In leadership, you always face your share of critics.

Everyone has an opinion, and if you’re like me, you can get focused on keeping people happy, which is always a critical leadership mistake. Your church or your organization isn’t for everyone (here’s why).

Usually, the discussion at the leadership table will end up with someone saying:

Look, we can’t afford to lose people. 

Sometimes that’s true.

Often, it’s simply not.

In fact, often the opposite is true.

The people you are most afraid of losing are the people you most need to lose.

Truthfully, you can’t afford to keep them.

Sometimes the people you think you can't afford to lose are the people you can't afford to keep. Click To Tweet

Who You Can’t Afford to Keep

So who can you not afford to keep if you want your mission to move forward?

1. You can’t afford to keep perpetual critics.

2. You can’t afford to keep people who are opposed to everything.

3. You can’t afford to keep people who drain the energy and health out of a church or organization.

4. You can’t afford to keep people who contribute nothing and criticize everything.

5. You can’t afford to keep people who have no vision of what the future should be, only a vision for what the future shouldn’t be.

6. You can’t afford to keep people who put their own preferences ahead of your organization’s principles.

7. You can’t afford to keep people who always resist change.

Your mission is just too important.

No organization can afford to keep people who contribute little and criticize much. Click To Tweet

So next time you face critics who are threatening to walk out the door, don’t ask yourself if you can afford to lose them.

Ask if you can afford to keep them.

It might completely change your approach…and your decisions.

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What about you?

Any other kind of person you can’t afford to keep? Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep

54 Comments

  1. Sandra Froese, Ed.D., LPC-S on January 22, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    In all my adult life, I have belonged to two denominations (United Methodist and Mennonite General Conference) and five churches, and in most of them, there were people (well meaning, I suppose) who thought it was their duty to challenge the Pastor and church leadership on several issues—large or small. There is a difference between those who raise questions about change and direction of the mission of the church, but this was clearly about self-appointed critics who have a need for power and control.

    Constant critics think their way is the only way and they always have a better solution than the Pastor who has two or more degrees and the elected Leadership Team. No they don’t—they are not good listeners and do not promote the purpose of the church’s mission to worship, love and serve God’s people.

    I have spent hours in administrative board meetings listening to self-appointed critics argue whether or not the Pastor should wear his (or her) robe and stole for all church services, insert themselves in the bid for the cost of choir robes, or how much we should charge non-members to use the church sanctuary for a wedding and reception.

    Meanwhile, marginalized people in our communities need our prayers, social justice and economic assistance. The “critics” need our prayers too, but is the church leadership too tolerant in trying to accommodate them?

    If the “critics” stay, limit their time to voice concerns at Adm Board Meetings to 2 minutes and move on! Do not give them the power they crave to be disruptive and disrespectful. If they leave the church, wish them well and don’t obsess about losing their membership. My opinion.

  2. Jason Hollar on July 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    It’s hard to lose people period. However in my church we have lost about 20% of our average attendance in the past four months. Our sanctuary Certainly looks lighter, but the attitude in the church has changed drastically. The me culture that dominated has begun to fall apart, the arguments have stopped, the constant complaints about worship and my sermons have died rapidly, all the while the effort, the voices singing and hands being raised have only increased.
    Subtraction is never easy nor fun, but the addition that comes from this subtraction is always worth it.

  3. John A. Giurin on October 3, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Hey Carey! How about a view from the opposite side? 7 ways you can make your church (and it’s leaders) great? I’d like to take the 7 folks leaders can without and find the opposing, positive trait that makes for people leaders want to keep, and that make the church more effective and more Christ-like. Or do you have something like that already?

  4. Tracy on October 2, 2016 at 11:02 am

    I agree totally Carey. Pastors stand and fall before the Lord on their leadership decisions just like everything else in our lives. A serious and sobering thought. But if they are leading by seeking God’s direction and honestly following God’s lead, I not only think it is ok, but I think it is their job to stand firm on decisions. They answer to God and Him alone. God knows the heart and the future. Maybe the best thing for the difficult members is to leave. Perhaps that is the path that they need to take. God can work though that experience for them too. Jesus did not compromise his decisions because they were not popular. He did what his Father told him to do – without apology.

