Many years ago I wrote about the distinction between sources of satisfaction and sources of dissatisfaction in churches. That is, the things that make people happy and pleased to be here and the things that tick them off. Fairly early in my ministry the penny dropped for me that they are not usually the same things. By which I mean, if you remove the sources of dissatisfaction you won't make people any more satisfied.

In a church, the things that make people dissatisfied are things like heaters that don't work or a buzz in the sound system; or the Vicar's annoyingly drony voice or the fact that whoever chooses the hymns around here has the taste of a blowfly maggot. Sources of dissatisfaction are easily identified - people let you know about them early and often. Sources of satisfaction are harder to identify. They are more subtle, deeper and often unconscious. People don't talk about them much and tend to take them for granted. They are things that are the reasons people joined a church in the first place: things like a strong sense of community; an awareness of the presence of God; the knowledge that people (including me) are valued and accepted in this place. 

Many clergy operate on the squeaky wheel principle, attending constantly to the things people are dissatisfied with. They spend their lives chasing around after the sorts of trivia that people ring them about, getting tired and wondering why the roll keeps on dropping. Of course if there is a buzz in the sound system it needs to be fixed, and perhaps I could do with elocution lessons, but by and large, if the church is a satisfying place to be, people will tolerate all sorts of little annoyances, and even begin to enjoy some of them as evidences of character. So rather than a shopping list of minor things to get sorted, church leadership needs to quickly and consistently address itself to the bigger issues: the issues that are hard to identify and require years of patience and hope and discernment and commitment to establish and maintain; but which, when attended to, offer a real chance of building a lasting and deeply satisfying community.

It is the sources of satisfaction that need attention and thought. Sort them out and all the other stuff tends to take care of itself.

Of course, while this is true of church life, it is also true of every other relationship in our lives. While the arguments with our best beloved, or our friend, or our children or our God will manifest themselves in squabbles about our sources of dissatisfaction ( Do I have to do this again.... It annoys me that.... you never..... I always...... ) the fact that these things surface time and again is an indicator that perhaps deeper issues need attention.

Why are we in this relationship in the first place? And are those foundational things being nurtured and attended to?  


Merv said…
A fascinating subject - church dynamics (& culture). I appreciate your perspective.