Dealing With The Crisis of Trust

Written by Bill Whitt
August 14, 2023

Only 32 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the Church and religious institutions. Here are five steps to regain trust.

One of the best investments church renewal leaders can make is in sharpening their leadership abilities. To help our church staff grow in their leadership skills, we attended the Global Leadership Summit last week.

  • Several themes emerged at GLS 2023, but none was more prominent or alarming than this: We are facing a crisis of trust.

Craig Groeschel, the founder and senior pastor of Life.Church, devoted his opening talk to the topic of trust. Below are five key takeaways from his message and practical applications for our work in church renewal:

Five Steps to Regaining Trust
 Step 1: Face the Facts
  • A new poll by Gallup shows only 32 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the Church and religious institutions. This tracks with Americans’ general distrust of institutions including police, public schools, large technology companies, big businesses, and politicians, which are all at or near all-time lows.
  • The first step to repairing this broken trust is to acknowledge that it exists. We should be talking about this in our staff meetings, our council meetings, and even from the pulpit.
Step 2: Increase Transparency
  • Groeschel recommended that pastors increase transparency as a way to increase trust. Pastors are often afraid to show that they have fears, insecurities, and weaknesses like everyone else. However, people tend to trust leaders who bring their whole heart with them into the office.
  • We sometimes expect people to be impressed when we show off our strengths, but in reality, they connect to us much more deeply when we reveal our weaknesses.
Step 3: Show Empathy
  • The old adage is so true: “People will not care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” With this in mind, many speakers at this year’s Global Leadership Summit encouraged us to talk less and listen more.
  • Groeschel said, “You don’t talk your way into being trusted; you listen your way into being trusted… Your team will never care about your mission if you don’t care about your team.” To regain trust, we have to be clear that we care about who they are more than what they do.
Step 4: Be Consistent
  • It’s hard to trust leaders who are sporadic and inconsistent. If a different “you” walks into every meeting, of course it will be hard for people to trust you!
  • Consistency is being clear with what you expect, rewarding it when you see it, and correcting it when you don’t. In the work of ministry, clarity is kindness.
Step 5: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  • As communication decreases, uncertainty increases. Many leaders decreased the amount of communication during the Covid-19 pandemic because they didn’t have complete clarity about the future. This only ratcheted up the level of anxiety in churches.
  • When the path forward is unclear or the situation is dire, everyone in your organization senses it. If leaders don’t acknowledge that reality, it erodes trust. I’ve found that I need to communicate at least 3x what I think is necessary in order for the message to really get through!

Groeschel said, “The future of leadership is trust. They won’t follow you if they don’t trust you.” The default is to trust less today than ever before. Which of these steps is most important to you as you seek to regain trust?

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