Ready or not, both you and your church are online more than ever before.

You’re streaming your services live and posting clips and videos on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.

Handling the tech is one thing, but a question many don’t think of is how to handle the people.

As you’ve probably noticed, you’re getting more weirdness, trolls and criticism than you’re used to.

What do you do with all that?

As an online content creator, I’ve been wrestling this problem down for years, and while it’s not easy to deal with, if you think in categories it can save you a lot of time, heartache and a few sleepless nights.

It starts here. The tone you set as a leader determines the tone of your online community. The tone you foster is the tone you fuel.

So if you’re angry, caustic and mean…you’ll attract those kind of people.

On the other hand, if you’re thoughtful, kind and generous, you’ll find that most of your audience is the same way.

I’ll also be the first to say I feel as a content creator that I’m in the rare space of having a generally amazing, thoughtful and kind audience. For the amount of traffic we get, 95% of the interaction I see online via the blog, podcast, and social media are overwhelmingly positive.

But—and this is the catch—no matter how kind, thoughtful and generous you are online, the critics, trolls and weirdness will find you.

So…what do you do?

In this post, I’ll share a filtering system for handling online comments, direct messages and interactions that have helped me a lot. I hope they help you.

There Are Three Basic Kinds of People In The World

Life online is still life with people. So it’s helpful to realize when you’re dealing with online comments, you’re dealing with human nature.

And basically, there are three kinds of people in the world.

It may seem too simple to divide the world into three kinds of people, and try as he might to avoid it, clinical psychologist and best-selling author Henry Cloud helpfully points out in his book, Necessary Endings that there are essentially three kinds of people in life and leadership.

Wise People 

Foolish People 

Evil People

After 25 years in leadership, I’d have to agree with Henry.  Sure, people can move between categories. Wise people have foolish moments and we can all do things that can only be described as malicious or evil.

All day long, though, you hear from all three categories of people online.

Essentially the difference between wise people and foolish people comes down to how they deal with truth.

Wise people encounter truth and change as a result. For example, after getting a speeding ticket, wise people learn and slow down. After being told their words hurt someone, a wise person will try to understand why, apologize and work hard not to do it again. They’re open, not defensive, they learn and grow and tend not to make the mistakes over and over again.

Foolish people encounter truth and don’t change. Instead, they try to adjust the truth so they don’t have to adjust to it. Confronted with a problem, a foolish person will deny, blame, minimize, generate excuses and do anything in his or her power to avoid having to deal with reality.

They don’t learn and rarely grow. As Cloud’s frequent collaborator John Townsend puts it, foolish people have a flat learning curve. As a result, they tend to wreak a lot of havoc and cause damage in their own lives and the lives of others.

Foolish behaviour means some broke people will always be broke, some chronic procrastinators will always be late and some people keep running into the same problems again and again. They may mean well, but their lack of learning means they keep making things hard for themselves and others.

Evil People. Finally, as hard as it is to admit, some people really act in an evil way. They intend to harm you. They want to take you down.

And as hard as it is to believe, they don’t have your best interests at heart and want to see you fail.

I found it hard to accept this early on in leadership, but I’ve seen it often enough times to no longer dismiss it.

For years, I kept thinking evil people would change and that foolish people will change.

I’ve learned the hard way that that’s just not always true.

Just because someone can change doesn’t mean they will change.

How to Handle Three Kinds of People

So what’s the takeaway?

If you want to curate a positive, helpful, honest and real presence online, my suggestion is to:

Amplify the voice of wise people.

Help and interact with foolish people (but limit their influence).

Delete and block evil people.

It can be difficult to discern who’s wise, foolish or evil in real life. It can be even a little harder online. But here are some characteristics to guide you and your team.

1. How to Recognize Wise People Online

Wise people are the people you want to attract, keep, promote and whose voices you want to amplify.

