled future for the church. This often means people are feeling disconnected, losing a connection with the life and mission of the church. It can mean the church is moving in a direction they don’t know and aren’t following, or they don’t know how to engage with and follow. They may feel like they are being left behind. Guests may not be able to take a next step and then they get lost in the shuffle. We are probably not communicating and connecting like we need to do.

Communication is hard, hard, hard to do in a church, and difficult in a church of any size. We can think we are doing this when we are not. 

Many churches discovered this well in the COVID season.  People often just wanted to know what was going on in their church, what was next, and how they could connect or stay connected. If they were saying “I don’t know what is going on”, then the church was probably in trouble or going to be in trouble. Some of our churches lost people for this reason when they did not have to.

Of course, communicating includes celebrating the basic mission and vision of the Church.  But it also includes the when, where, why, what, and even who of events, worship, ministries, missions, programs, etc.  This is a crucial piece of a successful church. It not only helps people connect, stay and get involved, but it helps everyone see and know the real vision and mission of the church. Who is in charge of this, leading this, what is this staff person responsible for, what do they do and can I or should I know how I can engage with them? Mission statements don’t tell the real story of the church, it is what the church is and isn’t doing.  People aren’t involved in the mission statement until they are involved in the mission.  They usually want to be but are not sure how.  They might need help and might want to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ, but they usually won’t till they have clarity on where that opportunity might happen for them.

I can’t tell you how many times I read an article and wondered “what time is it, where is it, and would I be welcomed there," because the note assumed I knew all that.  If that type of communication goes on for a while, people just disengage or drop out.  Life is complicated enough.

I believe most of the time a few complaints don’t matter very much, but “I don’t know what is going on,” that can matter a lot. The ones who are saying that care about the church enough to want to know how to connect. Let’s give them a chance.

Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth