How to Best Serve Someone Who is Mad at the Church

If you’ve ever received a call or email from someone who is mad at the church, you know how challenging those conversations can be for both sides. Since people tend to be quite sensitive about money issues, working in the Finance department of a ministry gave me several opportunities to handle those situations. As I fielded inquiries from people who were upset at the organization, I had the chance to serve them and try to correct any issues. As a leader in your church, you’ve probably run into similar situations. While these moments can be uncomfortable, they provide opportunities to serve someone who is mad at the church (and hopefully change that situation).

One instance I encountered stands out in my memory. I spoke with a mom who was understandably upset with us. We’d made a data entry error that led us to believe her daughter’s account wasn’t paid in full for a trip she’d signed up to attend. In addition, another department had lost an important document she needed for the trip. Ouch.

 “How can I trust you with my daughter when you can’t get these smaller issues right?”

Yep, I had an unhappy momma on my hands. Now, I couldn’t blame her one bit for being upset. After all, we’d made the mistakes – and they weren’t insignificant ones either. Based on this, and other similar situations, I developed an approach to serve and correct issues that came up.

5 Steps to Serve Someone Who is Mad at the Church:

#1 – Listen

The mom I spoke with was upset and needed to vent. More importantly, she deserved to be heard. So, while trying not to take things personally, I listened as she took out her frustrations on me. Likewise, give the individual you’re talking with the chance to vent. Listen to honor this person and be empathetic. If this individual feels hurt by the church or is upset at how church leadership handled a situation, you need to understand why to be able to serve him (or her).

Once you sense this part of the conversation is winding down, it’s time to move to the next step.

#2 – Apologize

In my situation, that went something like this: “Mrs. Smith, I am so sorry. We messed up and you shouldn’t have to be dealing with this at all. I completely understand why you’re frustrated with this situation.”

You might not be the staff member who made the mistake or the decision this individual feels hurt by. However, you represent the church to this person (or were the first staff member he could find). Offering a heartfelt and sincere apology breaks down a few walls. It tends to make the other person feel valued, understood, and heard. That’s a big deal and will go a long way towards fixing the situation.

#3 – Make it right

In my example, I told the mom: “I’ve had our team research the check you sent and we’ve found it in our database. It was credited to the wrong account, but I have Susan fixing that right now. I’ll send you the updated report within the hour. Also, I’ve had our team looking for the document, and since we haven’t located it yet, here’s what we can do to get an alternate ready so your daughter can proceed on the trip.”

You might not have an immediate answer or resolution in every scenario. That’s okay. However, you do need to tell the person who brought a concern to you that you’re going to do something about it.

#4 – Own the situation

“I will personally see this through to make sure we fix these issues. Here’s my direct number and email address if you have any questions. I’ll call you as soon as I have the updated report and the document replaced.”

Whether it’s an upset parent calling about an issue with the upcoming youth trip, a volunteer frustrated by a lack of communication, or a fellow staff member whose purchase request got lost in the shuffle, you’re likely to deal with the occasional irate individual.

You may not have been the person who made the mistake that led to the phone call. You may not be able to fix it by yourself. However, the person who called doesn’t know (or even care) about those details. Maybe he should, but he doesn’t so be prepared to take the hit and still respond in love.

#5 – Release your tension

The final step to this process is to find a way to release the tension these conversations create. I’ve had busy seasons with several similar situations to handle and the emotions built up. That lead to me being stressed, exhausted, and upset that I had to deal with the aftermath of mistakes I hadn’t even made. You need to figure out what works for you, but taking a walk or venting to a confidant (keeping names out of it, of course) helps me.

Hopefully, you don’t have to use these steps often. However, this will help you best serve those who are mad at the church. When you listen, apologize, and commit to fixing the issue, people will appreciate and respect your commitment to them. That goes a long way towards developing stronger relationships, leading people to Christ, and making disciples.

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