A few characteristic sum up wise people:

  • Thoughtful. They actually add to the conversation and are mindful of other people.
  • Considerate.  They think about other people and often engage with others in a way that makes everyone better.
  • Helpful. They make a positive contribution with their words and tone.  
  • Mutual. This one’s a little harder to put into words, but there’s a give and take, a back and forth. They’re open to new ideas and interested in what other people think.
  • Generous. They’re kind with their words and attitudes.
  • Humble. It’s not all about them, and they don’t mind saying sorry if they stumble into negative territory. They learn from their mistakes.

These aren’t just the kind of people you want online, these are people you want in your chat, comments and interacting with your guests online.

What do you do when you find a wise participant in the chat or comments? Amplify their voice.

Acknowledge them. Interact with them. Thank them.

Better yet, ask some wise people you know to be active early in the chat or comments to set a great tone.  Wise people often hold back from the conversation, allowing, well, others, to dominate. Draw them in. Ask them to comment.

This is the kind of interaction we all long for online but which seems to be oh-so-scare.

When you find it, fuel it.

2. How to Recognize Foolish People Online

Foolish people, as John Townsend says, have a flat learning curve. They don’t intend to harm themselves or others, but they do.

Here are a few characteristics of foolish people to help you recognize that kind of behaviour in the chat:

  • Selfish. It’s all about them.
  • Single Issue. Because it’s all about them, they keep coming back to their pet issues.
  • Unhelpful. They’ll keep talking about what’s on their mind, but instead of being open to others, they’ll link to the things they care about? i.e. “Have you heard about the latest discoveries about the Moon Landing in 1969? Totally run by aliens. Here’s proof.”
  • Off Topic. Because they’re the topic, they have a hard time tracking with what’s happening in the stream.
  • Not Humble. It is all about them. Sorry, did you say something?

Foolish people aren’t evil people, but the best practice in chat is to limit their interactions.

A great strategy when someone dominates the chat with their own issues is to invite them to an offline conversation. Hey Carey…thanks for being part of the chat. I see you’re really into Moon Landings. Jason on our team would love to connect with you. Can you send him a note at jason@xyz.com and he’d be happy to hear more of your story there.” 

If you run a Zoom service, you can move that person off to a breakout room.

The truth is people are lonely. They need connection, but sometimes the best way to connect is offline rather than in front of everyone in the group.

You’ll also notice that the characteristics above can describe the behaviour of someone in crisis or deep pain. Not necessarily a foolish person at all, just a hurting person.

Again, the best way to deal with grief or pain is to help the person get the help they need. You can best do that offline.

What’s your method for taking online conversations off line so people can get the help they need?

Once you have that set up, your chat will get a lot healthier.

3. How To Recognize The Trolls and Haters Online (Evil People)

People who behave an evil way can destroy your online conversation in minutes. Be really careful.

As much as you want to help people, if someone is there to harm you, you need to take action.

The biggest differences between foolish behaviour and trolls and hater are tone and intent.

  • Rude. Hater and trolls specialize in ALL CAPS, lots of exclamation marks, and being dismissive of other guests.
  • Abusive. They lash out against the speaker or other participants in rude or obnoxious ways.
  • Anonymous or Fake. Trolls and haters rarely use their real names and have fake account pics.
  • Single Issue. The issue tends to be them or what they’re against.
  • Closed. People who do something foolish often respond to correction. Trolls and haters don’t. They’ll keep going until you shut them down.
  • Persistent.  Even after you shut them down, some will come back under new, fake accounts.
  • Vain. It is all about them. There is no other message or messenger other than what they’re communicating. (Note, usually people who start with ‘In my humble opinion” aren’t).

I wish we live in a world where none of this happened, but it does. And you have to be ready for it.

What you focus on expands. The more you feed the trolls, the more often they return. The more you amplify the voice of the wise, the more the good people show up.

So, when I see someone like this on one of my posts, I’ll usually just delete their comment first, and if they are kind after that, I won’t ban them.

But often, an evil person will follow up and say something like:

“Oh, now you’re deleting my comments??? THIS IS CENSORSHIP AT IT’S WORST!!!”

In the same way thieves don’t have a ‘right’ to come back into your house, you can decide trolls and haters aren’t allowed to steal meaningful dialogue from your channels.

