communication habits

The Seven Worst Communication Habits for Church Staff

Orginally published on Sunday, May 20, 2007 at 7:00 AM
by Todd Rhoades

I recently ran across a secular leadership article by Jamie Walters titled "The Seven Worst Communication Habits." According to Jamie, "The big seven worst habits of communication are bad enough when they happen occasionally. They become "big and bad" when they’re practiced habitually. And they do, ultimately, exact a cost, whether it be in miscommunications, lost projects, lowered productivity, missed opportunities, or poor relationships." As I was reading, I began to think that these are the same bad communication habits that creep into church staff life and relationships…

Here are the top seven. How many might have caused a problem for you in the past week?

1. Contacting others only when you need something.
Is there someone in your life that you hear from only when they need something? Are you like me and find that annoying? Jamie says that this type of person "routinely surfaces when they're job hunting, when they've got a problem, when they need a reference, and when they want ideas from you." When they don't need anything, they don't call you. As a matter of fact, this person might not even return your calls or emails when you try to contact them.

QUESTION: Do you as a church leader only contact people when you need them to do something for you or the church? If so, you run the risk of making people feel 'used'.

FIX: If you feel guilty of this communication habit, make a list of people that come to mind and make contact with them this week. Ask for nothing; just touch base. They'll appreciate the contact!

2. Not following up, or closing the loop.
Ever given a gift and not received a thank you? Has someone promised to let you know the outcome of a certain meeting or conversation, but you never heard back from them? This type of person simply is not closing the loop or following up with you. This is a vitally important communication skill.

QUESTION: Is there anyone in your ministry that you recently promised to get back with or follow-up with that you haven't?

FIX: Contact that person this week and close the loop. They'll love the fact that you did follow-up.

3. Not returning telephone calls or email messages.
How frustrated do you get when you're trying to get ahold of someone and they simply don't return your call or email? Actually, this is a pretty common occurance, but it still is a very bad communication practice. It should be your goal to quickly acknowledge and return each phone call, email and note that you receive. (This is an especially hard one for me... this morning, I have almost fifty emails that I need to respond to (some from the middle of last week! (GUILTY!) It's hard not to fall behind!)

QUESTION: What pink telephone message slip do you still have on your desk? What emails have been sitting in your 'inbox' waiting to be replied to?

FIX: Take a few moments and clear your desk and your in-box. Your quick response will help you gain credibility in your communication.

4. Foregoing basic courtesy.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a nasty email or phone call? Ever felt snubbed by someone? Do you know anyone who you feel is downright rude? This type of person may be self-absorbed; they may feel entitled to have a bad attitude; or maybe they just don't know better. But you know that when you come into contact with them, it's a real turn-off.

QUESTION: Is there anyone that instantly comes to mind that you've been 'discourteous' to? Maybe someone you avoided (obviously) at church yesterday; maybe someone you were short with; maybe someone you were just rude to?

FIX: You know the fix. Make it right with that person. Apologize for your behavior and do your best to get that relationship back on track. The lack of basic courtesy is a real communication stopper in ministry... and it happens much too often.

5. Not listening.
This is something we probably all need to work on. How many times are we so concentrated on things that are important to us that we fail to listen to others? Jamie says, "One hallmark of poor listening is that a person won't ask any questions. Another hallmark is that he or she might repeatedly paraphrase incorrectly, or "put words in your mouth" that you neither say nor agree with. On an interpersonal level, poor listening skills result in miscommunications, lost opportunities, lower productivity due to mistakes or redundant efforts, employee turnover, and other costly scenarios."

QUESTION: Did you catch yourself "zoning" yesterday while someone was talking to you? Have you had a conversation lately where you really don't remember what the other person was saying? Do you find yourself thinking of what you're going to say next rather than listening?

FIX: Work hard this week on listening and 'being interested' in what people are saying to you... (yes, even if you're not!) Ask questions. Re-state back to people what they are saying. Most of all... adjust your attitude so that you make listening a priority.

6. Telling lies.
Pastors and church staff people telling lies? Hopefully not blatent ones, I hope. But how many times do you tell 'little lies' to keep from hurting someone's feelings? And does any instance come to mind where you may have slanted the truth for your own gain?

QUESTION: Do you ever play with the truth? Do you shade a story or situation differently depending on who you're talking with? Do you withhold parts of the truth in order to sway people to your side?

FIX: Stop playing games with the truth. As the psalmist said "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; Keep watch over the door of my lips (Ps. 141:3 NIV)

7. Spewing chronic negativity.
It's easy to be negative, especially if you're in a bad situation. But leadership requires that we step above the petty negativeness of our situation. Being negative, especially with the wrong people is a leading vision-killer.

QUESTION: Do you find yourself constantly being negative? Is your negativity affecting others?

