Conflict Challenges Leadership
data from the Fact2000 study
As discussed previously, the majority of congregations are vital and alive. Nevertheless, some report that they have lost the energy that comes with clear vision. Age of congregation is one factor that places a drag on a congregation’s sense of energy and purpose. Leaders in such congregations face the challenge to recover a fresh sense of mission and purpose, to help the congregation "to dream again."
Location is another factor that can burden congregations. New suburban areas clearly have more resources of family life, youth, facilities and finances to support congregations. By comparison, other locations
struggle. But even a majority of these congregations "keep the faith."
Congregations suffer more when they experience conflict than age or location. Lingering conflict is strongly associated with declining vitality and declining membership.
Conflict tends to cast a shadow across the activities and ethos of the congregation as a whole, even the capacity to enlist volunteers.
Openness in dealing with conflict is strongly associated with vitality.
To recover a sense of mission and purpose, congregational leaders can encourage more open communication among members.
Capable leadership that enables openness in dealing with conflict can dramatically neutralize and perhaps even constructively use the energy of strong feelings that are typically present in bitter disagreements. Relatedly, congregations in which member expectations and communal goals are clear are much more likely to deal openly with disagreements and conflicts.
Indeed, openness in dealing with conflict does not imply a lack of standards or a loss of discipline. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. Congregations that have unclear or implicit expectations for members are far more likely to experience higher levels of conflict.
Effective leadership in congregations is not simply a matter of openness in dealing with conflict, but helping them recognize and express their purpose in action.
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