Letting trolls and haters control your feed is like letting cancer grow untreated. It will eventually kill all good life.

The best thing you can do to a troll or hater is block, ban or delete them.

They’ll find another place to spew on the internet, it just won’t be on your site.

My guess is the compassionate side of you would probably like to give trolls and haters another shot. I get it. I’ve tried more than once.

Hate to tell you this, but it pretty much never works. A true troll has no interest in dialogue, learning or respecting others. Maybe they do need help, but if they’re only doing damage on your site, you’re probably not going to be the person who helps them.


So I’m curious…

Have you had to ban anyone from your online chat yet?

If so, what happened? Leave a comment below!

Now That You’re Online Far More: How to Handle the Critics, Trolls and Weirdness

30 Comments

  1. steve on October 22, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    I contacted Gloo Connects and they said they don’t serva Canada yet

  2. Tom Sharpe on October 22, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    Many good comments above. We have set up an apologetic group here to deal with online feedback. I am trying to learn as we go. We have received much hostility in the Toronto area last June which helped us move toward forming this group. I have much to learn. So far we are trying to avoid contests. We are focusing on Jesus interactions. We are trying to use hot coals on heads with kindness and concern for those who criticize. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit is going to work. Maybe we just need to get out of the way. If we can figure out how to do this. I have unresolved issues with the scriptures too that those outside throw at me. Hoping to grow in this area in the years to come. Online has filled me with hope for the mission.

  3. Stewart Perry on October 22, 2020 at 10:03 am

    I have had a few positive experiences with people who seemed to be trolls at first, but in the end were just people who’d been hurt by church and/or Christians.

    What I did is ended the online conversation, but invited a face-to-face. What I found a few times was the person who was horribly rude online was actually a very decent person face-to-face.

    In one case, we argued (good-naturedly) for an hour and a half. He considered himself a “new atheist” a la Hitchens. I showed respect. He showed respect after receiving it. And we left friends. The guy’s roommate ended up doing some programming for a ministry we support for free. And this guy and his circle of friends became by defenders whenever another “new atheist” would attack me online.

    • Tom Sharpe on October 22, 2020 at 12:12 pm

      I like this Stewart. It encourages me. Respect can make things happen.

  4. Ned Lenhart on October 21, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    You mention a new streaming service in the introduction. I’m having trouble finding it in the post. Can you point me in the right direction? Thanks.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:35 am

      Ned thanks for asking. That was an earlier iteration of the post and we’ve updated the post to remove it. One service that might help you in this respect is https://www.livecontrol.io. Thanks for asking!

  5. Pam on October 21, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    As our online presence increases this is great advice! Thank you for your wisdom and knowledge which helps us all grow.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:33 am

      Thanks Pam!

  6. Matthew Whiten on October 21, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    I have to admit I fall under the evil category. The I want to hurt the church that hurt me by blasting their YouTube comments. So far I have resisted but they are a toxic church and I think people should know it.

    • Pam on October 21, 2020 at 4:49 pm

      Stay the bigger person – people will figure it out that the environment is toxic. Go forward and live your life well, that’s the best way to victory.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:26 am

      Hey Matthew…that’s just huge self-awareness. We all toggle between categories but I love how calling yourself out can move you back into either wise or at least foolish. Discretion and confession will help you. I’ll bet deep down you’re one of the good people.

  7. Bothwell Phiri on October 21, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Thank you for the share this was a great article. My experience is that as you say those who are evil are on a mission and there is no reconciliation with them. The foolish do not get bored as my brother suggests they get emboldened by inaction and also need ro be either come onscreen with you or offline. Remember we are online ro minister ro people not hold a debate.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:33 am

      Thanks Bothwell. The intent distinction that Henry Cloud underlines really helps me. Some people really do mean to harm and destroy.

  8. cathy townley on October 21, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Yes I had to block someone after they said that thing about “this is censorship AT ITS WORST.” or something like that. I am currently in the process of helping a pastor I coach recognize someone on his team of people I”m teaching in a cohort with other pastors, as either foolish or evil. I’m not sure which one totally. But he has disrupted my online class and I am about to have a conversation with the pastor that will raise the issue of that persons’ behavior, how it has affected my class and how it will ultimately affect what he’s trying to do in his church. I posted this article on my townleycoaching fb page.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:26 am

      Glad it helped Cathy!

