Jan 2, 2023

What Impacts Christians’ Understanding of Conflict Resolution?

two women sitting at a table looking away from each other

How do Christians approach conflict resolution in their daily lives?

New Barna data collected in partnership with The Genius of One explores five factors of church community—unity, boundaries, spiritual gifts, conflict resolution and forgiveness—to assess how Christians and pastors perceive and practice each. When it comes to conflict resolution, at least, pastors and Christians seem to have complimentary approaches.

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Christians Are Comfortable Resolving Conflict at Home—But Less So in Other Contexts
When asked where they feel most comfortable pursuing reconciliation directly and personally (as outlined in Matthew 18) most Christians agree (53% very, 30% somewhat) they are comfortable taking this step in their home. While nearly the same percentage of Christians (80%) says they are at least somewhat comfortable addressing conflict directly among their friends, strong agreement decreases by 11 points.

Across all other contexts, the percentage of those who are “very comfortable” steadily decreases. Understandably, Christians are most comfortable resolving conflict in areas they frequent and with people they know. Hesitation increases when Christians are asked about conflict resolution in an individual’s community, with their neighbors and especially with strangers or acquaintances.

A look at the data on pastors highlights a similar pattern. Asked where they’re comfortable resolving conflict, pastors show the greatest confidence in the contexts of their homes, churches and friendships. They note heightened discomfort, however, when having to pursue reconciliation with supervisors or superiors, with their neighbors and in their local community.

While the majority of both pastors and Christians seem at least somewhat comfortable taking initial steps to resolve conflict in most settings, there are still a number of contexts in which both groups could be coached and encouraged to seek peace. This is especially true of resolution that must take place outside of the familiar settings of church and home.

Christians Note Family as Most Influential in Their Understanding of Conflict Resolution
Asked about how they approach conflict resolution, pastors and Christians offer different, though not incompatible, approaches to pursuing peace. Half of pastors (50%) say they approach conflict resolution with a collaborative mindset. Meanwhile, the plurality of Christians (37%) prefers to avoid or prevent conflict in the first place.

Based on these answers, many church leaders seem poised to assist with conflict resolution. But are Christians looking to pastors to influence their understanding and practice of reconciliation?

Overall, Christians say their family members have had the strongest influence on how they’ve learned to resolve conflict (57%). After this, they name the Bible (39%) and friends (37%) as most influential. Nearly one-quarter of Christians (24%) says pastors or church leaders have most influenced their approach to conflict resolution.

Looking specifically at faith practice, both practicing and nonpracticing Christians have been chiefly influenced by family members when learning about conflict resolution. From there, the list varies: Practicing Christians are more likely to say the Bible (55% vs. 30% non-Christians), pastors or church leaders (37% vs. 17%) and their church community (34% vs. 16%) have had the strongest influence on how they resolve conflict. Nonpracticing Christians are more likely to name friends (40% vs. 29% practicing Christians) or to say that nothing has influenced their understanding of conflict resolution (10% vs. 3%).

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Taken together, these data show that while Christians and pastors are relatively comfortable approaching conflict resolution in many settings, there is still some room to grow, especially outside the familiar circles of church, friends and home. Though pastors and scripture are highly influential in impacting practicing Christians’ understanding of conflict resolution, Christians in general are more often learning about conflict resolution from sources closer to them, such as family and friends.

Data taken from this same study show that, nearly nine in 10 Christians (86%) at least somewhat agree that their church equips them to participate in community in a healthy way. This highlights an opportunity for pastors to grow in their influence around important topics such as conflict resolution, unity, forgiveness and more to help Christians approach community.

Interested in learning more about how Christians and pastors view other factors of healthy community? Download this brief report—created in partnership with The Genius of One—from Barna Access to review the data.

About the Research

For this study, we conducted a quantitative survey of 1,223 U.S. Christians and 426 U.S. pastors. The online survey for U.S. Christians was conducted from June 1–10, 2022. The online survey for U.S. pastors was conducted from July 7–18, 2022. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.2 percent for U.S. Christians and +/- 2.5 percent for U.S. pastors at the 95 percent confidence level.

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

© Barna Group, 2023.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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