In fourteen years of ministry in the local church, I’ve heard one complaint from parishioners and staff above all others: “The church doesn’t communicate well.” One of my good friends in ministry calls this NETMA, which means “No one ever tells me anything!” The truth is, we could all get better at communication.

Communicating well is a prerequisite to leading well. Click To Tweet If you struggle to communicate as a leader, you will likely struggle to lead. Most of us agree that we need to grow in the area of communication. The problem is we too often go about it in the wrong way.

In my experience, the greatest key to growth in communication with others is learning to listen. That’s right, listening. Not communicating more details or sending out more regular emails. Instead, listening well to others is one of the quickest ways to better communication. Click To Tweet

“I know I need to listen better as a leader, but how do I do it?” I’m so glad you asked! The good news is that becoming a better listener is simple. The bad news is it’s not easy.

What makes it tough is that it goes against your nature.

Most church leaders I know are fairly confident and smart people. These are great gifts, but they don’t always lend themselves to being a great listener. Learning to listen well will require going against your instincts at times, but it will become more natural the more you do it. If you’re ready to take the plunge and develop your skills as a listening leader, use the following acrostic as your guide.

L – Let them talk.

I – Investigate for hidden wisdom.

S – Search for what they’re really saying.

T – Tell them what you heard.

E – Empathize.

N – Nod along.

Let Them Talk

The first step to listening well is to let people talk. Don’t just let them talk, but make every effort to let them finish before you jump in. Nothing says “I’m not listening” like interrupting someone.

Keep in mind the word listen contains the same letters as the word silent. Click To Tweet If you want to make the people around you feel valued and like they’ve been heard, let them talk and let them finish what they’re saying.

Investigate for Hidden Wisdom

Great listeners know they can learn from anybody and everybody. This step is all about embracing that truth. Investigate for what they know that you don’t and keep listening until you learn something new. If you haven’t learned something from them, you haven’t listened well enough yet. Click To Tweet

Search for What They’re Really Saying

Watch their body language and look for places where they are hesitant or seem to be choosing their words carefully. Ask the question to yourself throughout the conversation, “What are you not saying?” This can be one of the most difficult parts to pick up on, but there is almost always something important to be found in what a person is not saying.

Most people will share 90% of what they are thinking. A select few will say 95%, and almost no one will say 100%. Great listeners are always searching for the last five percent.

Tell Them What You Heard

A great way to show you have been listening is to let the person finish and then tell them what you heard them say. This lets them know you have been listening to understand instead of listening to respond. It also provides clarity and ensures everyone is on the same page.

If you’ve misunderstood something or heard it wrong (we’ve all been there,) they have an opportunity to fix the misunderstanding before it becomes a full-blown miscommunication issue.


Empathy is less about feeling sorry for the other person and more about feeling what they feel with them. As you listen, do your best to put yourself in their shoes. This works well when used alongside of telling them what you heard them say.

For example: “So what I’m hearing you say is that moving houses has really stressed you out and is affecting your work. I can’t imagine how you feel, but I know that would cause me some anxiety, too.” It’s simple, but it lets them know you care about them and you’re not a robot.

Nod Along

Studies show that up to 93% of communication is nonverbal, and 55% is your body language and physical cues. With that in mind, an easy physical cue to show you’re engaged and listening is to nod your head along as the other person speaks. While they are talking, lean forward, make eye contact, and nod your head from time to time. This is a simple body language adjustment that will show them you are fully engaged in the conversation. It may be a little thing, but it will go a long way!

So, if you’re ready to improve communication at your church and in your leadership, it’s time to learn to listen.  From listening to individuals and staff to listening to the church body in meetings and surveys, listening well is a communication strategy that will always pay off. Use the six skills above to listen and lead like never before. When you do, everyone around you will notice.

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