  9. Moises on October 21, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Hi, Carey! I’ve been learning a lot with you lately, thanks for an amazing post. I just had some issue with haters (I’m not a public person at all, but even so…) and I’d like to hear from you about dealing with the fear and sadness they cause with their comments. Fear of having your image destroyed, your family affected with bad/wrong exposure, or even for having being wrongly accused of something and others believed so. Sadness because of what they’re saying not being true, and thinking others will believe that, and you’ll have a hard time dealing with the consequences of their evil actions. Thanks in advanced!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:29 am

      Moises…thanks. That’s a really powerful question. To be honest, I don’t worry about it much. I know it could happen, but I also know how I conduct myself privately and publicly. I also don’t spend any time attacking others online, so that helps too. I haven’t been really beat up much online, but if it was for something I did for real, I’d just own up to it. If it’s false, well, sometimes in leadership we get misunderstood and I would have to see what I could learn from it.

      Yesterday I interviewed Beth Moore for my podcast. She has taken a lot of heat online and her answer was fascinating. We talked about how she handles it for a good amount of time. The episode will release later this year. I thought Beth had so much wisdom and honesty on this. Hope this helps!

  10. Grace on October 21, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Carey,

    You are so very right about compassion with trolls. I worked for months online to make peace with a person who claims to be on a neighboring property to our campus. In the end I had to block the vitriol, and continually take down the posts.

    Shortly after doing so this person showed up for a live service. Immediately after the dismissal, the person, who had never attended a service, stood and began the same fault finding. The woman then attacked the pastor’s sermon and “how you run your church.” When I asked the person to leave, she hid in the restroom until all congregation members had gone and attempted to confront us again. I was able to shut down the tirade by explaining she had no emotional currency with us, nor with the congregation and would not be welcomed online nor on campus again.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:30 am

      Oh Grace…I hear you. It’s really sad to see that people are like this. I often wonder what happened to them…what their story is. But still, you can’t let them disrupt your entire congregation or ministry. Sounds like you have a great perspective on it Grace.

  11. Sam Thomas on October 21, 2020 at 8:51 am

    As the XP of a large church, I have had more disappointment and hate thrown at the church over the last 7 months then I have seen over my last 16 years of ministry.

    The biggest thing I have learned from this season is that the goal is not to win. Our human nature is to show people how they are wrong and we are right, and it has become very clear during this time that it is more about listening to complaints and not trying to convince people of your position.

    Eventually, the wise will accept a decision, the foolish will get bored and focus their energy elsewhere, and you always have the option to delete or ignore the evil. After you clarify a decision, spending your time and energy trying to convince people is often a waste of that time and energy that should be focused on productive ministry.

    • Open Book Ministries on October 21, 2020 at 6:34 pm

      Oh wow, that’s good…I’m going to put that into my mental roladex so I can remember it. It’s hard not to get caught up in trying convince others even when I clearly see they don’t care to listen.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:31 am

      Sam this is WISDOM. So well said. Thank you. And make sure you stoke a few life-giving, positive voices into the mix. You need encouragement too!

  12. Emmy on October 21, 2020 at 8:37 am

    Excellent advice for life, not just online.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:32 am

      Very true Emmy!

  13. Darrell Storvik on October 21, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Thanks Carey,
    Reminds me of Proverbs 13:20 “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:32 am

      Proverbs is all over issues like this. 🙂

  14. Mark on October 21, 2020 at 8:23 am

    There are also people whose goal is to bait you into an argument. Also, be careful of people setting up a straw-man argument.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 22, 2020 at 6:31 am

      Truth!

  15. Dan Kyle on October 21, 2020 at 4:42 am

    You outlined it perfectly, another great post!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 21, 2020 at 7:47 am

      Thanks for the encouragement Dan. Hope it helps!

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