I recently reread Kem Meyer’s book, Less Chaos. Less Noise. As I did, Meyer’s words hit me right between the eyes, as they often do. This time, however, it wasn’t about written communication. What got me was her writing on people skills.
Meyer writes, “I will boldly go here: before you spend money on marketing, spend money improving the people skills of your people” (p. 292).
We’re quick to jump on board when it comes to learning the best practices for social media or how to tell better stories through video. Yet when it comes to soft skills like listening, nonverbal communication, and empathy, it seems we assume that we—and our brothers and sisters in our congregations—already know what we’re doing.
To be sure, we can all think of those members who are naturals when it comes to welcoming and genuinely connecting with others—some on the front lines and others in a more reserved way. Conversely, we’re also likely to come up with a few folks who are a bit more, shall we say, bristly in how they relate to those around them.
People skills, or “the ability to work with or talk to other people in an effective and friendly way” (m-w.com), include things like turning negatives into positives, dealing with difficult people, focusing on the strengths of others as opposed to their weaknesses, and redirecting negative (and diffusing potentially explosive) situations (Meyer, p. 292).
This thinking aligns with the last phrase of Martin Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment in the Small Catechism: “explain everything in the kindest way.” Rarely do we know the full story behind someone’s actions or attitude.
Investing in people and how they treat others may just be the “secret sauce” in church communications, as it is at Chick-fil-A. The chain of restaurants is known for practicing this philosophy almost more than they’re known for their waffle fries and delicious, crispy chicken sandwiches (is it lunchtime?). From the top of their leadership ranks down, there’s an attitude of “people mean more.”
Echoing Luther’s call to put the best construction on a situation, Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A said: “Every life has a story, and often our customers and our employees need a little grace and a little space when you deal with them because they are either experiencing a problem, just finished having a problem, or are about to have one.”
So, what does this mean for those of us involved in local congregations? We start with our sure and firm foundation: God’s Word.
In 1 John 4:19, we’re reminded that our love and care for others is always a response to God’s immeasurable love for us in Christ: “We love because He first loved us.”
When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Loving our neighbor plays out in countless ways, including sharing a smile, listening attentively, and coming alongside someone to find a solution.
The author of Proverbs offers some practical wisdom as he writes, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1). This is a difficult instruction to practice at times, yet the power of a calm response in lieu of the alternative is hard to ignore.
The apostle Paul writes to a pastor, Titus: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” (Titus 2:7). As leaders, we need to begin with ourselves. How do we treat people? Where do our strengths lie in the areas discussed above? Where is there a need for repentance and room for growth?
In the end, we’re back where we began: we love, serve, and care for others because God first loved us. We show grace and compassion when people are difficult because God showered His grace and compassion on us. We grow in our ability to do these things because the Holy Spirit is nurturing us through God’s Word and the Sacraments.
Now, in light of God’s Word, let’s consider some approaches and resources available, both in the church and outside of it:
- Read and discuss a book together. Our friend Kem suggests reading through a book together as a simple place to begin. Look for something in the area of emotional intelligence, practicing compassion, relational skills, or even customer service. Buy the book and set a time (or series of times) to discuss the content and how it may apply in your congregation. Begin as a staff or board and branch out from there.
- Curate a collection of digital resources. If finding time to read a book is difficult for your group, think about compiling a collection of podcast episodes or blog posts around a common theme, and use that content as your conversation point. There are many great church-focused content sources out there, like this post from Heidi Goehmann. Also, consider resources from companies like Chick-fil-A and Disney that are known for the way they engage with customers and guests.
- Host formal training times. Though all members are ambassadors of Christ and His love, for those who serve in intentionally visible roles (greeters, ushers, welcome and hospitality team members), having a specific time for training can be very helpful. This could be done quarterly or semi-annually, paying particular attention to times with an influx of new faces (Christmas, Easter, fall kick-off). If the time available for meeting in person is limited, create a hybrid training—digital content delivery and in-person discussion and skills lab.
- Feature a series of bulletin blurbs or announcement slides. Include tips and tricks for connection and empathy (always be sure to credit your source), and call it something like Practical Ways to Love Your Neighbor. This will hit a wider audience and communicate the overall importance of these practices in your congregational culture.
As you invest in the people skills of your people, identify those in your congregation who seem to naturally connect with others and ask them how or where such a disposition developed or how they learned those skills. I suspect you’ll get some great responses and reflection.
Going back to the statement that started this post, Kem Meyer follows up her challenge with these words of encouragement: “The return on investment will blow your mind. … People skills count more. … A little shared training goes a long, long way” (p. 292). And our church communications will be better for it.
What are you doing to nurture the people skills of your people? Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. If Less Chaos. Less Noise. isn’t already part of your library, hop on over to Amazon, and get a copy.
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Less Chaos. Less Noise.: Effective Communications for an Effective Church. Copyright © 2016 Kem Meyer. All rights reserved.
Catechism: © 1986 CPH.