How to Deal with Chronic Complainers In the Church

Small churches can be a magnet for chronic complainers. Here's how to reduce their negative impact – and increase the positive.

Some people love to complain. Many of them find their way into our churches. They especially like small churches.

In a big church, chronic complainers get lost in the crowd. The pastor may only be aware of them by email (but so many emails!).

In a small church their voice and impact are large. Small church pastors must resist the temptation to be drawn into a battle with them. That makes complainers dig in harder – and start recruiting.

Here are 10 principles that have helped me reduce the impact of chronic complainers, and sometimes turn their negatives into positives.

1. Don’t Assume that Every Complaint Is Wrong

Not all complainers are chronic. Sometimes they’re right.

Not all complainers are chronic. Sometimes they’re right. Click To Tweet

It can be hard not to automatically discount the concerns of people who complain a lot. But when their complaints are valid, they should be taken seriously.

2. Check Your Attitude

Are you sure the complaining church member is the guilty party, not the stubborn pastor? It could be both.

If you’re always fighting off complainers, take a closer look at yourself. You may discover it’s not them, it’s you.

3. Share More, Not Less

People in a small church want to know more about the church’s everyday business than people in big churches do. If they think vital information is being withheld, they get suspicious. And suspicious people become complainers.

You know the old saying that something is on a “need to know” basis? Today, we should assume that everyone needs to know everything.

Unless there’s a specific reason not to tell them, we need to be generous in what we tell people. It’s almost always better for people to know too much than not enough.

A transparent leader is a trusted leader. And a trusted leader hears fewer complaints.

4. Don’t Put a Complainer In Charge to Shut Them Up

Having the occasional complaint neither qualifies nor disqualifies someone from leadership. But being a chronic complainer should disqualify them.

It’s dangerous, unwise and unbiblical to tell a chronic complainer, “Okay, fine! If you think you can do it better, give it a shot! You’re in charge now!” No matter how frustrated we get.

No ministry can stay healthy if it’s led by a chronic complainer.

“Just give them what they want!” never works. It may seem like the easy way out. But it never is.

5. Don’t Magnify Their Importance

Don’t assume a chronic complainer has more power than they have.

When a chronic complainer tells you “everyone says” something is a problem, it’s likely that “everyone” who has a problem is standing in front of you.

Treat them with respect. But don’t buy into their exaggerated sense of self-importance.

6. Don’t Believe What They Say About You – Believe What God Says About You

Like the comedian who leaves the stage devastated because there was one person in the audience who didn’t laugh, it’s too easy for pastors to allow a single complainer to make them feel completely devalued.

Ultimately, there’s only one opinion that matters. If God has called you, that’s enough.

7. Don’t Talk Behind Their Back

It’s so tempting to want to complain about the complainers. And it’s a good idea to have someone you can offload to.

Sometimes the issue needs to be dealt with by deacons, elders or staff. But don’t allow those discussions to become character assassinations. Deal with the issue. Then move on.

Keep the moral high ground. Don't let a complainer turn you into a gossip. Click To Tweet

Keep the moral high ground. Don’t let a complainer turn you into a gossip.

8. Don’t Use the Pulpit as a Weapon

It is a horrifying abuse of our position to use the pulpit to get back at chronic complainers – even if we wrap the message in proof-texts and don’t refer to the complainer by name.

Always resist that temptation. Once you give in, you will have lost more – far more – than whatever battle the chronic complainer wanted to draw you in to.

9. Admit Your Mistakes

It’s hard to admit mistakes to a complainer because we think it will add fuel to their fire. The opposite is almost always the case.

Sometimes the “chronic” part of the complaining is just persisting until they know you see the problem. Once you do, many stop complaining.

10. When They’re Right, Thank Them

When they’re right, they’re right.

If someone puts the brakes on your bad idea (we’ve all had our share of stinkers), they deserve to be thanked. And don’t worry. Thanking them won’t make them complain more.

Thankful leaders don’t get more complaints. They get fewer.


(Photo by Jorge Franganillo | Flickr)

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