The emotional tollbooth is a term coined by David Nicholson, founding pastor of Open Door Church in Noblesville, Indiana, as his church was going through the Natural Church Development (NCD) process.
The first step in the process is taking a survey designed to point out your weakest area. One of the biggest obstacles churches face when getting the results of their NCD survey is denial. There’s a tendency to be defensive, and to deny that the results presented are correct—even when there’s no objective evidence to doubt that it’s an accurate reading.
How to get through the process of accepting those survey results is what David Nicholson calls “the emotional toll booth.” Here’s how he describes it:
While doing research on NCD implementation and experiencing the process in my own congregation, I came up with the idea of the emotional toll booth. It basically means that whoever holds responsibility in the area that comes back as the minimum factor will face an emotional toll. That person can be a pastor, other staff member, or volunteer—the effect is the same. Although the church is more than one person or one ministry team, the person responsible for that area will often feel solely responsible. Whoever is leading in the minimum factor area is going to pay an emotional toll as a result of the survey.
Our minimum factor came back as Passionate Spirituality. I was devastated. We had only scored a 49 (which is actually average compared to USA churches) but it felt low to me and I ju
st couldn’t figure out how we could possibly have scored that low. The old tapes started playing in my head: “It must be my fault. Maybe it’s just me personally.” I really took an emotional hit. Since our church is Free Methodist, a denomination with roots in the Holiness movement, to have passionate spirituality as a minimum factor was particularly devastating.
For the pastor, feelings of failure most often strike when passionate spirituality is the minimum factor. Since that’s an area where the pastor sets the example and the pace, that’s the minimum factor that will hit closest to home. Generally, other people have more input and make more contributions to the other areas. I had to pay that toll in order to move on. It takes at least a couple of weeks to emotionally process the survey results.
The concept of the emotional tollbooth doesn’t apply only to NCD. We encounter the same principle whenever we need to face unpleasant realities about our own ministry. That’s difficult, but the only way through is through. We need to face the problems before we can solutions for the future.