Pastors: What To Do About the Anonymous Input – part 1 (a video)


Do you prefer to watch a video or read an article? You get to choose. Watch the video above (or if you can't see it – click HERE) or read it below… same content. This is an issue I think a lot about. I'm doing this especially for our 16:5 attendees and other church leaders.

Church leaders and pastors, do you ever sit in meetings and hear things like:

  • "I've talked to a lot of people and they think…"

  • "I've been hearing people say that they don't like…" 

  • "Some people think… and they are wondering why…"

It is Larry Osborne who helped me think differently about not allowing anonymous "theys" into meetings. He has a rule: no name, no input.

The reason is basically because who "they" are really matters. And when "they" aren't identified, "they" typically gain power in a meeting where, perhaps, "they" shouldn't have much power. Interestingly, if the input from them is positive, names are gladly shared. But if it’s critical or negative, names are rarely revealed. Often anonymity is given to "protect" the one who is giving critical or negative input. But there are several problems with this.

First, you can't interact with anonymous opinions. And rarely is something decided on and practiced in a theologically conservative church that is clearly sinful or wrong. The sinful or clearly wrong decision isn't even considered. Therefore, every decision that is debated has at least two viewpoints – and they could be equally valid. And if "they" give input – it is always one-sided. And that isn't healthy and it doesn't allow for interaction toward understanding both sides.

Second, it is easy to fear the wrath of "they" and assume "they" are loads and loads of people when it could be a single voice that doesn't necessarily represent hordes of people. Not that a single voice doesn't matter, but it could be a lone voice that doesn't represent the opinion of anyone else. The only way to properly evaluate a criticism, input, or idea is to know who "they" are. I've been in meetings where I felt the anonymous "they" scared the room into not deciding something that needed decided.

Third, it really does matter who "they" are. Who "they" are impacts the level of input and influence they have on our leaders, and it should. Are they giving input as a brand new person to our church with a reputation for changing churches every two years? That matters. Or are they a long-term committed, former leader who loves our church, its mission, and is struggling with some things or even one thing? That matters. Or are they a godly person but they have a very different vision and mission for our church? That matters too.

We strongly discourage "they" to be used in meetings and we rarely hear of them, but we don't necessarily have a hard and fast rule about it. One way we don't allow "they" to speak is anonymous comments in the program. We have a staff member who filters each one and determines if, on rare occasion, a specific anonymous comment should be passed on. But then it is rarely handled in a public meeting (staff meeting or Oversight Team meeting), but usually a one-on-one discussion of evaluation.

Are their dangers of this approach? Of course. I'll talk about that in part 2…


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