  5. PeaceBang on May 25, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    The Suggesters: “We should do this! The church would be great if only this happened!” Then when you ask them to be part of a team to do the work to fulfill all their brilliant suggestions, they’re not interested. Always call their bluff. They’ll disappear.

  6. Al Di Salvatore on October 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    I am facing this very issue right now with a leader in the church I pastor. This insight is extremely helpful. You always seem to put into words the thoughts I have hard time articulating. Grateful for your insights .

  7. Single Mommas Struggle on July 18, 2015 at 5:33 am

    I think more and more people are leaving the church, I was one of them. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about whether people will go or not, I think one should worry about how to bring people in. Sometimes it’s the church that needs to go.

    • donjonesmd on July 14, 2016 at 8:03 am

      A little late to the article — are you interested in sharing why you chose to go? The Church (big C) is a body, family (and other metaphors) and so there are meaningful relationships that need to flow in both directions. Just interested if there was something we could learn to be more effective – especially to single mommas. I know it has to be a struggle.

  8. Ryan Thomas on July 17, 2015 at 9:17 pm

    How about the “constant crisis” people, those who always seek a listening ear, yet never show a desire to grow or change? If given the chance, they’d love to meet with a Pastor for hours on end and yet there’s no change. Any advice on handling those types of folks?

    • Jeremy Barnes on May 26, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Anytime I minister to someone, I look for a practical assignment I can give them. Go check out this book, journal, etc. If they come to me a 2nd time without doing it, meeting’s done. It may sound harsh, but I’ll kindly say: “I’ve already given you the first step toward handling this, and until you do it, there’s really nothing further I can do to help you.”
      Helps determine who you should & shouldn’t invest time in.

      • Aaron Boydstun on July 5, 2016 at 9:36 am

        great advice Jeremy.

  9. Adam Graunke on June 9, 2015 at 9:49 am

    So how do you go about “losing” them?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 10, 2015 at 4:37 am

      Stick to your guns. They’ll go. And ask the really toxic people to step back.

  10. Lana Poppins Graf on June 1, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    I’m going to agree to disagree on this one. We should all be in a perpetual mode of improvement – so before you write off the people you can’t afford to keep, ask yourself, “what can I do better?” While you can’t please everyone, you need to take the time to do a self-evaluation and work on self-improvement to be a better person, a better leader, and it will create a better church.

    Change is inevitable – continue to strive to be a better person.

  11. realpastors on May 31, 2015 at 3:49 am

    the only down side I see of this is pastors, and leaders using this to push their own agendas that have not even been brought before the church. Their are some pastors that I consider to be spiritual bullies and run people off just because they question what they are doing that church member are in the right to question. Just because you are a pastor and a leader does not make you all decision maker with no one to answer to.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 31, 2015 at 4:23 am

      Sounds like you’ve got a story behind the principle. For sure. This is about a healthy pastor making healthy decisions. Still some tough calls in the mix.

      • Lucinda Pennington on May 31, 2015 at 4:38 am

        yes I do-( but this has happened to me at several churches not just to me but other Christians I know.). I believed that in several cases the pastor should have been brought before the church to explain but instead they ran off the members who questioned him.
        examples: a pastor who Churched an abused victim but not the abuser, being a full time pastor and accepting a second job as an assistant at another church while bringing an assistant to help him without bringing it before the church, taking money from the church without asking, allowing known sin to flourish in their church because they want numbers,
        I saw members who worshiped the pastor and accepted anything he said or done with no questions( I see these type of pastors as spiritual bullies) because they were pastor led not God led

      • Lucinda Pennington on June 2, 2015 at 9:02 am

        I was by my husband to remove the previous post because I can’t talk about wrong I see in churches without being attacked about it…. so my husband said remove it…. to me wrong is wrong…there is not grey it is right or it is wrong…. so that is why the posts were removed…. I was talking about several churches in my post I did not mention names…. I did speak truth not gossip…

      • Lucinda Pennington on June 2, 2015 at 9:05 am

        but if you’d like to see it I do have a copy of it that I will be glad to share with you

        • Lucinda Pennington on June 10, 2015 at 2:52 am

          these where the posts that were removed I put them back because it no longer matters… I posted truth, not gossip, not my opinion, what I witnessed first hand

          • L Frazier on June 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

            I pray Lucinda Pennington, that your latter days become better than your former. I hope the peace of God rest upon you, and STAND firm because God is looking be not deceived WHATEVER you sow you will reap. God will deal with the affairs of the unjust. Have a supernatural day..



