10 Tested Methods for Dealing with Problem Church Members

Two upset church members

No matter how peaceful and friendly your congregation may seem, every church has problem church members. Conflict is a part of life. We have to expect dissatisfaction among church members.

Disgruntled church members could have an issue with the pastor, you, or others. And what brought this negative attitude? The point isn't figuring out why but how to manage toxic church members.

What do you do when angry church members are having issues that are causing the members of your group to be uncomfortable? What are you supposed to do? Keep reading to learn 10 tested methods for handling members who are upset.

Expect to Deal with Problem Church Members


As a leader, the best way to handle disgruntled church members is to have a plan in place beforehand. While it's impossible to prepare for every situation, many can be headed off before they simmer and turn into a more significant conflict.

 The first way to prepare is to accept that conflicts within the church will happen at some point. This allows you to mentally and spiritually be ready when these situations crop up.

Second, you want to have a plan of action for dealing with angry church members. This can be as formal or informal as your church staff needs.

Ideally, you have a procedure that includes steps to deescalate conflicts. You will also want to identify steps to take when church members wish to escalate the situation.

Such steps include considerations such as when to use mediation or legal services and who should be involved in handling church member complaints.

Having a codified method for dealing with church staff issues can save everyone a lot of headaches and hassle in the long run. While it's never fun to anticipate these situations, they can and will arise at some point.

Finally, be proactive about heading off potential conflicts. Survey church members regularly to find out their needs and desires before they become grievances.


Meet In a Neutral Location

Pastor meeting with disgruntled church member for coffeeAs human beings, we subconsciously assign a status to certain places. As a member of church staff, the church is seen as your "home base," so to speak. It can often be intimidating or carry emotional baggage for church members.

To remove problem church members from the equation, consider meeting angry church members at a neutral location. This has two benefits.

First, it removes everyone from the space where the conflict stems from. It helps to focus on the issues at hand and speak about them more objectively.

Second, meeting in a public forum ensures that people are on their best behavior. While it would be nice to assume that everyone remains calm and rational, conflict can often bring out the worst in people.

So, when you find yourself handling challenging church members, invite them out for a coffee and a chat. As a bonus, sharing food and drink is a communal experience that can help ease tensions all on its own.

Heap Kindness

When someone is angry or upset with you, it can be tough to remain a beacon of positivity and kindness. However, this is a tried-and-true method of de-escalating conflicts. It's important to know how to be a good church leader when handling disgruntled members.

It's tough to stay angry and aggressive with someone who is being kind and soft-spoken. Not to mention, this was Jesus' preferred method of dealing with other people.

Modeling this Christ-like behavior during a heated debate within the church is a wonderful way to show people that they can still make their concerns known without lashing out in anger.

The best way to go about this is to prepare beforehand. Think of what you know about the member(s) and focus on the positives in the situation.

"I know that you are upset, and I appreciate you bringing this issue to my attention. Please know that I love you and want to find a solution." This type of kind acknowledgment can often diffuse rising tempers very quickly. 

Showering people with kindness can soften their hearts and make them more receptive to working out a solution to the problem. So, while it can be hard to put on a smile sometimes, remember that it is what Jesus would do.

Speak Respectfully

No one likes to be spoken down to or patronized. Especially in the middle of a conflict, this behavior can often stoke the flames even higher.

When dealing with problem church members, remember that they are people like you with valid feelings and concerns. Even if their problems do not seem important to you, they are important enough to them to bring them up.

Avoid scolding, lecturing or acting as an authority figure. Remember that the church is a community, not a university. In Christ, these are your brothers and sisters, not students, to be alleviated and controlled.

Likewise, do not be dismissive, combative, or give in to frustration and anger yourself. No conflict has ever been solved by escalating negative feelings on both sides.

When in doubt, remember the Golden Rule. Luke 6:31 says, "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." 

Keep Calm

Beach Meditation - Disgruntled church memberIt's been mentioned before, but it's important to reiterate: do not allow your own emotions to escalate. This can be incredibly difficult when dealing with angry church members, but it is of paramount importance.

However, staying calm in the face of rampant emotions is a difficult skill to master. And it is a skill that takes practice to hone.

All personal conflicts pale in comparison to this goal. Also, remember that God is in control. He has put this issue on peoples' hearts, just as he has put you in a position to handle them. Focusing on this can help you see beyond your impulses to snap back in anger.

Before talking with church members, prepare specific phrases or even internal thoughts that will allow you to uncenter yourself from the conversation. Focus on God instead of your feelings.

