The worse church conflicts generally start out with just a few unhappy, unreasonable people. Something sets them off and they start talking. And then they start recruiting. And they keep talking and amping each other up.
It is like a scene from an old western. A few guys are drinking their beers and the next thing you know they are heading out to lynch someone. They march over to the jail and soon the whole town is behind them waiting to see what happens. The few, against all reason and every rule, demand the sheriff turn the prisoner over to them so they can do what is right. Only it is happening in your church and you are the one they want.
When there are 30 or 40 upset congregants, it might be too late. One church I worked with had 27. We saved that church. Another had 50 or more and they claimed 90. That church didn’t fare well, nor did the pastor.
Mostly these folk meet privately. Often they meet under the guise of a bible study or fellowship. This is their base of operations. It will get back to you that they are meeting. You will know those attending. You will know who is making unreasonable demands of you. Please pay attention.
In truth, these groups are dealing in coercive gossip. They tell their stories with little evidence and no accountability. They do it to exercise power over their target (the pastor) and to build bonds with their recruits. Gossip is often thought of a means that the target loses power while the gossiper gains power. At it’s worse it can be considered workplace violence.
Next Steps: Are you aware of small groups if antagonists meeting to discuss the “problems” in your church? Is there merit to their concerns?
How could you reach out to them? Would that be safe?
How are you managing gossip in your church? Have you talked about gossip from the pulpit? Have you talked about it during leadership training? Have you included discussions of coercive gossip during talks of about church conflict and church unity? Is there clear policy about coercive gossip in your church handbook?
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