3 “Don’ts” When Dealing with Complainers

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“Our small group curriculum is too much fluff!”

“I can never find out what’s going on around the church!”

“Why do we sing so many old hymns?!”

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If you’re a church leader, you’ve likely heard each of these complaints, or some variation on these themes.

The point is, as a leader (and especially as a church leader), dealing with complaints is part of the territory. What’s important is how you deal with them, and even more so, how you don’t deal with them.

Here are three vital “don’ts” when it comes to dealing with complainers.

1.   Don’t take on every complaint yourself
A common mistake made by inexperienced leaders is to assume that simply because someone brought a complaint to your attention, that it now becomes your problem to solve.

Instead, listen politely, discern the nature of the concern, and immediately point the person toward the person on the team best equipped to respond.

2.   Don’t get defensive
Effective leaders know that even within the shrillest sounding complaint, there can be a kernel of truth worth listening to. But if your skin is so thin that you immediately reject any complaint out of hand you can miss out on information that could help you improve your leadership or the ministry of your church.

Learn to look for the nuggets of truth contained within any complaint.

3.   Don’t miss out on a teaching moment
When a complaint comes forward, even one laced with sarcasm and hurtful language, you have an opportunity and responsibility to coach and correct.

First, deal with the content of the complaint in whatever appropriate manner you choose.

Then, separate out the tone or manner with which the complaint was brought forward. If it was presented in a respectful manner, affirm and reinforce that tone.

But if the complaint was presented in a mean-spirited, hurtful manner, deal with that. Deal with that clearly and unequivocally. To let such behavior go unchallenged will only lead to more problems in the future.

Complaints happen. And as a leader in the local church you will deal with them more often than you’d probably want to.

And so since you can’t avoid them, you might as well grow through them.

What leadership lessons have you learned in dealing with complaints?

the author

Scott Cochrane


  1. Not getting defensive is the hardest one for me. I’ve also learned though that there can be teaching moments beyond the immediate. When a complaint uncovers some of those ‘nuggets of truth’ you talk about, it can lead to a corporate teaching opportunity as well. My only suggestion – let enough time pass so that the complainer won’t recognize the results of their complaint in your teaching. Great thoughts Scott!

  2. “Let enough time pass so that the complainer won’t recognize the results of their complaint in your teaching”

    Oh, I like that Jeff. If a constant complainer starts to see their issues showing up in your sermons it can ‘feed the dragon’, and they might end up simply complaining all the more!

  3. I find the more clear you are about who you are (as an individual and a church / ministry) and who you aren’t helps process complaints. . . plus I have come to learn who’s voices are loud (appropriately) in ministry. . . those who have skin in the game and who aren’t really complaining but wanting to help make something better! Thanks Scott, I have forwarded this to our team at KGF.

  4. By the way Scott, that picture of you in the article above shows the aging you’ve gone through!! Wow, I hope Chicago is less stressful 🙂 Just kidding, you are loved!

  5. Haha Mike…ya the years have taken their toll! 🙂

    Love your comment about weighing the voices. Unfortunately, sometimes the most shrill complaints come from those who really are not engaged.

    It requires considerable discernment to navigate that minefield!

    Appreciate you weighing in Mike!

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