TROLLS. We all have them, and some of us have even been them. The line between a negative comment and having a troll on your hands can be subjective, but here are 3 things to keep in mind with both.

Every negative comment or review is an opportunity to engage.

You’ve heard the phrase, “Hurting people hurt people”. This applies to internet people too (because trolls are people too). Whenever I encounter a visceral response or harsh comment, I wonder what experience this person had in their past that triggered that type of response. What hurt in their past is leaking out sideways? We don’t usually lash out for no reason, there’s almost always a deep seeded hurt that produces it. 

And this is where we get to be the church. We get to take negativity and respond with grace and truth. Jesus has already told us how to address internet trolls when he said, 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” – Matthew 5:38-40

I cannot think of a better example of how to apply this to our lives right now than responding to negative comments with kindness and compassion. Be less focused on controlling the conversation and what people say, and more focused on being kind and compassionate. 

Discern the difference between a person seeking restoration and person seeking an argument.

Always always always respond publicly to the person who is seeking restoration (even if it leeks sideways). But if a person is posing a pointed question to trap you in an argument, you do not have to handle that one publicly. Take it offline. Offer to meet with them, or talk to them on the phone. 

Proverbs has a lot to say about this kind of character. Proverbs 26:4 says, “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.” And Proverbs 18:2-3 says,  “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.”

It is still a chance to engage, to let the person know you are willing and available to answer if they are seeking understanding. But it is also a chance to demonstrate wisdom and discernment in not responding to a foolish argument. 

Negative comments and reviews are an opportunity to grow.

I recently saw a negative comment on a Zingermans Deli post about a negative experience. Not only did Zingermans respond publicly, they also publicly went above and beyond to make it right. This person went from a negative relationship to a loyal one; all because of the power of handling a negative review appropriately. 

We can’t be everywhere at once, and we can’t make everything perfect for everyone. But we can put our best foot forward and repair what we can with what we have. 

How can you use negative comments and negative reviews to repair the relationship between your audience and your church?