Our church was nearing year-end and finalizing the budget. I wrote an email to the congregation asking that they prayerfully consider their pledges for the coming year. I scanned the email for any glaring mistakes, decided it looked good, and I hit send.
Then came the replies.
"I’m glad we're playfully considering our pledges!!" read one. Another said: "You might re-read the email. I'm 'playfully' working on my budget…"
Clearly, through an unfortunate combination of haste and auto-correct, the email said "playfully" instead of "prayerfully." I felt a little sick to my stomach. I knew this was not a world-ending mistake, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I don't like making mistakes.
Fortunately, our pastor is fast on his feet. "Go easier on yourself,” he said, “no one got hurt. Besides, I think we can do something with this."
I wasn’t sure what he meant by "do something" until Sunday. During the service he announced the need for pledges, addressing the "playful" error head-on. He said, "While we certainly hope you pray about your giving, we do actually encourage you to be playful. The Bible calls us to be cheerful givers, which means we are to give gladly, freely, and happily. The budget is a serious aspect of the church, but it's also a visible record of our delight as a congregation. We could be a little more playful in our giving."
Most years our church gets a 60% pledge rate. That year we got 80%. The episode taught me a little bit about church budgets and a lot about responding to mistakes.
Church communicators work out in the open: we write web copy, bulletin announcements, social media posts, and mass emails. Sometimes we make a mistake. Mistakes are inevitable; how we deal with them isn't. As this "playful" event—and many others like it—taught me, there is value in leaning into mistakes instead of retreating from them.
Here's what I mean by leaning in:
1. Accept that mistakes happen.
We are human, and humans make mistakes. Striving for excellence is a good thing, but perfectionism is a dangerous trap.
2. Own your mistakes.
I often want to hide from mistakes and hope no one notices. That's bad communication practice and bad life advice. There's a technique for when your car slides on icy roads. To regain control, you're taught to turn into the skid. It's counterintuitive, but it works. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become driving in slippery conditions. The same holds true in communication. The more you own your mistakes (turn into the skid), the better you become at handling them.
3. Apologize when necessary.
The prayerfully/playfully mistake didn’t warrant a big, public apology—no one was directly hurt by it. That won't always be the case. Sometimes we miss an announcement, overlook someone, or embarrass someone else. In those cases, and many others, don't hesitate to offer a genuine apology and do your best to make amends.
4. Embrace mistakes as opportunities for greater engagement and connection.
Embracing a mistake can take many forms. One way to embrace a mistake is to call attention to it in a humanizing way, like sending a follow-up email with "oops" as the subject. Another way to embrace a mistake is to offer a prize for whoever first notices a typo in the bulletin. You can also use this as a recruitment opportunity (that member who keeps mentioning typos might make a great bulletin-editor).
Got a good mistake story? Share it in the comments. I’d love to know I’m not alone.