By Ven. Perry Chuipka
A seven-year old boy had lived near this large church all his young life. He used to watch people go in just before 9am and just before 10:30am, but he only saw a few people leave because the church hall was connected to the church building at the back. He was always wondering what people did in that church.
One Sunday morning, the little boy found the courage to go into the church by himself. Before he entered, he saw a big sign outside that said: Welcome, we have a 9am and 10:30am Sunday service.
He had left his house at 8:30 so it was still early before the 9am service. He entered and walked into the church.
The pastor who was in the church lighting the candles noticed the boy so he went over to greet him. The pastor said, welcome to our church, and then asked are you from the area. The little boy told him his name and then went on to tell the pastor how he had always watched people going to church from his bedroom window.
After their conversation the boy noticed a large plaque at the back of the church. Then the little boy gained the courage to ask: “What is this?”
“Well son, these are all the people who have died in the service,” replied the pastor.
Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little boy’s voice barely broke the silence when he asked quietly, “Which one, the 9:00 or the 10:30 service?”
It is interesting to me in that funny story that the first thing that the Pastor did in meeting that little boy was to take time to listen to his story. That Pastor would have made a great coach. Coaching begins with developing a relationship with a congregation by letting them tell their story and the coach being an effective listener.
Story telling is the beginning of any valuable relationship. Think for a moment of any of your relationships that you value. What makes them valuable? My valued relationships are important to me because I know something about the history of the person. The same holds true with our coaching relationships with congregations. A coach wants to know what happened to them in the past. The good and the bad. The sad stories and the joyful stories. The things that brought them down and the things that redeemed them and enabled them to carry on. Coaches care about the congregations they work along side with by giving congregations time to tell their story.
I remember being with a congregation that was asked to bring in an item from their past and tell everyone a story about it. I was amazed what everyone brought with them. There were pictures of the past, an old stuffed cat that attended many blessing of the animals services, an old hat that had been at many Easter Sunday services and the list goes on. Even the most introverted person had something to tell when they held their item up to the group.
In listening to their stories we discover a great deal about a congregation. But we not only listen to hear stories, we listen for other reasons. Effective listening is about much more.
Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. How well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationships with others.
We listen to obtain information. We listen to understand. We listen for enjoyment. We listen to learn.
Given all this listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it!
In fact most of us are not. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to someone for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. It is hard to believe I know!
Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50%, but what if they’re not?
Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for healthy relationships.
Here are some coaching tips about being an effective listener:
- Give your full attention on the person who is speaking.
- Don’t look out the window or at what else is going on in the room or at your cell phone. This may sound simple but today giving our full attention is something that everyone needs to work at, especially, with all the electronic gadgets we cater to.
- Make sure your mind is focused, too. It can be easy to let your mind wander if you think you know what the person is going to say next, but you might be wrong! If you feel your mind wandering, change the position of your body and try to concentrate on the speaker’s words.
- Let the speaker finish before you begin to talk. Speakers appreciate having the chance to say everything they would like to say without being interrupted. When you interrupt, it looks like you aren’t listening, even if you really are.
- Let yourself finish listening before you begin to speak! You can’t really listen if you are busy thinking about what you want say next.
- Listen for main ideas. The main ideas are the most important points the speaker wants to get across. They may be mentioned at the start or end of a talk, and repeated a number of times. Pay special attention to statements that begin with phrases such as “My point is…” or “The thing to remember is…”
- Ask questions. If you are not sure you understand what the speaker has said, just ask. It is a good idea to repeat in your own words what the speaker said so that you can be sure your understanding is correct.
- Give feedback. Sit up straight and look directly at the speaker. Now and then, nod to show that you understand. At appropriate points you may also smile, frown, laugh, or be silent. These are all ways to let the speaker know that you are really listening. Remember, you listen with your face as well as your ears!
So let me return to my original story about the small boy who attended church for the first time. The pastor did a great job of developing a relationship with the boy and also used effective listening skills in doing so. Every relationship that we value deserves our full attention. When we allow others to tell their story and we use effective listening skills our relationships can only get healthier.
Want to develop healthier relationships in your congregations? Contact a coach from the Huron Coaching Team. All our contact information is on the Diocese of Huron web page. (diohuron.org Click Ministries link and then click Coaching Team link)
Ven. Perry Chuipka is the Archdeacon of Congregational Development.