A guide to help enable Good Conversations

These notes are designed specifically to help churches follow on from the 2020 Diocese of Worcester Open Conversations 2, but will also be applicable in many other circumstances.

We all bring plenty of experience of conversations, but it can be helpful to revisit some good principles once again. Have a look through what follows, and see what might be relevant for your circumstances:


When we meet regarding the church, let’s be honest about our own perspectives, and also try to discover together what God might be calling us to. Pray for openness, for the ability to listen well and speak clearly, and for God’s guidance for all.

Agreeing Ground Rules

When a forthcoming conversation is going to include some big issues, many find it helpful to agree some ground rules at the beginning – and perhaps have them written up on display. For instance: 

  • We’ll agree together what level of confidentiality is appropriate – and stick to that

  • We’ll make sure just one person talks at a time

  • We’ll listen in order to understand the other person’s perspective

  • We’ll respect each other’s range of opinions

  • We’ll welcome respectful questions

Which of these might be relevant for your group? Is there anything else you’d like to add, that would help create a good space to converse honestly and respectfully?

If possible, have an initial discussion in advance of coming to a decision

  • Starting with an initial discussion makes it easier for that to be open and exploratory

  • Some people will have really good ideas or insights in the days after the initial discussion, which can then be fed in

  • Some may find their perspective shifting following a discussion, but not during it

  • When it comes to decision-making, people will have had time to digest at least some of the issues

  • One option, especially for larger changes, is a three stage process: 

    • an initial discussion (after which people can feed in thoughts)

    • a second discussion, aiming to crystallise two or three main options, which are then communicated for consultation

    • a decision-making meeting

  • What sort of timescale would make sense for you? 

  • Who would be good to involve in making that decision?

  • Might it be helpful to involve an external facilitator?

Who should be included?

  • It’s worth pausing to think whose voices it will be important to hear

  • Especially if you’re separating out discussion from decision-making, you may want to hear from a broad range of people in the early stages

  • This might well include people who are not frequent worshippers

  • Who would it be good for you to include? 

  • Are you genuinely open to what they might say?

  • What are the most accessible ways to help people express their perspective?

Frame your questions carefully

  • The way a question or proposal is phrased can make a big difference to how people respond

  • Including at least one ‘open’ question can be really helpful: that’s a question where the answer isn’t a simple opinion or fact (yes/no/twice a month). Examples include: What keeps you coming to church? What would you love to see starting a church? Is there anything you think we should draw to a close?

  • One option is to ask three questions, of which at least one is open, and at least one is closed.

Listen in order to understand

  • In a conversation with more than two people, there should be much more listening going on than talking!

  • But listening can be really hard work.

  • It can be very tempting to focus on thinking how we would respond, rather than on what somebody else is saying.

  • This is especially true when we have strong feelings, and they are different from the person speaking

  • The eventual decision may not be everybody’s favourite. But if everybody feels they have genuinely been listened to, it will make it much easier to go forward together.

  • Try listening well enough so that you could explain to somebody else what the speaker thinks and feels, and why

Spend some time in smaller groups

  • In a medium or large gathering, it is easy for some people to do most of the talking, and other voices never to be heard.

  • When this happens, key wisdom and insights are often lost

  • How about spending 5-10 minutes discussing in a small group of two or three, and then feeding back the main points?

  • One option is to discuss in pairs, then for each person to summarise, for the benefit of the group, what the other said. This is certainly an incentive to listen attentively! (If you do this, the person whose view is summarised should have the chance to clarify if necessary.)

  • This does take an investment of time, but it’s often time well spent

The importance of ‘No’

  • When one or more people are resisting what others want, it can be tempting to see them as ‘negative

  • To assume that is harsh and unfair.

  • What’s more, if people pick up that resistance or questioning is not welcome, some will refrain from voicing their discomfort

  • However, such people may well have identified something important, which the group would be wise to take into account

  • For these reasons, make it as clear as possible – in what you say and how the process is structured – that you genuinely want to hear reservations, alternative views, and challenging questions

  • Take time to really understand the reasons why people may be saying ‘no’, or ‘I really don’t feel happy about this’

  • Ask what would need to be different about the proposal for it to become acceptable, or even good. Is there a creative ‘third way’ that might be possible?

Choosing where to focus: Short-term and medium/long-term; inwards and outwards

  • If we set off with great intentions to change 13 things, it’s easy to end up achieving nothing

  • Better to start with modest ambitions, achieve them, then take the next steps

  • How about aiming to focus on one thing that could be achieved in the short term (perhaps the next 2-3 months), and then one that will take a bit longer (perhaps 6-12 months)?

  • Who might be a good person to get on board to help keep progress on track?

  • If we are focusing on just two or three things, can you include one that is about connecting with your community, and one about the inner life of the church?

You are not alone

  • We’re all in this together! Many of us are facing similar issues in our churches.

  • Let’s keep talking to each other, and keep in touch.

  • Talk to people from other churches near you.

  • Talk to your Rural Dean and Deanery Lay Chair.

  • Keep in touch with your Archdeacon.

  • And let’s keep returning to God in prayer – for wisdom, grace, energy and guidance, as we seek to worship creatively, make disciples, share hope, and play our part in transforming our communities

Page last updated: Tuesday 8th September 2020 9:22 AM
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