FIX: Refer again to Ps. 141:3. Rather than dwell (and comment) on the negative, try to find solutions or speak positively about the situation.

There you have it... seven of the worst communication habits we go up against each day. The questions and fixes given are much easier to write down and type out than they are to live. Let's all try to pick one or two areas of weakness this week and try to improve.

FOR DISCUSSION: Which of these areas do you have the biggest problem with? Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever suffered greatly because of one of these seven areas? Please feel free to share in the conversation!

This post has been viewed 10177 times so far.

 TRACKBACKS: (2) There are 29 Comments:

  • Posted by

    Great article - though I think you missed a very important one.  I’ve found this in EVERY ministry I’ve worked in.  Passive-aggressive leaders/people.  People who beat around the bush and never outright ask something.  Later, if what they wanted you to do isn’t done (which wasn’t clear in teh first place), the blame comes out, but it’s usually in a very vague and passive way that leaves the hearer in the dark.

    Also, another communication-killer is the person/leader who does not trust co-workers/employees:  continually checking up (several times a day) on something they asked you to do, even after it’s been accomplished and they have been made aware of that fact.

  • Posted by

    I think the greatest one is the lack of follow up from church search committees. Many of them do not take even the slightest step to inform an applicant that they were not considered. The vast majority of the time you simply don’t hear a word. It is particularly miffing when a position is filled and they do not inform the posting host and you spend money and effort on something that is not there.

  • Posted by

    What do you do about the pastor who communicates effectively at church, but recluses at home with passive, self-absorbed behavior? Why can it be justified in a pastor’s mind that he only has to communicate well with others and not his wife?

  • Posted by bernie dehler

    Article sounds like good common sense.


  • Posted by

    I can understand Rev. De Saverino’s frustration but can I share some thoughts from the other side?  I have a very large staff and when I have an opening, I may receive 100-200 resumes.  Some do not meet the requirements that I list with Church Staffing and with 100-200 resumes it is hard to contact each one to say we are not interested in them for a position.  The larger the church the more responsibility that falls on the senior pastor. 
    Just another perspective.

  • Posted by

    Re: Larry’s concern aboutletting people know when they are not being considered for a position or the position is filled - Why not send and e-mail to all 199 who did not get the consideration/job, thanking them for their interest and letting them know the position is filled or you’ve stopped accepting resumes?
    Re: Sally’s frustration
    It is sad when pastoring is only a job and caring and nurturing of family members at home is not a priority.

  • Posted by Lorna

    I think it’s great the article gives ‘do this now’ challenges. Churches are often places well-known for bad communication and it would be wonderful if we’d turn that around wouldn’t it?

  • Posted by Ken

    Great Post.  I really love number 3, not returning emails and phone calls.  I understand not debating every critic, but there is really no excuse to not return emails or phone calls.  Church size does not matter.  It doesn’t even have to be the pastor that returns the calls and emails.  The message that most people get from this is that the pastor thinks he/she is too important to answer me.  If you are a very large church, that is where a good personal assistant comes in.  They can respond for you in many cases and it will let people know that their questions will be taken care of.

  • Posted by

    This article is great admonishment.  In my experience working with volunteers, number’s 1 and 2 are VERY common.  I can’t count the times people have told me, “I filled out a card to help with _____, and no one ever called me.” Or, the only contact a volunteer has from the leader is when we need to know if he/she is planning to sign up again next year.

    I’d also add another; using general/impersonal communication when personal communication is needed.  An “I appreciate you” form letter never works like a personal note, or better yet, a cup of coffee at the Starbucks near the church.  A bulletin insert or platform announcement isn’t an invitation to serve – it is nothing more than a way to disseminate information.  Did you ever feel “personally invited” to a party by an add in the local paper?


  • Posted by Ken in Jersey

    BEST ADVICE I’VE RECEIVED: (Re)read every email you send before you send it! An email is not like a phone call, and the tone/message can be easily misconstrued. I’ve found that when I re-read my email before I send it, I tend to make several changes...and have far fewer regrets.

    Also: Don’t email when you should call. Choose wisely.

    And regarding search committees: I agree with the concern expressed above, and think there’s very little excuse for it (though I can understand not prioritizing informing people who didn’t both to carefully read the qualifications). I don’t think it makes a difference whether you are pastoring a large or small church: a pastor of a large church may have more people to manage, but a pastor of a small church has more to do himself since he doesn’t have the staff support.

    Hope this helps. Good discussion!

    Another Ken

  • Posted by Tony Myles

    On the negative stuff, here’s another good question to ask:  Are you the one when a new idea is proposed quickly talking about how “the people” will resist it?

  • Posted by

    To Another Ken (how’d we get so many this week?)