If the situation you are dealing with is adding stress and anger that you feel is beyond your ability to control, don't be afraid to reach out.

Other clergy or even a therapist can be very helpful in learning how to categorize your feelings and remove them from the situation. Do not feel like you have to shoulder all of these feelings on your own.

Finally, remember that God is always there for you. Speaking with Him through prayer will always help alleviate your anxieties and stresses.

Don't Be Prideful

When faced with conflict, sometimes it is our nature to take it as a personal attack. Anger and frustration stem from taking things personally, which comes directly from being prideful.

This is what happens when you center yourself in the situation of disgruntled church members. Whether the conflict has to do with you or not, it's very tempting to make it about yourself. After all, you're the one being attacked!

However, it would help if you remembered that it is out of frustration, fear, or anger when people lash out. They often pick the nearest and easiest target, which sometimes means church staff members.

Bear in mind that the conflict is not about you most of the time. Just because someone is angry in your direction does not mean that they are mad at you. Don't be eager to snap back defensively, as this will only worsen.

And if they ARE angry at you, consider removing yourself from the situation and bringing in someone else to meditate. This can help both parties to see things from each other's point of view and provide a moderating voice.

Listen With Understanding

Pastor listening to disgruntled church member

An essential skill for dealing with people is learning the art of active listening. Active listening is when you consciously make an effort to really hear what someone is saying, rather than just letting their words hit your eardrums.

A common mistake that many people make when dealing with conflict is to sit through the other person's speech while preparing rebuttals in their head.

This means that you are not hearing what they are saying. You are just using it as ammunition to further your argument or prepare your following statement.

Instead, try to understand any underlying or unsaid things as you listen. Sometimes people are not even aware of what they want, and an excellent active listener can pick stuff out of a conversation.

Beyond active listening, listen to understand. Emphasize empathy and understanding, even if you do not necessarily agree with their viewpoint.

Repeat back what has been said and ask for clarification. These actions show that you are listening and trying to understand their point of view.

It also helps to remove yourself from the center of the conversation and focus directly on the issues at hand. Fully exploring the extent of a church member's grievances helps you arrive at a more satisfying solution.

Resolve Issues, If Possible

This aspect of dealing with problem church members is usually the most difficult. Different parties may want other things, and some issues may present challenges that seem impossible.

The art of conflict resolution is complex and takes a lot of emotional and social maturity. Sometimes it may even be beyond your abilities or skills. It is perfectly acceptable to seek outside help if you need it.

Maybe your staff needs specific training, or a new hire needs to be made to see a need that you are not currently fulfilling. Or perhaps a member is concerned about a staff member's behavior.

Logistic and financial constraints may make some things difficult. However, laying out an action plan can show that steps will be taken to correct an issue shortly and help alleviate concerns.

When drafting up a resolution to a church conflict, consider using the SMART action planning method.

  • Specific: directly addresses the issues at hand
  • Measurable: there is a way to identify when the issue is resolved
  • Actionable: the steps to achieve resolution are concrete and clear
  • Realistic: goals and expectations are possible
  • Timely: there is an agreed-upon timeline for accomplishing the resolution

This will ensure that the conflict is resolved and not swept under the rug to fester and sow more discord and strife. Make sure to explore all possible avenues of resolution.

Know When to Walk Away

Woman Pastor walking away from a disgruntled church member

As human beings, sometimes we have a conflict where no one can reach a consensus. There may be times when you have to agree to disagree and move on.

This can sometimes be an unfortunate outcome. It can result in people leaving the church or ongoing bad feelings between members. However, it is better to break off a conflict rather than let it continue.

First and foremost, steps should be taken to ensure that everyone agrees that an issue is unsolvable. If one party feels jilted by the other, resentment will fester.

If a church member feels called to leave the church, realize that that is part of God's plan. Make sure to communicate that you still love them and that you bear them no ill will moving forward.

Remember that ultimately, the safety and comfort of your church as a whole are of utmost importance. It is hard to serve God when people constantly stir up conflict and refuse to find a resolution.

 It is better to let things go in these instances, however painful it may be. You cannot change people's hearts; only God can.

 Be compassionate and forgiving, even if someone is walking away in anger. They may come back around once things have settled down and they can take a more objective view.


Finally, we reach the most important tip for dealing with problem church members. Prayer is your most potent tool for handling conflict and high emotions.

Don't pray that the other party will see things your way. Maybe your way is not the way that God intends for things to go. Instead, keep your heart open to correction and guidance.

Remember that the situation is in God's hands, and you are called to serve Him to the church's people. Seek his guidance throughout the entire process, and you will get through the situation.

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