It is very frustrating to those that make up the majority when a minority voice is able to determine the outcome of church issues. This can take place at the board level or within congregations even when the polity is one where the majority should be able to move forward. Unfortunately it is all too common and church leaders often allow it to happen. In my experience, there are a number of tactics that are used to manipulate a larger group by a minority group.
One. Our voices will be loud and we will therefore give the impression that we are many. This works very well behind the scenes when there is conflict over a decision and in congregational meetings where loud voices often rule the day.
Two. We will declare that many agree with us with the implication that if you try to move forward you will "split the church" or cause "serious conflict and division." Now I have done a great deal of conflict resolution in churches and I have never encountered a situation where this was actually true. I have seen pastors and boards try to push things through when a majority were dissenting (it was not pretty) but when a few voices declare that there are many with them I am often skeptical. However, this tactic often works because leaders and congregations don't want to cause undo conflict so they back off with only the word of a few that they actually have strong support.
Three. If you move forward with that decision, we will leave. So lets call that for what it is: congregational blackmail! Since it is considered wrong to "push people out of a church" this threat is used against the majority because the minority can claim that they were indeed pushed out. What actually happened was that the minority simply chose to leave because they didn't desire to stay.
This is often a threat that works but it is nothing less than congregational blackmail. The same can be said for those who declare that if you move forward they will withhold their funding. That is financial blackmail. All threats, no matter what they are, by a minority voice to block the majority should be considered blackmail and should be called exactly that - in public where appropriate.
Four. If you move forward there will be a lot of people who will be angry. Given what I said in one and two, it is unlikely that a lot of people will be angry. Also, any time you make any decisions in a church someone is likely to disagree but if that is the criteria by which we make decisions, no decisions would be made. While this strikes fear into many congregants it is emotional blackmail by those using the tactic.
One of the fundamental reasons that all these threats work is that most people are conflict resistant. They don't want to have to negotiate conflict, they are afraid of conflict and they especially don't like conflicts in the church with people they know. Unless leaders understand this and speak to it, such threats often work to the chagrin of the majority of the congregation or board. Fear keeps leaders and congregations from moving forward in the face of threats.
So how do you counter these tactics? Especially when you have an entrenched individual or group where dialogue and reasoning has not done anything to change their minds?
First, I would suggest that you look at the tactics of the minority group and ask whether they fit any of the scenarios above. Perhaps I have missed something but be willing to name the tactic that is being used for what it is. Explain to the individual or group involved that their tactics are not fair or honest and see if reasoning will change their behaviors.
Second, if reasoning fails, which it often will, I would encourage the board or leadership to share with the congregation what you believe to be true. That you believe this is a minority view, that you have tried to reason with them and that you believe that for the good of the ministry the church needs to move forward. It is possible to say these things in a way that does not disparage but that does speak truth. If leaders are cowed, the congregation will be as well. If leaders are courageous and forthright the congregation is likely to follow.
Third, if this is a significant decision and there is not clarity on what is actually happening, bring in a third party to ascertain what is really going on. It is not that hard for a disinterested and experienced third party to evaluate the situation and determine the actual facts rather than hearsay.
Finally, in all of these discussions, remember that what is at stake is the health and effectiveness of the Body of Christ, The Bride. Don't compromise the work of God out of fear!
TJ Addington (Addington Consulting) has a passion to help individuals and organizations maximize their impact and go to the next level of effectiveness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.