    Ken you said: “Also: Don’t email when you should call. Choose wisely.”

    Brother, this is excellent advise!!  With technology, we tend to ignore folks who are not 21st century savy.  Also, church staff tend to send emails on Friday afternoon and many folks do not bother checking email on the week-end.  (wish I were 1) I cannot tell you how many times I have had the “They sent you an email just Friday.” conversation on Sunday after services and gotten, “Oh!  I seldom check email over the week-end. I wish they had called me.” !!  :>(

    Communicating with staff (volunteer/vocational) is too important to leave it dangling when ministry hangs in the balance.  We can all do a better job and this article has helped remind us of that.  Thanks Todd :D

    Because He Lives.

  • Posted by

    I am a lay person and enjoy working in the church. My wife works every other surday with the Pre-Kindergarten students.  (We do not have a student in any class, our children are grown) Now the comment:  We are members and have gone to this church for 5 years.  NEVER RECEIVED A PHONE CALL OR HAD A CONTACT WITH A PASTOR WHERE THE PASTOR INITIATED THE CONVERSATION. I should say pastors because we are a several thousand attendees on Sunday.  There are many , like over 100, employees.  I understand the pastoral staff can’t make contacts to all the thousands.  WOULD THEY CONTACT US IF WE QUIT SENDING OUR MONTHLY CHECK?  Maybe that would be a great experiment.  I actually am not as bitter as I sound, I am just expressing a “crowd” perspective.

    Forget the bulletins, emails and newsletters.  Do you contact people in your church?

  • Posted by


    You express a “not really bitter” observation of many church members.  But I have a question.

    Have you had conversations with the pastoral staff person who leads the ministry in which you serve?  In a large church, your “pastor,” should be the one who equips you and disciples you for ministry, the leader of the area in which you serve.  If your area of ministry is also large (I imagine it is with a staff of 100+), you might not have regular conversations with “your pastor,” but I would hope that you feel much more relationally connected to him/her than you do the senior pastor.

    Just wondering - Wendi

  • Posted by

    Greetings in Jesus!

    Brother Harold, I feel what you are saying.  This is more than communications ... this is relational. 

    Assoc. Pastors must “shepherd” as well as administrate departments of the ministry.  Wendi asked a pertinent question for a ministry the size you described, but if the department pastor only communicates for ministry activity purposes and never “shepherds” the volunteer staff, then “crowd perspective” is all too real!

    This is exactly why Jethro advised Moses as he did.  A ministry the size of your church, requires small groups for shepherding.  Notice what Jethro said to Moses, he asked: “what is this thing that you are doing to the people?” (Ex. 18:14ff; KJV) This is a challenge for ministries to be sure, but necessary to keep the sheep healthy & happy.  Wendi’s point is very significant though, our volunteer staff (sheep) must be willing to accept shepherding from the assoc. shepherds, as Jethro advised.

    Brother Harold, to answer your question, yes we contact our people and have a process established to help us.  But, yes, we blow it also.  There is always room to improve and thank you for bringing this to the table.

    Because He Lives

  • Posted by

    One more thing about that Harold.

    Your comments show challenges in two areas. One is that an expectation has been developed in Western Christianity that the pastor is the minister and the people aren’t. The pastor is the equipper and the people do the ministry. That’s the Ephesians 4:11-13 thrust. (As far as keeping your check to see if a pastor notices… if the church has good accounting principles and good financial stewardship, the pastor has no idea how much individual members give… I don’t...)

    The other side is what too often happens to me. I get so wound up in the “tasks” of ministry that I forget that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the PEOPLE… Some of your pastors might fall into that trap, as I do, from time to time. I am developing, very recently, some action steps to help me course-correct on an ongoing basis when this happens. Thankfully, my people give me lots of grace, especially when I’m honest and vulnerable about this particular “ministry trap.” (Best indicator of this is Point 1 above: When I’m the worst in this area, I’m the most guilty of that.)

    But if your church is really big (even just 1000, in my experience), it is impossible for a pastor to make regular meaningful contact with everyone. That’s what small groups are for.

  • Posted by Ken in Jersey

    Having served in churches of all sizes (from 5000 to 50 and in between) I see the advantages of every size. I must say that I’m taken aback by someone choosing to attend a rather large church (1000+) and then expressing exasperation that the pastor does not make contact. I would highly recommend attending a smaller church. There are many pastors who would be excited to have some people attend who are eager to work.


    More about “DON’T EMAIL WHEN YOU SHOULD CALL.” The main application for me as a minister is, just because someone emails you doesn’t mean your response should be via email. It might be that the matter they have addressed is much better handled more personally, with a phone call. Or it may simply be that you haven’t had a chance to talk to this person in a while and a call would be nice. Or, it might simply save time to call—since whenever you email you should re-read you email and be careful to not accidentally give offense ;;-) I’ve done this before because a sticky issue is much more kindly and efficiently handled when you don’t have to worry about how something comes across in print.

