What You Think Is a Communication Problem May Be a Sign of a Deeper Issue
Whenever our team at The Unstuck Group is working with a church, the staff team almost always mentions their problems with internal communication.
Over the years we have found that if you think you’re having an internal communication issue, it’s usually just masking a different problem.
In this episode of The Unstuck Church Podcast, Amy Anderson and I discuss what those root issues often are and how to solve them.
In this episode, we discuss:
6 issues often mistaken for a communications problem
Why systems lead to fewer (and better) meetings
Why having role clarity is the key to drama-free decision-making
How to simplify your communication channels
Join the Conversation:
Can you think of any other issues that seem to be a communications problem but are actually something else? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Use #unstuckchurch on social media to continue the conversation.
If you enjoyed this episode of The Unstuck Church Podcast, subscribe for more here:
Tony Morgan: 00:00 I’d like to take a minute before we get into the episode to invite you to join me this fall for one of our new Leadership Coaching Networks. Here’s why I do these: Everybody needs an outside set of eyes to help them take their next steps in their leadership. I mean even champion athletes have coaches. That’s why we have three network topics this fall, including The Unstuck Church, Unstuck Multisite and the brand new Unstuck Teams will be reviewing applications for these networks now through August 23rd, and you can learn more at the unstuck group Dot com slash coaching.
Amy Anderson: 00:50 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast. I’m Amy Anderson, and I’m here with Tony Morgan, and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck, and today we’re going to be talking about communication problems in the church.
Tony Morgan: 01:01 What, what? What did you say, Amy?
New Speaker: 01:03 We’re going to talk about communication issues that the church.
Tony Morgan: 01:06 Oh, communication problems. Oh, okay. All right. Then I’m ready.
New Speaker: 01:12 I know that this is a core common issue for church teams. It comes up, I think in every staffing and structure review that I do, and when churches say we have a communication problem. Tony, from your perspective, what type of communications are they describing?
Tony Morgan: 01:27 Yeah, so what we’ve found is it’s not typically the communication to the congregation. That’s the issue though, that sometimes it does pop up nor is it the communication to the broader community, so kind of like the promotion or marketing strategy to the community, trying to reach more people, but instead what the communication challenges is really about internal communications, communications within the team, whether that be staff leaders or key volunteer leaders, and I think as I’ve dug into this deeper, the real issue is this, that there is a sense that everyone doesn’t have all the information all the time. Now we’re going to come back to that statement because this, this may sound cold, but the reality is everyone can’t have all the information all the time. We’ll come back to that and so the natural reaction to this challenge then, because everyone doesn’t have all the information all the time is we just need to add another meeting with more people or send more email messages or add another bulletin board. I was in a church recently that had dozens of bulletin boards trying to communicate different things or send another text message. And so we think the answer to internal communications is more communications. That’s the assumption that if we have more communications it’s going to fix communications problem. And does that work? Absolutely. Not It. Yeah. In fact, I think what’s happening is we’re actually trying to tackle the wrong problem. Maybe. What do you mean by that? Well, uh, so, uh, I read a great article and I don’t know this guy, but this, this quote is gonna.
Tony Morgan: 03:23 It really points to what the issue is here actually, uh, points to why we don’t know what the issue is because our art Markman I think is his name and they are k m a n is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas. And this is his quote, when you ask someone questions about how they feel about their workplace, people can answer that pretty readily. Most people have a sense of whether they feel good or bad about their work and the company. But when you ask for more specific information about what is making them feel good or bad, people often grope around for a rationale that could explain their feelings. Whether it does explain them is hard to judge. And so here’s my sense of what we’re seeing. There’s something not healthy in the team, and people realize that it, it doesn’t feel good and everybody can identify something’s not right.
Tony Morgan: 04:19 It doesn’t feel good. It should be better. But then they start grasping for what the challenge is and what they latch onto first is its communications. We, we don’t, we don’t have, we don’t have all the information all the time. Uh, and so, um, that’s, uh, when churches feel like something’s not working, they’re not exactly sure what’s causing that feeling. So oftentimes they’ll blame it on communications. And again, if everyone had all the information all the time, we would feel better. But, I don’t think that’s the case.
New Speaker: 04:56 So if it’s not a communications problem, Tony, what’s the problem? I actually think it’s primarily a trust problem on the team. And so no one will say it out loud, but this is what everybody is thinking internally. Everybody doesn’t have all the information because they’re hiding something that I won’t like.
Tony Morgan: 05:20 And so let’s tease this out. Um, let’s say there’s some senior leadership team at the church and every Monday they meet behind closed doors for several hours and there’s a sense on the team generally that things aren’t healthy for whatever reason. The assumption is going to be those people are behind closed doors talking about stuff that’s going to hurt me, I think is the gist of it. In other words, they don’t trust the leadership. There’s something that’s not clicking on the team. There’s an unhealthy environment, there’s a lack of trust on the team. And so the assumption is if they’re meeting behind closed doors, they’re talking about stuff that is going to impact the rest of us, and it’s not going to be good. And so I think this is a case where there’s a, there’s an issue of distrust on the team and because there’s distrust, people lead with suspicion because they don’t have all the information and I accidentally did.
