What to Do When You Offend a Family in Your Church

Two weeks ago, we blew it with a family.  Their 3 year old was crying during the service, so we placed him in a stroller and started pushing him up and down the hallway to calm him down.

After he calmed down, the volunteer placed him back in the room...but in the wrong room...and didn't tell the volunteers in the room he came from.

When dad and mom came to pick him up, the volunteer at the door told them he wasn't in the room and must have already been picked up.  Understandingly they got very upset.  Dad was so upset that he caused a scene in the hallway in front of other families.  Mom started crying.  And I understand why.  It appeared we had given their child to someone else!  I would be upset too.

In less than a minute we found the child in the other room and relieved everyone's fears.  But the damage had been done.  Didn't we know how to communicate?  Could they trust us again with their child?

This past week, we blew it with another family.  They brought their child to one of our baptism services to be baptized.  They had invited family and friends to be there.  Everyone showed up.  But due to a breakdown in communication, we were not able to baptized the child.  Needless to say, mom was very upset.

I share these two examples to encourage you.  Don't worry...you're not the only one who blows it with families.  We all do at times.  It's not a question of if, but when.

So what should you do when you blow it with a family?  Here's seven steps I took with the families we offended.

1. Allow them to vent.
Before you talk...let them talk.  Listen for key words that they say with emphasis.  This will help you determine what they are upset about the most.  At this point, what they say to you is more important than what you say to them. 

2. Acknowledge you blew it.
Don't try to cover yourself or act like it's no big deal.  Even if it's not a big issue in your eyes...to that family it is.  Pride or arrogance will only make the situation worse.  It may not have even been you who personally blew it...but as the leader...actually it was.  Everything rises and falls on leadership.  If I had trained the volunteers better, the situations wouldn't have happened.  Own the mistake as the leader.

3. Apologize.
Say it.  "I apologize.  We are sorry this happened."

4. Action steps.
Take action steps to ensure it won't happen again.  This may mean better training, better communication or better policies and procedures.  Learn from the mistake and create action steps to improve because of it.

5. Assure them you have dealt with it. 
In both situations, I let the families know we had identified the problem and corrected it.  
6. Affirm your love for them. 
Let them know you love their family and are thankful they are part of the church.  When people know you care about them, they are more likely to extend you grace in return.

7. Arrange a gift for them.
The next day I sent a personal, handwritten note to the parents of the child who had been put in the wrong room.  I also included a $25 gift card as well.  Sending a personal note with a gift shows the family you value them.

Your turn.  Share what you do when you offend families?  Look forward to reading your stories and thoughts in the comment section below.