Dealing with Experts in the Pews
This article is about dealing with those folks in your church who feel called to offer their opinion although they have not been asked for it. For those of you who have not had anyone like that in your church, feel free to move along to the next article. For the other 99% of us, I hope to offer some help.
It’s probably happened at your church. Some well-meaning congregant walks up to the booth during service to offer a piece of audio mixing advice. Maybe you received some insight on the way you lead worship in an impromptu service debrief with someone from the pew. Possibly it happened through a note of “wisdom” via the offering plate in the form a “comment card”.
Unfortunately, most of the opinions we receive are from members of our congregation who feel that they are the experts. While these opinions freely offered tend to frustrate us and sometimes put us over the edge, they are typically offered by those who deeply care about their church. Let me offer a few suggestions on how to deal with these opinions, judgments, and appraisals.
Knowing why you do what you do as a church is important. Knowing why you do what you do, down to the last detail, in your services is just as important – from why the sound is at a certain volume decibel (you do have a sound pressure level meter at your sound console, right?) during worship to why you have your lyrics formatted a certain way on the projection screen. If there isn’t vision behind what you do then the “helpful” opinions offered on Sunday mornings will create more stress for you.
Take time to think through every element that is associated with your weekend worship service and consider why it is done that way. If the “whys” of those ways all lead back to the vision your church has for the worship service, you can continue to lead in confidence. If you don’t know why you are doing something it may be time to rethink it and determine if it lines up with the vision of the church. This may be another great opportunity to evaluate your service and continue to architect a meaningful worship experience.
This can’t be done in a vacuum. The vision has been set by your leadership which means they are ultimately responsible for that vision. Take time to discuss the “whys of the ways” you do things on the weekend with your leadership and staff. As the team sees that it all goes to support the vision of the church, it becomes each team member’s responsibility to communicate and lead in that way.
So when a member from the congregation does bring their opinion, not only can you articulate the vision, but when they continue to take that opinion to the next staff member they will soon discover your entire staff speaks with one voice and with the same vision.
Now that your staff understands the vision and the whys, that doesn’t mean that your entire congregation will catch on as quickly – even if your pastor communicates it from the pulpit. So when those opinions are offered, how do you handle them?
When you’re in the middle of the service and someone from your congregation approaches the tech booth, let the “highest ranking” staff or volunteer field the opinion. If it’s in the middle of the service, let them make their comment as quickly as possible. If you are approached after a service, pull the congregation member aside so other volunteers do not hear the opinion. Those volunteers have worked hard and given up their time to achieve the vision. Protect them from feeling like they are being criticized or walking away from the weekend discouraged. If you are the Tech Director or Worship Pastor, it is your job to take those “bullets” for your team.
Does your church offer a place in the bulletin for the congregation to offer their comment? Why? What’s the vision behind that? How many of those comment cards received don’t even have a name included on them. Get rid of it. If your congregation cares enough to offer their opinion, let them do that by coming to you or through another communication medium that allows you to have a conversation with them. Offer an email address or webpage where they can submit the opinion or comment, but requires them to include their email or contact information. This gives you the opportunity to reply with the vision of the church and lead them better.
The majority of the opinions you receive are probably from well-meaning individuals who love the church and care about you. Of course, after spending the week prepping for the services and working all weekend to pull them off, the last thing you want to hear is a perceived criticism about your work. The way you respond to them will determine the outcome of your conversation with them and may be an opportunity to have one more person from the congregation supporting you in what you do.
Listen to what they have to say. Allow them to be heard. Be gracious as you listen to what they are saying even though you don’t need to change it. Apologize for what offended them. Then offer a helpful alternative. This is the opportunity for you, once again, to communicate the vision for what you do in the services.
A vision for what you do in your worship services that supports your church vision and is supported by your leadership will provide you the best response to unsolicited opinions. Ensure that opinions expressed are directed to the appropriate leadership in a manner that allows them to respond to the opinions and provide vision. It’s our job to help the congregation keep the main thing the main thing and to do that in love – with mercy and grace.