Tony Morgan: 06:32 So this does get, get to, uh, talk to Andy Stanley. I think it’s one of the best talks he’s ever done. Initially he did it for a staff team, but I think he shared this at some conferences. Then after that he did a talk called trust versus suspicion and we’ll share the link with the podcast notes. But here’s what Andy’s a shared on this topic. Often there are unexplainable gaps between what we expect people to do and what they actually do. And we choose what we place in those gaps. Our choices determine the integrity of the relationships we can choose to fill them with trust or suspicion. And so my, what I’m challenging church teams to consider is this, when there’s a meeting and information is being discussed and you don’t know what’s being discussed because you’re not in the meeting lead with integrity and believe the best.
Tony Morgan: 07:33 And lead with the expectation that the team is trying to accomplish God’s mission for your church and as a result of that, they actually want what’s best for you to help them accomplish the mission God’s called them to. But what we’ve learned, Amy, we, you and I have talked about the rule of eight. You can’t, as soon as you go beyond eight people in a meeting, it really, you can’t make decisions anymore. You can, you can gather more than eight people, a couple dozen people, 50 people. The team gets bigger. 100 people. I’m going to a staff meeting tomorrow for a church with over 100 people. And uh, and those types of meetings, you can’t make decisions anymore. You can share some information, you can cast vision, you can do some training, but you can’t make decisions about ministry strategy and future vision and things like this.
Tony Morgan: 08:28 People issues, things like this that senior leadership teams need to discuss. And so rather than assuming when that team gets together, they’re talking about bad things that are going to hurt people, lead with trust, that that team is trying to accomplish a great mission that God’s called the church too, and they actually want the best for you because they know that when you’re at your best, it’s going to help help the team and ultimately the church accomplish the mission God’s called them to. So lead with trust, believe the best, and actually if trust has eroded in a relationship, rather than assuming the worst and leading with suspicion, go directly to that person. It’s a biblical concept. Work it out. If there’s, if there’s pain in the relationship, if there is hurt there, go directly to that person and work it out rather than assuming that person’s trying to hurt you.
New Speaker: 09:26 That’s a really good reminder. Tony. Any other examples of problems that sometimes get labelled as communication problems?
Tony Morgan: 09:33 Yeah, so let me run through several of these in addition to the trust issue, which I again, I think that’s the biggest reason why teams communicate. We have a communication problem here. Here are several more. Sometimes they’ll say it’s a communications problem, but what it really is, it’s a lack of vision and strategy and so without clear vision or where the people just don’t know where the church is going in the future and how they’re going to get there and it leaves people guessing as to what they’re supposed to do, and so people will label that a communications problem. Sometimes we find it’s not a communications problem. It’s a complexity problem. The more you do, the more moving parts. There are every program, every, every event needs planning time, physical or virtual space, promotions, people, leadership, money and so on, and the more complexity there is, that obviously is going to increase the communication challenge as well.
Tony Morgan: 10:35 Sometimes we find it’s not a communication problem. It’s a systems problem. In other words, when churches don’t have appropriate systems, every decision requires a meeting because somebody has to come. They have to come together, talk about it and to decide what they’re going to do and the way you can avoid that is rather than meeting every time you have to make a decision is to make the decision once, and create a system and that way anytime that issue pops up again in the future, people can make the decision and move on down the road without waiting for you to meet. Sometimes we find it’s a communications problem because there’s not role clarity, and amy, I’m going to toss this one back to you because many times you are working with churches to align structure with their vision and strategy and part of what you do with teams is help them look at role clarity, but what do you see in churches and and how does this issue lead to communications challenges?
New Speaker: 11:38 Well, and this probably gets exacerbated when it’s a multisite environment because whatever lack of role clarity they had as a single site becomes even more obvious when they go to multisite. But it’s when people don’t know who gets to make what decisions, where do I have authority? They kind of know what they’re supposed to be doing, but they don’t have any idea where they can make a call and where they can’t. So it really comes down to lack of clarity around decision rights within their roles.
Tony Morgan: 12:04 Yeah. So again, role clarity sometimes is labeled a communications problem. And then the final one, I’ll share it today, uh, many times we find it’s not a communications problem, it’s just a lack of project management. And in today’s Day and age, churches need to have some solution that they’re using to track projects, projects and tasks. Our team uses a tool called Asana, A-S-A-N-A that’s a free commercial for the team at Asana. Other teams are using Base Camp. There’s Wrike, I think, and there are a number of other solutions out there, but in today’s day and age, goodness, with all the moving parts that are happening in churches, really church of any size needs to embrace some sort of solution like that where everybody can track what’s happening in the church. And you know, amy, again, we have a team of 25 people spread out throughout the country.
