Seven Ways to Deal with CAVE Dwellers in Your Church

Seven Ways to Deal with CAVE Dwellers in Your Church


By Thom Rainer

They are in every church. They are critics. They are naysayers. If your church has regular business meetings, they will be the negatively outspoken people.

They often begin sentences with “I love you pastor, but . . .” And the moment you hear “but,” you cringe. You wait for the verbal assault.

Critics and naysayers are in every church. They are CAVE (Consistently Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers (This phrase originated with Curt Coffman in his work on disen-
gaged employees.). They can make your life miserable . . . unless you learn to deal with them.

I am not the best role model for dealing with CAVE dwellers. When I was a pastor, I struggled with critics and naysayers. I still do. So I asked some church leaders who, in my opinion, have a very healthy approach to these people. Here are seven things I learned from them.

  1. Accept the reality that every church and organization will have CAVE dwellers. You will deal with them in a more healthy fashion if you are not blindsided by them. And you will realize than the green grass of other churches may be a bit brown.
  2. Pray for your own attitude. I am glad Jesus did not hold my sins against me through his death on the cross. My attitude should be like His, and I should seek prayerfully to have the right attitude toward CAVE dwellers.
  3. Pray for the CAVE dwellers. Even if you consider them your enemy, we are supposed to pray for our enemies. Sometimes I have to ask God to give me the grace to pray for these people because they have hurt me so much.
  4. Stay above reproach. Don’t stoop to the negative, gossiping, bickering, and deceitful level of CAVE dwellers. Pray that God will give you the strength, wisdom, and grace to live above such attitudes and actions.
  5. Spend more time with positive church members. CAVE dwellers can be the squeaky wheels that demand constant oiling. If you spend too much time with these members, you will become emotionally and spiritually drained. Be intentional about spending time with church members who energize and encourage you.
  6. Spend more time with church leaders in other churches. You will develop invaluable friendships and camaraderie. And you will soon discover you are not alone with these issues.
  7. Ask other members to help you deal with CAVE dwellers. I recently heard from a pastor who did just that. He was shocked to find more than one encouraging church leader willing and ready to help him deal with these people. The comment from one of these positive members hit home: “Pastor, we did not know you were having to deal with these issues. We wish you had told us sooner.”

Yes, you will always have people in your church who seem to be consistently against virtually everything. They are emotionally draining. They are discouraging. And they never really go away.

Our challenge, in God’s power, is to deal with CAVE dwellers in the most positive and God-honoring way we can. So, how do you deal with CAVE dwellers? What would you add to the seven ways I noted above? Let me hear from you.


This article was originally published at on November 17, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at


  • linda newman

    You could also think about approaching them and making them allies; many may be left-brained analyticals whose first response to an issue is to take it apart and find potential issues to reduce risk, and they are motivated by their love for the church just as the pastor is. They may have been there, done that, have the t-shirt, and may have words of wisdom. Consult with them in advance, get their perspective, and use it or not, but if they feel heard, the comments in the meeting may go away. (I’m the worst of all possible combinations of this, a lawyer who has been a 35+ year member, been a member of every committee, and a compliance officer as part of my day job. I recognize that my analytical nature is not an inspirational gift, but it is a gift that can help anticipate problems. I show up to do the “dirty work” too, teaching sunday school, singing in the choir, cleaning up after fellowship luncheons.

  • Dear Linda Newman. Thank you so much for your comment and perspective, I too am a left- brained analytical , very much a member of the body of Christ. Yes I have learnt to temper my “Ah but….in committee meetings, but so much is achieved and runs smoothly in church because of it. Wrongly used all I did in my younger days was to stifle vision now I help dreams and vision become reality. I see all the problems 6 months before anyone else and within seconds of the idea being voiced, but with Gods help it becomes strategic thinking and facilitating , making others look good- Glory to God for all the gifts within the Body –

  • Floyd Knight

    A board meeting is NEVER the time for analysis or nay-saying. The chair should control the floor and have people speak to the issue or recommendation. So called “left brain” folks should volunteer for the committee or working group which will explore and consider the issue or purchase or programmatic action. The leadership should then distribute the proposal/recommendation and the “summary” document notating the methods and/or procedures used to come to a decision or recommendation–including pros and cons. Questions regarding the same by “left brainers” who have failed to read the document before the committee meeting should be cut short and referred to the section of the document. IF they want to make comments, they should be required to specify the page and section of the summary document or recommendation. They shouldn’t take up the church board’s time and should voluntarily refrain from voting on the recommendation since they didn’t read the same before the meeting.
    |——On the other hand, if recommendations and proposals come to the board without written justification and rationalization, then such proposals should be withdrawn and referred to committee or tabled. Individual responses, personal statements and proposals should also be stopped. The person should be referred to the proper committee, workgroup, or person. Such comments should not be tolerated from the floor–especially if you are following parliamentary procedures. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD CRITICAL ANALYSES AND REVIEWS TAKE PLACE DURING A CHURCH BOARD MEETING;otherwise, you are running an effective board.

  • Floyd Knight



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