4 Steps to Not Overreact to the Disgruntled Attendee

As a leader you are forced to make decisions, and if your church or company is bigger than you, these decisions will inevitably be upsetting to someone. Decisions have a way of upsetting the status quo. In many cases, the lack of success or progress with the status quo is why decisions are necessary.

Not to oversimplify it, but when decisions are made, the response seems to come from two separate categories of people:

1. The vocal disgruntled
2. The quiet supporters

The first category causes us to question our decision. The response (at least the vocal response) seems disproportionately in one direction. And this disproportionate response can be unnerving.

The second category really does bring balance to the conversation, but their quiet support doesn’t ring as loudly as the disgruntled.

Facing this seemingly unbalanced response, leaders begin to either question their decisions, or worse, seek to make decisions that are more “vocally” supported.

But vocal support can feel like an organizational oxymoron. You’ve never called your local pizza delivery chain to thank them for your delivery, but you might have called to complain when your pie is late. People never call our church to tell us we’re doing a great job, but they have no problem letting us know when something doesn’t happen as they expect.

So what should we do when the vocal disgruntled feels like the vast majority?

1. Evaluate if the disgruntled are the real majority.

I know they’re loud, but is their volume representative of their size?

When we make decisions that produce some vocal frustration, the first thing I do is individually evaluate the source of the dissatisfaction. Seriously, I look them up in our database. The majority of the time — and I mean the vast majority of the time — the vocal disgruntled could be better labeled the disengaged disgruntled. They are not in a small group. They are not serving. They aren’t really generous to our mission.

I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, because we certainly desire to serve every person in our church and community, but there is an inevitable correlation between complaining and engaging.

2. Encourage the quiet supports to become vocal vision-casters.

The quiet supports typically have higher levels of trust. Why? Because they are engaged in our mission, and through their engagement, they’ve learned more about our mission, our vision, our strategy, and our decision quality. These are the exact people we should ask to vocalize their support in the face of the vocal disgruntled.

One easy way to do this is by simply revealing new decisions to the engaged before the disengaged. I talked extensively about this in a previous post: 11 Lessons from Announcing our Name Change.

3. Work to engage the disengaged.

The best way to help the vocal disgruntled is to engage them in the mission. Fighting the opinions of the disengaged is a lose-lose endeavor. It’s not always worth the effort, especially considering this same group will most likely be vocally frustrated with your next decision, too. So rather than convinced them to get on board, engage them and allow their involvement to solve the problem.

Again, a simple solution is to respond to a complaint with an opportunity to engage. Seriously! We do this all the time. It’s like Jesus answering a question with another question.

4. Free up the future for the perpetually disengaged.

AKA: Just let them leave. You didn’t get into ministry to keep people against their will, anyway. If the vocal disgruntled never plans to engage the mission, they will perpetually be a noncontributing nuisance. We somewhat regularly invite people to leave our church — especially those who are Christians but never plan to contribute to our mission. Christian freeloaders are another version of an oxymoron.

As a leader, you’re never going to have 100% consensus on big decisions, but if the vocal disgruntled begins to rule your leadership, odds are you’ll find yourself attempting to satisfy a minority group who have no intentions of partnering back with you.

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2 Responses

  1. #3 reminds me of the pastor at the VERY SMALL church I attended 20+ years ago. Nothing would happen there without volunteer help – our membership was under 100.

    I can’t exactly remember how he phrased it, but basically…if something was bothering you, it was because God put it on your heart, and he put it on your heart because he wanted you to be part of the solution.

    As an example, I went to him one October, and said “for some reason, I keep wondering when you’re going to ask for volunteers for the Christmas program.” His reply was: “We didn’t have anyone to ramrod it. If God’s put it on your heart, then maybe that’s why.”

    So I could complain about not having a Christmas program, or I could get involved and make it happen (I heard a lot of good things about it, btw).

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