Tony Morgan: 13:05 Now, if I wanted to, I don’t need to do this, but if I wanted to, I could find what you’re working on today by just jumping into a sauna and looking at your task list. I don’t need to do that because I trust you to get your job done, exciting. You should take a look, but when you have a tool like that to track all of your key projects and initiatives and all the tasks and action steps that support those initiatives, then you don’t have to gather in a room to talk about what everybody needs to be working on because it’s already being tracked online for anybody to look at anytime they need to look at it. So again, I think many times, again, churches will look at, well, we have a communications problem. We have to gather more people for more meetings and as a result of that, and I’m actually an advocate. If you have a communications problem, you probably need less meetings,
New Speaker: 13:05 More email.
Tony Morgan: 14:07 No, no, not more email please.
New Speaker: 14:11 Hey, I just have to highlight that. Last point you made is gold. We should do a podcast on that one alone because I have yet to find a church that’s using a great project management system beyond like their communications team is maybe using base camp, but I think it’s just a foreign idea to plan out all that work and get it organized and moving forward in a system.
Tony Morgan: 14:32 Let’s circle back and do that sometime in the future. Amy.
New Speaker: 14:34 All right, well any final words?
Tony Morgan: 14:36 Yeah, so I promised we’d come back to this concern and the concern is this, everyone doesn’t have all the information all the time and again, that’s just… I think it’s a wrong expectation. If your goal is to grow your impact and reach more people with the good news of Jesus, you can’t also make sure everyone has all the information all the time because if that’s your goal, you have to choose to remain a very, very, very small church like probably less than 10 people. And even in my small group, I’ll just be honest, I don’t have all the information all the time with everyone in my small group. So if that’s your goal is for everyone to have all the information, you have to choose to be a very, very small church. And I’m here, I’m a great resource for you to consider is Larry Osborne’s “Sticky Teams” within that book.
Tony Morgan: 15:34 He, he describes the dynamics of church growth from small churches to midsize to large mega-sized churches. And many times we think all of these churches are just different sized versions of the same thing. And what Larry points out is, that’s not true. Actually. All of those churches have the same mission, but they are very different churches and a lot of it has to do with the dynamics of the number of people that are involved. And he goes through. And again, you just need to read it for yourself. He goes through a great analogy of describing these different size churches, uh, related to sports teams and he, he links a small church with being kind of like a track star, a midsize church, being golf buddies, a larger church being like a basketball team and a mega church being like a football team.
Tony Morgan: 16:35 A track star… you don’t even have to know what anybody else is doing because it’s a solo event. You’re basically competing against yourself. Uh, a golf group, a team, um, they, they get to golf together. Again, you’re still kind of focused on your own game, but the great thing with golf is you’re sharing relationship too. And so you have 18 holes of conversation and then the 19th hole, which can be fun too depending on whether you’re a baptist or not, I guess. And then you move to a basketball team, and the basketball team is interesting because there are only five people on the floor. The rest of the team is watching the folks that are playing, the five people on the floor, uh, each of them knows what the other person is doing both on defense and offsets, but there’s more, it’s more of a team effort now at this point.
Tony Morgan: 17:30 And so the communications and the knowledge base looks a little bit different once you get onto a basketball team and then you get to a football team. And I love football. It’s really amazing though. You actually have separate teams with separate coaches. You have an offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, a special coordinator, and even within those teams, every position has a different coach to coach them on what they need to do on their position, and the funny thing is if you watch a football game, half the team is not watching the game. In fact, the defense huddled back behind the sideline talking about what they’re going to do when they’re going to get on the field. They have no idea what the offense is doing and this is what happens when the church grows. As you’re going to, in order to win games, in order to win football games, you have to focus on your position and do your position well, and then when all of everybody does their position well, all of that combined effort wins.
Tony Morgan: 18:32 Football Games. Now the Cleveland Browns don’t know that yet. That’s my team. I think they’re one in 32 or 31 or something like that over the last few. Yeah, it’s awful. The Cleveland Browns don’t know that, but every winning football team knows that. The same thing happens in, in great growing healthy churches too. When you get, when you start reaching more people for Jesus because you’re spreading the Gospel and it’s impacting people’s lives, you absolutely can’t know all the information all the time. You can’t do that, and that’s a sign that you’re actually winning. So that’s the last take on on having communications problems in the church. Amy,
Amy Anderson: 19:21 All I can think about now is the upcoming football season. I know training camp starts this this month. Yeah. Well thank you, Tony. Thanks for talking to us about communications and thanks to you, our listeners for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts so that you don’t miss an episode, and we’d love to hear your thoughts and your comments on this topic of communication. So join the conversation on social media using #unstuckchurch. Finally, you can learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get unstuck at theunstuckgroup.com.