When I was little, I remember riding down the expressway in the back seat when my mother called my father’s attention to the wheels on a semi ahead of our Jeep® Grand Cherokee. “Quick, grab some paper and write ‘TREAD,'” he said. “Hold it up to the window as we pass by.” Waiving to the driver from the left lane, dad bleeped his horn and the driver noticed our message, nodded his head, and proceeded to pull over. We continued our family vacation without incident.
Later, dad explained that truckers often have their tires retreaded, so sometimes the tread peels off. It can cause an accident given all the wrong circumstances. The trucker was grateful for the message.
This story reminds me of my days in the food service industry. How many restaurants have “feedback” boxes, phone numbers to call, or websites where we can tell about our experience? We often see signs on a commercial vehicle that say, “How’s my driving?” Feedback is something we are asked for with almost every product and service, from TV service to mobile networks. Even GoDaddy.com will ask if they can send you a survey about your call to customer service. Business knows that it cannot survive unless it seeks and welcomes feedback from the public.
All across America, with the different denominations that hold different beliefs, sometimes not even able to have fellowship with each other, and some even discounting Jesus or the Bible, there is one policy that remains constant: How to handle feedback.
I have yet to see a Christian ministry that won’t tell you, “Don’t give your opinion until you have attended for a long time, even then give it in small and subtle ways so that people accept it so slowly that they think nothing changed.” (And I don’t mean the five-question survey they give to first time visitors.) Why is this?
The American church as a whole is experiencing decline—the same decline as a business turning a deaf ear to customer feedback.
When my family was on the express way, dad didn’t have time to “build a relationship” with the trucker before he sent a message that possibly saved lives. Think of the implications. Dad made a friend with that trucker, even though they never spoke. Part of the unofficial-universal model for organized Christianity is that friendship must precede feedback, but an evangelist will make a friend by telling you that you need Jesus.. Well, in the past. Maybe we’re having trouble with evangelism because we’ve forgotten that feedback grows friendship.
Schoolyard bullies let others walk around with “kick me” signs on their backs when a friend would say something. The Good Samaritan didn’t even know the victim in the road. Truth builds relationships. Division comes from speaking without listening first. Perhaps discipleship, and the natural growth that follows, will improve in the American Church when we recognize that truth itself is a peace offering and is the fastest way to build bridges.