Monday, March 16, 2009

Church Ombudsman

I've enjoyed reading Le Anne Schreiber's monthly ombudsman column on (You can read the archives here. Great writing...salient points...balanced articulation.)

It got me thinking - what if churches created a similar role in congregations? I suppose Mutual Ministry teams kinda function that way, but not every church has those. Furthermore, from what I'm told, a lot of Mutual Ministry teams don't really serve the purpose for which they were created.

So here's how I'd set up a Congregational Ombudsman:
  • A 12-month position that starts December 1.
  • Person must have been an active member for 10+ years
  • Appointed by the congregational council
  • Functions as a sounding-board, not as an agent for change
  • Writes a 750-word article that's posted in the narthex
  • Only receives input via email (to prevent them from being bombarded at church)
  • Provides specific (quarterly) recommendations through the appropriate channels

Having an ombudsman would give people permission to share opinions about their church. The job of the ombudsman is not to derail the church / leaders / staff...nor is it to defend those entities. Ideally, this person has the best interest of the church in mind, so they would want to take great care in how they present the feedback they've received. The goal is to give the people (especially those who stand in the corner of the narthex, back of fellowship hall, or in the parking lot and complain about the church) a place where they can share their thoughts, if they don't feel they can go anywhere else.

Of course there are flaws with this idea - namely that it allows people to circumvent what Matthew outlined in 18:15-20. Regardless, I think it would improve communication and transparency in churches...and help people feel that their voice is being heard.

I'd love to read your thoughts on this idea...


  1. I'd be worried about the 'receive comments by e-mail' part, due to the fact that people get way too disconnected from conversation when the use e-mail and they wind up venting rather than dialoging. Other than that, interesting.

  2. I read the ESPN article myself and thought "man...I bet someone in the church would LOVE that job...all the gossip you could ever want AND you're appointed to pass it around!"

    Sincerely -

    'the guy who used to be in shape the same May term you were!'

  3. "blond" - you're probably right. email sometimes allows people to say things they wouldn't normally say face-to-face. facial expressions, tone, and body language also get lost. i was just trying to think of a way for people to share feedback without compromising the ombudsman's church involvement. i could see it being a high burnout role.

    "fatty" - can you believe that was 9 years ago? i hate getting old! maybe you could appoint an ombudsman as part of your new gig / job / calling.

  4. We actually did something similar but through a series of house meetings. They were sort of a sounding board, but we did hope to look to the future. The congregation was divided randomly into groups of about 7-8. The pastor was not present except at one as a member of a group. This was in conjunction with our anniversary. So we started asking what was important to folks in the past. Then evaluated what was going on in the present and asked what would be visions for the future. This way they were able to vent a little, but then they were guided right into what would you like to do. They were two hour meetings with a light refreshment offered by the host family. We heard preferences about music, and other worship practices. We have initiated an online newsletter and weekly prayer from that meeting. Also looking at different worship ideas as well. This format kept the ideas out in the open and folks don't get to revert into "they want" or "they said."

    We also have structured our mutual ministry committee based on the new books out that change this kind of committee from a "congregation versus the pastor" into an ongoing assessment of all the ministries in the congregation. The committee sees themselves as the ears of the congregation, listening at coffee hour, on the parking lot, etc to how the ministries are reflecting the vision statement. We have great meetings but I am not allowed to tell you the content. They were much more discerning than just complaining and how to deal with difficult situations. The intent is to prevent those difficult situations. I don't have the book anymore, we borrowed it from the resource center, but I could easily get my hands on it again if you are looking for different models.


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