          • Terri on September 25, 2018 at 1:49 pm

            My mom’s church has a lot of people who speak truth, not gossip. They proclaim this very loudly. They have a very firm line and don’t like anything or anyone who crosses that line. Also, very vocal about that line. They also feel “lead” to point out what everyone is doing wrong, or allowing that is wrong. Very difficult to do this in a loving way, and also very difficult to do this without other people seeing your dissatisfaction. Her church is also struggling to grow, and wonders why new people don’t seem to stay. My point is this: those you feel so strongly about know how you feel. They know they don’t measure up. They “got the point”. To me, my mom’s church has lost their joy in Christ.

            They don’t make their church a place to find something so wonderful you can’t help but want to experience the same thing!



  12. Cathy Staunton Misciagna on May 29, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    Agree with the nuance of not worrying too much about pleasing everyone… the emphasis should be on leading them. A caution to frustrated pastors who sometimes may be too quick to cut off the complainers and pathologize them as “the problem”… sometimes ‘they’ are not the core problem, but merely a symptom of something deeper going on in the church. So the resposnse is not to pacify or yield to a dysfuctional vision, but to lovingly redirect without rejecting them personally, and to look deeper into what legitimate concerns the symptom may reveal.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 30, 2015 at 5:46 am

      Well said Cathy!

    • L Frazier on June 11, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Very Good.

    • Marlene Jiannino Daley on October 2, 2016 at 8:26 pm

      What do you do when that fails? It eventually festers & becomes a distraction for the people who are following Christ Jesus & are content with their pastor & their church. While those who are disgruntled try endlessly to get you to follow them. Isn’t it for us to create a welcome environment for all, to create a community for people to feel they are loved and needed, not to be overshadowed by people & their discontent. The best way to sort this out is by having a meeting of all church members to air their likes & their dislikes. That way everything remains open dor all to see.

  13. Andrew Marshall on May 29, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    One of the saddest days I had as a pastor was the first time I realized that the church was better off without a particular person fitting many of these descriptions.

    On the other hand, even though it annoys me I appreciate when I get occasional pushback rather than rubber-stamping of all of my visions – it’s the chronic or pathological cases of it that are the problem.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 30, 2015 at 5:46 am

      Andrew…I agree…that’s a sad day. I remember that too!

  14. […] 7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep […]

  15. Andy Scott on May 27, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Maybe the title is a bit off. As I read this I didn’t see people we need to GET RID OF more people we need to stop pleasing. Or worrying about offending. SO maybe a better title might be, “7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep TRYING TO PLEASE.”

    Not my blog but That is how I read it. If we stop our vision based on these 7 types of people we will accomplish very little and be very tired. Just my two cents.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2015 at 6:15 am

      Thanks Andy. I still like the title. Maybe I’ve led too long! 🙂 Appreciate the encouragement.

  16. MEM on May 26, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Church (the people in the building) should practice what they preach. Talking about change, but in reality…do not move their cheese. Fellowship is more important than membership.

  17. Shannon Parker Nicolle on May 26, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I disagree heartily with this perspective. We don’t possess or keep anyone. We are in relation with the people God puts in our path. Our relations with each person is complex, but the most difficult people are often the ones who, if we humble ourselves, grow God ‘s grace within us, as well as our own self knowledge. Leaders need to excercise discernment with difficult community members and help the community create appropriate boundaries with those who tax the strength of the community. The hope is always that those members may recieve healing and transformation through membership in the community. However, when boundaries are excercised, difficult community members often choose to leave, and that may be because they are called elsewhere. The idea that anyone should be excluded from church is anti-Christian and dangerous. The church does not belong to anyone, it belongs to The Lord and is his body.

