Why Healthy Small Churches Are Better For Controversial Conversations

Online chats are great when the topic is simple. But when controversy erupts, it's always better to go small and in person.

Why is everyone so angry lately?

One big reason is that we’re having too many controversial conversations online instead of in person. It’s much easier to get angry in a relatively anonymous space like the internet, than face-to-face with some you actually know.

For instance, in a recent social media post a member of a large denomination that’s having a lot of infighting right now gave several predictions for what he thought would happen when the delegates gathered. He predicted that when people who had been yelling at each other online see each other in person they’ll shake hands, share coffee or a meal, catch up on old times, and have far more civil conversations than they’ve been having online.

Yep. Smaller, in-person conversations do that.

In previous generations, when you wanted to argue with someone, it happened face-to-face, or at least voice-to-voice. Arguing with people you didn’t know was relegated to TV and radio debate shows, city hall open-mic sessions, and letters to the editor.

Now, most of our conversations about controversial subjects happen online, and even the ones that don’t are made more toxic because we’re so affected by online attitudes.

So Many Online Downsides

An online post may help get your angry viewpoint to a lot more people, but that’s the only upside. (If that is an upside.) The downsides, however, are plentiful.

When you argue online:

  • You’re more likely to be unintentionally misunderstood
  • Your ideas are more likely to be intentionally twisted
  • You’re far more likely to be taken wildly out of context
  • You’re far more likely to make the other side more entrenched
  • You’re as likely to hurt your cause as to help it
  • You’ll get angrier
  • Nothing will be resolved

I could go on.

Plus, all of these downsides are increased exponentially as the numbers of readers or viewers increases.

On the other hand, when you express controversial ideas in a smaller group, there are certainly downsides to it (as anyone who’s had an argument over Thanksgiving dinner can attest), but it also opens up the possibility for civil conversation.

The Small Church Offline Advantage

This is also one of the advantages of the smaller church. When the pastor of a large church addresses a controversial subject, a church member who disagrees can send an email or complain on social media, but that’s about it.

But when the pastor of a small church addresses a controversial subject, a church member who disagrees or has a question can usually talk it through in the church lobby or set an appointment to chat with the pastor later.

Any pastor or member who’s experienced the toxic side of this knows how quickly these conversations can turn bad but, unlike the social media post or email, they also have a higher possibility of coming to a meeting of the minds—or at least a genuine “agree to disagree” treaty.

If you’re serving in a healthy smaller congregation take advantage of the chance to have difficult conversations offline and out of the pulpit. It’s almost always better that way.

(Photo by Simon Law | Flickr)


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