Disagreements are never straightforward, but if we pretend that everything's okay, our relationships will suffer. When it comes to the church, conflict can threaten unity. The first step to healing is coming up with a church conflict resolution in a way that honors God and keeps agreement in mind. Conflict within your congregation will create toxicity and eventually lead to a hostile environment if left unhandled.
The good news is that acknowledging and dealing with conflict doesn't have to be complicated. There are ways to work through it that everyone can be happy with. But how? Keep reading to learn how to resolve your church conflict with these ten helpful tips on church conflict resolutions.
What Is Conflict Management in Church?
All leaders must have a conflict management strategy.
Remember that a church is just a group of people with a common interest in their faith. Like in all other groups of people, conflict will inevitably arise from time to time.
These conflicts can happen between churchgoers, staff members, or even yourself and someone else. You need to know how to manage these conflicts without causing more problems if you want the church to be a peaceful and safe place for everyone who chooses to spend time there.
A conflict-ridden church is sure to lose members. While you may lose members who are unable to be nice to others, you don't want to lose members who are victims of other people's behavior.
Conflict management means that you're going to step in to prevent and diffuse any conflicts, even if they include yourself.
Why Do Conflicts Start in Church?
Now that we’ve answered the question of what is conflict management in the church, it’s time to look into why conflicts start in the first place. There are plenty of reasons that conflicts can pop up. Again, a church is just a group of people. Just like disputes can arise at work, home, or school, they can arise at church.
Some conflicts between congregation members can happen due to a bossy church member, someone acting up, or even outside conflict (like relationship problems or family issues) that find their way into the church. Remember, you never know what issues people are dealing with when they're not at church, and they can bring those issues to events and services (even unintentionally).
When it comes to your staff, conflict can result from power struggles. Even though this isn't a traditional work environment, it's normal for people to feel dis-empowered or even eager for more control.
Sometimes conflicts arise simply because personalities clash. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but it still needs to be handled if you want to maintain a peaceful environment.
Can You Let Conflicts Resolve Themselves?
There are situations where it can be more prudent to stay on the sidelines and observe a conflict instead of stepping in right away. It's common for disputes to resolve themselves if they're minor, and it's a good idea to allow people to gain their church conflict resolution skills when it's appropriate for them to do so.
With this in mind, if a conflict is significant or if it's lasted for a long time, it's a good idea to step in (or seek outside help if you are part of the conflict). This is a situation in which you need to use your best judgment.
1. Set a Good Example by Modeling Christ
If you’re looking to understand how to resolve church conflict, the first thing you should do is look to Christ as an example. Remember that it's your responsibility to model Christ as a church leader. This should be something that you aim to do, even when you're not trying to resolve church conflict.
Being Christ-like is all about modeling kindness and compassion for others. It's about being a role model and setting an excellent example for the members and staff of your church to follow.
When you model Christ, you'll also avoid conflict between yourself and others. Even when problems arise, you'll have the self-control and understanding to move beyond them and express yourself in healthy ways.
You should also encourage your church to model Christ. After all, if they're not modeling Christ, how are they expressing and following their faith?
2. Include Church Conflict Resolution Content in Your Sermons
To educate your staff and congregation on modeling Christ, find ways to incorporate conflict resolution into your sermons whenever you start to detect problems.
What does the bible say about the consequences of anger and poor conflict resolution? What are the benefits of showing compassion instead?
When you include conflict resolution in your sermons, you indirectly address the entire group. This helps you avoid further conflicts, and staff or congregation members won't feel as though you're calling them out.
When people recognize how their behavior may not align with their faith, they may start to resolve conflicts independently.
3. Talk to Your Congregation as a Group (Directly)
If there's significant conflict within your church, you may have to address it more directly. While you should still try to set a good example and include it in your sermons, a heavier hand is sometimes needed.
Address the group kindly and mention, in a broad way, things that you've been noticing. Instead of leading with negativity, lead with positivity. For example, instead of saying that you're disappointed in lousy behavior, talk about how you're looking for ways to encourage better behavior and cooperation.
Again, by addressing the congregation and staff as a group, you'll avoid calling out anyone specific. This will be a common theme whenever we're discussing handling church problems. You never want to make someone feel inferior in front of the group or embarrass anyone inadvertently.
You can also do this in your church newsletter if you'd instead not address the problem aloud.
4. Learn Active Listening Skills
Do you and your staff already have excellent active listening skills? If not, you might find church conflict resolution challenging. When you display active listening, you show the other person that you care about them and their situation. You display compassion.
But what does active listening look like?
Make sure that you're acknowledging everything that the other person says. You don't have to give verbal responses, but even nodding your head and using filler words like "okay" and "really?" can be helpful.
