Learning to Say, “I’m Sorry”
At the end of August 2012, our church held our annual event, “Rockin’ From the Roof”. This event draws a very large crowd every year, and requires a significant number of volunteers to help out. This year was no exception, as we drew about 3000 people to the event, with about 300 volunteers throughout the day.
The event is one of our biggest local missions events, and this year, we gave away approximately 12 tons of clothing, several tons of food, and offered live music all day long at a small fair-like atmosphere, where the entire event is free to the public. As I mentioned we had approximately 300 volunteers at this event, including almost my entire regular Safety Team, plus a couple of extra Safety Team members who signed on for that day only. As chaotic as the day was, mistakes will be made, and this day was no exception.
One of my temporary team members was not informed of a particular policy that had changed since the previous year, and a simple miscommunication about policy was aggravated by the chaos surrounding the event, causing this team member to be rather rude in denying entrance to someone who was supposed to be on the volunteer team.
That night, I received an email from the senior pastor and his wife, who leads the missions ministry, inquiring about the situation, and forwarding an email from the person who was turned away. This situation was further compounded because the person who was turned away was a mother who was serving on one of the teams with her special needs child, and was intending to expose this child to serving in ministry.
When I first got the email, I was stunned. The person did not know who the team member was, could not identify them, but was very sure about their story. I knew that this situation had to be handled quickly, as we were building a reputation of serving the church, and this would simply destroy all that work. I wrote an email to the senior pastor, his wife, and the executive pastor reaffirming our commitment to service, and that I would follow up with the individual in the subsequent days.
The next morning was a Sunday morning. Starting before our first service, I started questioning all of my team members about the incident, to see if anyone remembered it. I was then able to find person who complained, and spent some time with them learning what happened. In short, they were basically turned away due to the circumstances described above. Knowing at that point that my team was at fault, I apologized profusely, both on behalf of the team, and personally. I apologized to her, and her daughter personally, explaining why I believe the situation developed the way it did, and promising to correct it. I then told the individual that she could contact me at any time, and gave her my personal contact information.
We parted from that conversation with her knowing that the situation was resolved, that changes in training would be made, and that the Safety Team truly did desire to serve the church. I was informed later that she was absolutely thrilled to have been contacted so fast, and that we took her situation to heart. I also communicated to the senior pastor, his wife, and the executive pastor what had transpired, detailing changes and training that would be happening.
What was most important about this episode was the power of a simple apology. When we were faced with this situation, I directly apologized to her, acknowledging the mistakes quickly, not assigning blame, not making excuses. Simply apologizing. Most individuals who complain simply want to be acknowledged. They want to have their troubles known, and simply acknowledging the problem and giving a sincere apology will go much further than playing the blame game or making excuses.
In short, in any leadership position, learn to say, “I’m sorry.”