Mary walked up to me and said the most terrifying words a Children’s Pastor can hear:
Being in my first ministry position, I had no idea what to say or do. I’m pretty sure I mumbled something like…
OK…well good luck in the future.”
What? Really, Greg? That’s the best response I could come up with?
I cringe as I think about that first experience! But we’ve all had it happen. Volunteers quit all the time.
Why is that? There’s lot’s of reasons, and I’ve found they generally fall in to 3 categories: Legitimate, Lame & Leadership.
Legitimate reasons – these are life-circumstances that just happen, such as:
- moving out of the area
- illness (either there’s or someone close)
- feeling called to serve in another area of the church
There are many very legitimate reasons for ending a volunteer commitment. I debrief as much as possible to be certain of why they are moving on, but if their reason is legitimate I don’t try and talk them out of quitting. I trust them to know what’s best for themselves, their family and their faith.
Lame reasons – don’t even get me started…but we all have heard some pretty ridiculous reasons for quitting, including:
- I can’t get here 10 minutes earlier to be ready for the kids
- Parents never pick their kids up soon enough for me to get into service at the beginning
- It’s too loud in Kids Church during the worship time
- I don’t think Sunday School should be a place of laughter…where’s the respect for God’s house?
Yes, I’ve heard all of these and more, as I’m sure you have. After I force my eyes not to roll, I smile and gently try and cast a vision for ministry that leads these precious people to take their first step toward a real serving commitment. Sometimes it requires adjusting their commitment level, but lame excuses usually tell me that these volunteers don’t “get it”, and that’s an issue that falls to me to fix. In some cases, it means that they volunteered out of obligation, guilt, ignorance or some other reason that was not a good reason to volunteer. In these cases, if there really isn’t a heart to serve, it’s better to let them go.
Leadership reasons – I have found that most of the reasons that volunteers quit are because of my & my core leadership team’s lack of leadership. This lack of leadership, resulting to a desire to quit, might show itself through:
- not continuing to cast a compelling vision
- not allowing the volunteer to have a voice in the ministry
- not communicating expectations (this might result in the volunteer being asked to do too much or too little, either of which leads to frustration)
- not equipping the volunteer to do the ministry required
- not solving problems in the area that the volunteer is serving (lack of resources, child problems, conflict among volunteers, etc.)
- not showing appreciation for what the volunteer contributes
- not keeping promises to the volunteer (“Hang in there, we’ll have more volunteers within 2 weeks!” or “I know we said you would serve 1 year and it’s been 14 months…but we really, really need you to stay! Pleeeease!!!” )
- not being available (or making another leader available) for the volunteer
- not keeping the ministry organized
These all have to do with my lack of leadership. When a volunteer quits because of one of these reasons, they usually don’t articulate it as such. So, especially if it’s a volunteer that has served for awhile, I ask questions. I know that most people will stay if their needs are met (assuming they volunteered for the right reasons). So I try and understand what needs are not being met. I will articulate my understanding of the problem (which they usually end up agreeing with) and I will ask them to stay as we fix the issue. Sometimes I will ask them to help me fix the issue (for example, if there’s a lack of organization somewhere, I might ask them to help keep that area organized).
Be thankful when these leadership issues come to light. It’s an opportunity to grow, to establish leadership, to vision cast…and to fix problems that are probably issues with more than one volunteer! And fixing the leadership problem is exactly what you need to do. It’s also one of the best ways to keep your volunteers, because if we approach it this way, we will probably hear less people say those dreaded words…