When it's appropriate to do so, add your opinion.
Ensure that you're paying attention to the other person's body language. Sometimes the body will say more than the mouth can. You can easily spot discomfort or tension if you're attentive.
Do your best to avoid passing judgment, especially before the other person is done speaking. Let someone finish their story before trying to determine a solution.
Active listening will help you prevent and solve conflicts, so it's a crucial skill.
5. Don't Add Too Many Outside Parties
This can be tricky. When you're dealing with common church conflicts, it's in your best interest to involve as few outside parties as possible (though it's a good idea to apply at least one extra person, usually yourself, in most cases).
When there's conflict within a group, tensions are already high. Several people with varying opinions and problems need to be resolved. When you add more people, you add more conflicting views (even if the people are well-intentioned).
Adding one neutral third party is a great idea, and often you'll be that neutral third party when you're talking to church staff or congregation members. You're creating an environment where everyone can say their piece to someone listening without any bias.
If you add multiple people, you're adding numerous opportunities for things to go wrong.
Bonus tip: make sure that you brief people on conflict resolution strategies before adding them to a conflict situation. If you're unable to mediate a conflict, another staff member can do it, but you need to know that they're emotionally capable of doing so.
6. Provide (or go to) One-On-One Mediation
One-on-one mediation is often the best solution for conflicts within the church (or group mediation if the conflict is between more than two people). This allows you to hear everyone out and address their concerns individually while maintaining their privacy.
Most of the time, you'll be the best choice of mediator. Your congregation and staff members trust you, and they're more likely to listen to you or take your lead than any other member of the church.
If you have another person who's a delegated mediator, make sure they're up for the job. It's a good idea in your church conflict resolution to bring in a dedicated counselor for this purpose if you feel out of your depth.
If you're the person who's having conflict with a staff member or someone in the congregation, you should still go to mediation. This is another situation where it's a good idea to have someone at the church with plenty of experience with conflict resolution.
You may not have the ability to take a step back from your conflicts and view them with an unbiased eye. Have the humility to allow someone else to help you.
7. Set Actionable Goals
While you're mediating a conflict, make sure that you help the people in question set actionable goals for moving forward. These goals will vary depending on the conflict at hand.
So what should these goals look like?
Help the people in conflict determine what would make them feel better about the situation. What's the solution to the conflict?
This means that they simply won't speak to each other again for some people. While this isn't an ideal outcome, it's far better for people to reduce their contact than it is for them to be arguing.
For others, giving a specific timeframe of space is a great idea. This is a clear boundary that both parties can follow and reassess later on when they've had time to cool down.
For example, some people may need three months of space to get through a stressful time in their life before they're able to address the conflict again. When that time is passed, they may feel ready to reconnect.
If reconnection is the goal, what does that reconnection look like? Some people may want to have weekly mediation sessions until they're in a good place again. Others may wish to reconnect over activities or outings even if interactions are tense at first.
Help them set these goals and stick to them.
8. Start and End Conversations on a Good Note
If you’re looking to understand how to resolve church conflict, it’s important to end on a good note. No matter what you're discussing, conflict or otherwise, you should always do your best to end with a positive tone. Use the model of the "compliment sandwich" here (even though the context is different).
When you face a problem, you have to start it with an understanding that both parties will get to say their peace. You could, in theory, have them both start by saying something positive about the other person or the relationship as a whole.
This will get everything on the right track.
The middle of the conversation is going to be tricky. This is when people will discuss their problems with each other, and it's normal for emotions to run high.
Once both parties have had the opportunity to speak and you've done your best to meditate as a part of your church conflict resolution, be sure to end with more positivity. Have them say something kind or, if that's not possible, say something kind about them yourself.
9. Set Clear Intentions and Expectations
If you're trying to figure out how to deal with church conflict, sometimes it's best to set clear expectations instead of talking to people individually about their problems. This is helpful regardless of whether the conflict is amongst the church staff or the other churchgoers.
Talk to them about the kind of behavior that you expect to see. Don't threaten consequences. Instead, set boundaries.
This is more useful for conflict prevention. When people know what they're "supposed" to do ahead of time, they're less likely to get into conflict in the first place.
10. Introduce Fun Bonding Activities
Conflict resolution can happen outside of the mediation room, which is sometimes beneficial. While mediation is a valuable tool, try incorporating fun activities to control conflict further.
People often forget that they can have fun or bond with the other person they're in conflict with. When you arrange fun activities in which they're forced to collaborate, they might be surprised at how well they get along.
This will not work for everyone, and some conflicts are too deep (such as conflicts between former partners). That said, it's a great resource to add to your conflict resolution toolbox.