    Another Ken Again

  • Posted by Judy

    Great article and advice. These are things that not only can our pastors take notice of, but can also be applied in our person and business lives. Thank you for sharing and making us more aware of ourselves.

  • Posted by Leonard

    When someone comes into the church expecting to be taken care of they subtly and not so subtly expect the pastor to call, connect, care and comfort.  I think this is the role of the body not the pastor.  These expectations create communication expectations that simply overwhelm pastors.  I had a family leave because I did not return a call in a couple days.  I did call in less than a week but they wanted it to be immediate.

    I tell my church that I never really prepare to feed them, since that is their job.  I prepare to lead them, equip them, train them in how to feed themselves and build a self sustaining relationship with Christ.  I had a family leave recently because, even though they got calls from 8 different people, the right person sis not call them. 

    Some of the errors are true errors but they come with such unreal expectations that cannot possibly be met that disappointment is bound to happen.  So if you come to my church, know I expect you to feed yourself and if you don’t know how, we will show you.  I expect you to show up on Sunday Morning full so you can serve with a heart that overflows.  I expect you to be your brother’s keeper and I expect you to grow.  This way those who come into the body hurting, in need of care, in need of help and not knowing how to grow will have more examples than just a pastor on a platform who cannot possibly meet all the expectations of the church.  My rant is over.  I got to go make a call.

  • Posted by

    I agree with many things said here and have seen first hand how the lack of communication can kill a staff and a church. 

    However, as far as the church responding to every resume, I am ok if they don’t let me know anything if I am one of the 100-200 but if they contact me and say I am one of ten or even have a interview or two and then don’t follow up, that is frustrating.  I found out that one church had hired someone for the position from a group email that I receive.

  • Posted by

    Leonard and Peter do a better job of making the point I tried to make.  However, I do believe that members of a faith community need to receive love and care from the church, especially during difficult seasons in life.  But our problem is that we think the care-giving needs to come from THE pastor.  Not only does it not need to come from THE pastor, it doesn’t even need to come from a staff member.  IMO, the role of the primary shepherds is simply to see that there are processes and people in place to see that the flock is cared for by someone, preferably someone with shepherding and encouragement gifts. 

    Those who think they haven’t been appropriately cared for unless and until a pastor calls them are missing the correct biblical image of the body of Christ. 

    And I agree with Peter that pastors shouldn’t know who gives what.  But there is a subtle indication in the question (would they call me if I stopped giving), of a misunderstanding about the gift.  We don’t give our offerings to the church, we give them to the Lord.  Our gifts don’t “buy” us the right to expect anything.  That said, it is reasonable to expect that the ministry of our church is bearing fruit, and stewardship questions are reasonable questions to ask.  However, if we ever ask questions that seem to imply we’re attempting to use our giving as leverage, then we have obviously missed the point – it isn’t our money, it’s God’s.


  • Posted by Wayne Cook

    Sally—You and your husband may need to talk with someone who is trained to help couples...the first and worst step to destroying a marriage is usually communication.  It sounds like you may have more going on that is not on the table so you can discuss it.  It is aa common problem...husband works all day in a very public ministry...gets tired of communicating and handling issues, etc...comes home and wants to get away from it all...wife yearns for friendship and relationship with her “love”...he clams up and relaxes...she fusses and pushes him to take part in the family...vicious cycle.

    Pastors, let’s not forget that our marriage is more important than our ministry at church...what will we gain if we win the world and lose our home?  If there are children in the home, you have even more of a problem that will break your heart down the road.

    We need to ENJOY the family and not just see it as another responsibility.

    God bless you both!

    From good homes come good churches!!!

  • Posted by

    Thank you to all who commented on my thoughts about pastor-attendee relationships.  I assumed I would catch some flack but feel the issue should be raised in a church.  I truly do have a great pastor and staff at church. Your comments are all relevant, but I will not stay awake until I am contacted by the chruch… I feel that protest could be fatal.  But then for saved people, fatal is a blessing..  OH no , now I even used the “saved” word.  I just keep getting in deeper..  Have a great week.

  • Posted by Wayne Cook

    Harold—Remember Matthew 18:15-20 is the way to handle conflict or hurt feelings and applies to everyone, even pastoral staff.  I pray your love for your staff will grow and be a blessing to you.
    Having worked in small congregations and larger congregations, there is always a problem of getting in touch with everyone.
    My question is, have they been there when you needed them...sometimes it is wise to believe it is a blessing if we are progressing well in our lives and don’t NEED pastoral care.

  • Posted by wow gold
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