    • steve carruthers on May 26, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      It’s not anti-Christian. In fact it’s Christian to not associate with people who always cause problems. The prerequisite to that of course is warning them, explaining to them what they are doing is wrong, but ultimately if there’s no evidence of change our attempts to change you are too let them go. I’m not going to bother quoting the myriad of scriptures throughout the entirety of the bible that say that.

  18. Zachary Verbracken on May 26, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Great post and a concept that so many churches would be better off with if they grasp it.

    I’ve noticed that… For those few people that I’ve compromised my leadership by trying to please, and making small changes to try to cater to them, ultimately in the end they typically end up leaving anyways. The people that I do whatever it takes to try to hold onto end up leaving regardless.

    It’s painful to cut the cord on people that you know you should allow to be released, but it’s even more painful to keep holding on to them too long.

    When you fight for the few, the majority loses.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2015 at 6:17 am

      Zachary…well said. It DOES compromise your leadership when you over-accomdoate critics.

  19. […] organization can afford to keep people who contribute little and criticize much. careynieuwhof.com/2015/05/the-pe… via […]

  20. lisetteDeBorchgrave on May 26, 2015 at 7:44 am

    The concept of “keeping” them– hmmm. What if they won’t leave and insist that pastor leave? Some churches have 4 generations attending– few of them are leaving. Complainers that control the leadership are not leaving.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2015 at 6:17 am

      Good point. That’s a whole other post. Sounds like a control game to me.

  21. Jim Lynch on May 26, 2015 at 7:36 am

    A church cannot afford to keep people who perpetually bully others or the system. They tend to heighten the anxiety level and hijack the health and mission of the church.

  22. Nancy Alvarez on May 25, 2015 at 10:03 pm

    AGREE!

  23. Brian Cunnington on May 25, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Another great post, Carey. I don’t disagree with anything you say above or the helpful comments in Dan Harman’s post below. But I’m wondering if there is also something more to say. it is often said that “good theology grows out of bad heresy’. if so, is there also a danger of too quickly dismissing ‘difference’ as ‘criticism’ and ‘cutting the critic off’ before his or her voice is respectfully heard. I have seen far too many church leaders add to the polarizing dynamics in a congregation by too quickly dismissing ‘difference’ as ‘criticism’.

    A quick survey of church history seems to suggest that God often introduces change from the ‘margins’ not from the ‘centre’. Most creative minds, almost by definition, live on the periphery of many organizations.

    The ‘criticism’ of which you speak can indeed be cancerous to any church or organization. Leadership cannot afford to be complacent in the situations you address in this post. But we also can’t afford to prematurely silence the voices on the periphery. How can church leaders help to transform critics into contributors? How can our differences inspire creativity rather than dissension?

    • Victor Castro on May 26, 2015 at 3:07 am

      Great observation Brian. My response to you would be: having the hard discussion with the critic.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on May 28, 2015 at 6:18 am

      Thanks Brian. I agree with your nuance. Sometimes I just write a little more directly. This is one of those posts. 🙂

      • Brian Cunnington on May 28, 2015 at 7:57 am

        Direct is good…. that’s what pushes the rest of us to think. Thanks for doing that.

  24. Dan Harman on May 25, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing Carey!

    Here’s a couple more additions…

    You can’t afford to keep those who spread harmful gossip and undermine those whom God has appointed in leadership. Unless dealt with or they move on, they will continue to contaminate the community.

    You can’t afford to keep those who refuse to be teachable and always point the finger at everyone else. Unless there’s humility they will only continue to cause unrest and discord.

    I often pray “Lord, change them, or move them on!” Unity is so crucial to walking in the fulness of God’s blessing! We have been through a few seasons of “release to increase!”

    Recently God spoke to me about this sort of stuff through Numbers chapter 5. Sometimes the best thing for churches is to release those who spread the wrong stuff about. God desires for us as shepherds to protect His people.

    Keep up the great work Carey!

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