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[CONFLICT] Crisis Averted! The Power of an Email

Kurt Johnston —  October 8, 2013 — 8 Comments

Our ministry tries to take evangelism seriously, so we have a history of trying all sorts of things to help our students reach out to their unchurched friends. One of our Friday night events included (among a whole bunch of other stuff) a dance area. It was an amazing event that turned out almost exactly how our team envisioned it would.

However, while parents were picking up their kids, a very upset mom grabbed one of our volunteers and frustratingly blurted something along the lines of, “I thought this was a church event! Why was there freak dancing? My daughter won’t be coming back!”

By the time the volunteer leader found one of our paid team, the mom was long gone. But she wasn’t gone for long. The following morning she shot an email off to Pastor Rick who forwarded it to me. I share the following email exchange in the hopes that it will encourage you as you deal with conflict in your ministry setting. while I’ve certainly learned that not everybody response the way we hope they will, this exchange was a powerful reminder of the importance of quickly dealing with concerned parents.

SHE WROTE:

Pastor Rick,

Why are our youth leaders allowing “freak dancing” at the youth activities???  My daughter was at the Refinery last night and came home with this disappointing news.  She won’t be going back.

I WROTE:

Dear Mrs. O’Brian,

My name is Kurt Johnston and I’m the junior high Pastor here at Saddleback. I wanted to shoot you a quick note thanking you for expressing your concern over the dancing at last night’s junior high event. You would be surprised at how few parents are willing to let us know when they have a concern.

I’m the parent of two young teens myself and, like you, I expect church events to be an appropriate place for them to attend. It’s important that you hear from me personally that our ministry in no way “allowed” freak dancing to be part of last night’s activities. There were leaders in the room and whenever we saw anything that bordered on inappropriate, we addressed it right away (in fact the dancing was a very minimal part of the night…maybe 50 kids participated). Obviously with over 700 students at an outreach event, many of whom have never stepped foot in a church before, there will be some students who push the envelope and who don’t have the same boundaries as our “church” kids do. In fact, that’s why last night’s event was created; as a monthly front door experience for un-churched kids. If, out of 700 students, there were zero instances of cursing or rebelling or even freak dancing, then I would be a bit saddened because it would mean that we did an outreach event and nobody showed up who needed to be reached.

Our student ministry department is committed to helping junior highers grow in their faith and in their walk with Christ, and we are also committed to reaching out to students who have yet to experience God’s amazing grace. In an interesting twist, I asked two first-timers last night if they had fun, and their response was a strong “NO!”  When I asked them why they said because we played music that was too clean and didn’t let them dance the way they wanted.

Last night was an amazing night. We had food, a skate park, smores at the fire pits, a scavenger hunt, giant “earthball” games, outdoor volleyball, and classic TV shows in the theater. Yes, we had a few students who danced inappropriately at times, but our staff worked hard to keep that to a minimum. I understand your decision to not allow your daughter to return to “The 3″ next month, but I also ask you to pray for our junior high ministry as we continue our efforts to expose lost kids to the good news of Jesus Christ. Please feel free to call me should you have additional questions or concerns about our junior high ministry.

God Bless,

Kurt Johnston, Pastor To Students

SHE WROTE:

Hi Kurt,

Thanks so much for your reply. I appreciate the time you took and the information you gave. I feel a lot better about our church and youth group now that I havehappy_email_woamn read it.  My daughter brought three girlfriends last night to “The 3″ and we brought the same girls tonight to the 6:30 service. Hopefully they will continue to attend, hear the power of God’s Word and have changed lives! Thank you for your commitment to the youth, and thanks again for your response. I will definitely be lifting you, your team, and the junior high ministry in prayer.

I WROTE:

WOW….3 friends to church last night, awesome! Hopefully ‘The 3′ will continue to open doors like that. Please tell your daughter that wildside is proud of her…that is exactly what we hoped students would do. Good for her!  – kj

 

Sometimes all it takes is taking the time to give a parent context and remind them of your mission! Thanks for loving students,

Kurt

@kurtjohnston

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Kurt Johnston

Kurt Johnston

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Kurt Johnston leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. His ministry of choice, however, is junior high, where he spends approximately 83.4% of his time.

8 responses to [CONFLICT] Crisis Averted! The Power of an Email

  1. Great suggestion here, but it is important to note that it doesn’t always turn out that pleasant…pardon me for being the devil’s advocate, but that email response to the parent had the potential to go south very quickly. First, a phone call would have been best. Emails have a tendency to take on a tone that the writer never intends. Second, although the response to the angry email was appropriate, some parents might view the “sharing of the mission” as blowing off their initial complaint. Finally, all youth workers need to realize that things just aren’t always that simple and we must be prepared for all scenarios.

  2. I agree with Doug Milne’s comment — with one exception. Instead of over the phone, go face-to-face. A good rule of thumb is that e-mail should *never* be used for conflict resolution. Anything that can be misread typically will be. Phone is better than e-mail, but not as good as in person.

    That may be easier for me than for Kurt. I have 20ish teens, not 700.

  3. Kurt Johnston

    Doug and Brent,
    I agree…face to face or ‘voice to voice’ on the phone would be best, and I almost always use that approach. But I also follow the lead of the person who initiated the complaint: A phone call will get a phone call in return. A face to face complaint will get a face to face discussion. And an email will often get an email. I’ve learned that some folks pick a certain type of communication because it’s what they are comfortable with and what they respond best to…as her response seemed to indicate.
    At the end of the email, I included an offer to talk face to face…as I ALWAYS do. I

    Doug, in our setting explaining the “mission” or purpose behind an event is always something we do; not to blow off concerns but to help parents understand why we do the things we do in the way we do them. I’ve never had that backfire but I suppose it could.

  4. Kurt,

    This is a great challenge for us all. My natural tendency is to avoid conflict like the plague. I know that’s not healthy, but it is my instinct. That being said, I still take that conflict head on. I believe you did the right thing by replying in the communication form that she took on. Yes, tone can not always be communicated via email, but at least it wasn’t a text reply to her email. Good stuff bro.

  5. Beautiful response! While phone or face-to-face is better, the theme of what you wrote – keeping the mission in front of the parent – is awesome. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Parent ministry and relationships with families, ESPECIALLY Jr. High families are so important.

    Big Fan…

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