How to Remove a Volunteer

? Pray. Pray. Pray.

? Have strong evidence and anecdotes to support your decision.

? Proactively approach problem volunteers and confront them with specific issues before removing them. It may be an issue related to attitude, performance or team chemistry. Be honest. Tell the person you need to see specific changes (tell them what these are) or else you may ask them to step away from the ministry. Tell the person you’ll give her or him a month to make necessary changes. During this time, check the person’s pulse regarding their commitment. I’ve found that some people will confess, “I’m just not into it anymore.” Give volunteers the opportunity to step aside gracefully.

? Set a date to meet and review again in a month.

When you remove volunteers:

? Be tender but strong. Grace and truth are needed when having this difficult conversation. Grace says, “I care about you.” Truth says, “You’re not working out in this ministry, and here’s why …”

? Don’t beat around the bush. Be clear. “Sandy, things haven’t changed since our last meeting, and I need you to step away from the ministry for a season.” The season can be six months, a year, two years or the rest of the 21st century. The length of “the season” doesn’t need to be decided right away.

? Don’t ask the person to stay until you find another leader. Think through this ahead of time. Be ready to accept the responsibilities the person will leave behind.

After you have removed the volunteer:

? Immediately after the meeting, spend time alone. Review, reflect and pray. Do some activity in which you can relax and express the emotions you have. I’m always so stressed before the meeting and so relieved after the meeting that my emotions are very tender.

? Follow up with a letter. Tell the person that you’re thankful for their period of service and that you’re sad things didn’t work out and that you’ll be praying for peace (and reconciliation, if necessary).

? Don’t avoid the person. As the leader of the ministry, it’s likely that you have developed a relationship with the person you’ve removed. The basis of this relationship (at least on your part) should not solely have been based upon their service to your ministry. So, as you are able, attempt to maintain your relationship. (But don’t be surprised if the person you’ve removed creates distance or breaks off your relationship altogether, depending on the circumstances that led to his or her removal from the ministry team.)

? If it’s appropriate, offer the person’s name to another ministry in the church.

? Expect some removed volunteers (and possibly others) to be angry. This is natural, and it can take time to heal.

? Talk about the meeting with a trusted friend, your mentor or a ministry peer who can relate to what you’ve gone though.

? Don’t obsess over it. You made the right decision. Move on. Lead your team. Hopefully it will be a long time before you do it again. Yes, the reality is that you’ll have to do it again someday.

Here are two lifesavers when managing volunteers:

1. Require a signed commitment. Establish standards by having volunteers sign a commitment each year. Each leader agrees to attitude, direction, participation, unity and certain lifestyle standards that go with the commitment. As the team signs these commitments (typically, during your first leader’s meeting of the new school year) say something like, “My prayer is that everyone here will outlast me as a ministry leader at this church. I want to be honest though and let you know that I will be candid with you if I feel like you’re not living up to your commitment, and I’ll ask you to make changes.” The clearer your expectations are from the beginning, the easier a removal conversation will be.

2. Plan periodic volunteer reviews. A few times a year, meet with leaders individually to discuss their attitudes, performances and fit with the team. When reviews are frequent, it’s easier to address potential trouble before it gets out of hand. If things are going well, the review is a great opportunity to affirm the leader.  

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dougfields@churchleaders.com'
Doug Fields has been in youth ministry since 1979 and former pastor to students at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of 50+ books, including the best-selling Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry & Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry. He's also the founder of Simply Youth Ministry, an instructor at Azusa Pacific University/HomeWord, and on the leadership team with Youth Specialties. You can connect with Doug through his blog at www.downloadyouthministry.com! More from Doug Fields or visit/subscribe to Doug's blog at www.dougfields.com