Support the Café

Search our Site

Can you fire a parishioner?

Can you fire a parishioner?

Work it Richmond discusses difficult customers and assesses the costs of sending them on their way. How do you think this might apply to church or not.

Q. Can you fire a customer?

A. The short answer to your first question is yes, you can choose to stop serving a customer because he or she is behaving badly. However, you cannot stop serving a customer because he or she is a member of a protected class (e.g., minority, female, disabled, etc.). Not only is it morally wrong, it’s illegal. Deciding not to serve a customer is a very serious decision that should not be taken lightly. We suggest four steps.

First, fix the problem…

Do the numbers – Before deciding to fire a customer, ensure that you understand the financial implications. Consider not only the variable contribution from that account, but also the cost of replacing the customer, and the cost of the former customer sharing negative experiences with others. A satisfied customer will tell one person, while an unhappy customer will tell seven people…

Consider all of the costs…

Don’t burn bridges – If you do reach the difficult decision to stop serving a customer, end the relationship as pleasantly as possible. Don’t say that you are ending the relationship because the customer is horrible. It’s better to explain that, while you are very sorry, your company is not geared to meet the customer’s expectations and that his or her needs can be better served by someone else…


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Peter J. Van Hook

Random thoughts:

1) The previous President of Southwest Airlines said often that “the customer is not always right.”

2) Scott Peck said (echoing Friedman) that organizations that are perceived to be strict (that is, authoritative rather than authoritarian)have higher moral than organizations that are perceived to be liberal.

3)A colleague once said that there was nothing wrong with my church leadership that three good deaths wouldn’t cure. Two transferred and one got sober, and the congregation has been forever better off.

4) In the modern era clergy need to understand human toxicity, and the effect it has on groups as well as the deleterious effects on the pastor. Because we want to be “nice” churches become collectng points for persons who want to act out. One of the primary jobs of the pastor is boundary definition and maintenance. Strong leadership begets strong congregations.

5) Strong leadership decreases the psychic space (emotional field?) in which toxic persons can act. That’s why most of them leave of their oen volition: it is too uncomfortable for them.

Peter J. Van Hook

Bill Dilworth

Not to put too fine a point on it, but parishioners aren’t the clergy’s customers. Nor is it up to the clergy to decide who stays and who goes based on personality issues.

Nicole Porter

Exactly what are the characteristics of a “toxic parishioner” or “toxic clergy”??


PS. I should also have more clearly said that I am not sure it’s always for the best when we creat an implicit understanding that problematic laity get shown love and kindness, versus the door. Lots of time and energy can wind up being spent on an issue where the outcome is clear from the get-go, which is that the parishioner would be happier somewhere else.

Eric B.


Hi Dave. Thanks for your comments. Agree that there are toxic clergy as well, but the paradigm here is built around the toxic parishioner. In a one-on-one situation, clergy’s almost always expected to take the high road and work things out. And while I’m aware of situations where, for example, the priest had to get a restraining order against a parishioner, the opening, welcoming nature of our parishes make it hard to shut a bad parishioner out.

Apropos firing clergy, I’ve certainly seen several get shown the door. In those cases, what’s concerned me has been less about the departure, and more around lack of transparency/accountability. Yes, HR issues are typically not the sort of thing that’s handled via an open meeting, but in most parishes I’ve attended, the HR committee, if there is one, is the old guard–folks who have been around forever, and often wield power mainly because they can.

On the issue of problem priests, I’ve had more bad ones then good, including a screamer (how she got called in the first place remains a mystery!), but with the current glut of clergy, we do seem more willing to address serious performance issues. My sense is that the more difficult issues to resolve are the ones where the priest means well, but undercuts his or her own pastoral relationships through behaviors like repeatedly failing to follow up on commitments made in the course of pastoral care. Issues like that can be akin to a hidden leak in your home–insiduous, diffiult to detect, and capable of causing serious damage over time.

Eric Bonetti

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café