By Tess Schoovhoven
The 1960s chandelier that hangs over the pews in Brainerd Baptist church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, keeps the seats directly underneath it empty because church attendees fear it will fall on them, but yet they don’t want to get rid of it.
Pastor Micah Fries knows if he were to try to take it down he would cause unnecessary division. So until immediate need arises, the chandelier stays and conflicts are avoided.
Situations similar to this one experienced recently by Fries often reveal the sometimes petty nature of opinions within the church.
In a recent episode of the Established Church podcast, hosts Micah Fries, Josh King, and Sam Rainer discuss what petty and trivial conflicts they have experienced in the church and some best practices for diffusing them.
Rainer, King, and Fries point out four things to consider when faced with a seemingly “petty” church member.
1. Emotional Investment
It is often the small things that church leaders may not realize hold emotional weight in their congregation’s minds. But is it those small things, Fries says, such as the chandelier, that when changed, can evoke strong emotional responses.
When leaders take into consideration the emotion that may be tied to certain decisions or physical structures in the church, they can better understand how to avoid petty conflict.
“Small things are tiny and insignificant but they will wear on you and they can completely disrupt things if you’re not careful,” Fries says.
Certain elements of church culture can hold a symbolic attachment for many church members. When experiencing seemingly petty attitudes it can be helpful for church leaders to consider that symbols matter too, according to King.
“Sometimes you have to make the distinction between something that is small and petty but symbolic,” King says.
3. Relational Capacity
When making change it’s crucial to evaluate the current state of the leader’s relationships with the congregation. If the relationships run dry there will be little room for change and petty conflict is more likely to arise over seemingly insignificant things.
“Make sure you’ve got some solid relational capacity before you go about pushing on emotional issues in the church,” Fries says.
Changing just for the sake of creating change is a bad philosophy, King says.
When changes are made the congregation wants to feel included in the decisions. It is helpful to find ways to communicate that assure church attendees that their concerns are being considered in both big and small decisions.
“Think it through, don’t change arbitrarily,” King says. “What they care about is being in the know. They don’t want to feel cut out. Understand the actual concern and speak to it.”
Connecting with the congregation can be done better when leaders are willing to take the time to explain their decisions and listen to the congregation’s responses, though they may seem petty.
“You get more leadership capital when you explain the change and what you’ve thought through,” King says. “Small things can make huge relational capital.”
Fries encourages leaders to commit to the long-haul approach when making changes in the church and dealing with trivial concerns.
Showing concern, listening, tweaking things and being content with slow, gradual change are critical to stewarding the changes you make in your church.
TESS SCHOONHOVEN (@TessSchoonhoven) is an intern with Facts & Trends and a recent graduate of California Baptist University.