3. Healthy churches anticipate many oncoming conflicts by looking for early warning signs
An attentive person knows when they’ve put themselves at risk for sickness or burnout, so they follow the scriptural mandate and take Sabbath days, vacations and other down time as a way to keep rested and refreshed.
A healthy church does the same. When we pay attention to our key leaders, watch patterns of attendance, offerings, prayer, ministry involvement and so on, we can often anticipate a potential problem before it arises.
For instance, if your church has a huge commitment of your leaders’ time and energy for a season like Christmas or Easter, you need to build in an appropriate down time for them in the weeks immediately following those events. This will diminish stress, increase appreciation and reduce the triggers that cause conflict.
4. Healthy churches resolve conflict in a healthy way
Even with all the right systems and relationships in place to anticipate and reduce the severity of conflict, arguments will still happen. Knowing that this is inevitable means we have an obligation as leaders to have a plan in place to resolve conflicts in the healthiest way possible.
Some of that comes from what you don’t allow, like
- Refusal to talk
Some of it comes from what you require, like
- Open, honest communication
- The presence of a third-party mediator
- Sticking to the issue
And so on.
This is not a full list. No one can give you that, because every situation is as variable as the people involved and the issue at hand. But there are a handful of essential ground rules which, for believers, must also include the guidelines found in Matthew 18:15-17.
5. Healthy churches minimize the negative impact of conflict
When a conflict does occur, a healthy church knows how to reduce the amount of damage it causes.
The main way to do this is to limit the circle of those involved to just the people who are either in the conflict or actively helping to resolve it.
Then, after the conflict is over and relationships have either been repaired or (in hopefully rare occasions) ended, there’s one principle above all others that needs to be followed.
Tell the people who need to know before the grapevine does.
In conflict management this is called getting ahead of the story, or controlling the narrative. This sounds manipulative, and certainly can be done in a manipulative manner, but when done in a healthy way it simply means this: it’s better for people to find out what happened from you than it is for them to find out second or third hand, with bad information that you have to correct.