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7 Ways to Scare Off Volunteers

Volunteers. We all have them, but how badly do we want to keep them?

Here are seven ways to guarantee low retention because you’ll scare off your volunteers:

1. Under-communicate:

Keep your volunteers in the dark.
Assume they saw the post about the changes for next Sunday on your personal Facebook page.
Also, Saturday at 11 p.m. is a great time to send them important emails about what to expect Sunday morning.

2. Establish unrealistic expectations:

Make sure every small group leader has at least 20 kids every weekend without a co-leader to help out.
Assign every host to serve as a small group leader during her downtime.
Since storytellers are great on stage, make sure you also use them as the worship leaders … the same day they’re scheduled to tell the Bible story.

3. Over-promise and under-deliver:

Keep promising them that having to be host, worship leader, small group leader and check-in/out person every Sunday is “only for a volunteer season.” An indefinite one, but a season nonetheless.

4. Under-resource:

Don’t worry about everyone having enough markers that work, and always give less activity pages than students regularly show up for small group. Heck, you’re simply pre-arranging an extra “ministry opportunity” by expecting them to interrupt neighboring small groups and scrounge for supplies!

Interrupt and hand “special” supplies and candy to small group leaders halfway through small group time. Although they can be trusted with the spiritual discipling of the kids in their group, they can NOT be trusted to keep track of a few Starbursts or bouncy balls. It is important for students to realize that good things come from you not the small group leaders that are with them every week!

Also, don’t worry about having the exact props that your large group scripts call for. Your host and storyteller can figure it out for themselves, and should be expected to perform miracles on any and every given Sunday. (Related: number 1 above.)

5. Blow off their suggestions:

Assume that you’re the one with all the ideas. The volunteer’s job is leading activities with the kids; your job is running the place.
Assume that suggestions are really just veiled complaints.

6. Never empower them to do their job:

Give them the impression that you as the staff person will always do the job better than they will as a volunteer.
Even if they’re older, wiser and have more experience in ministry, delegate the grunt work to them.
Don’t let them become owners of the ministry. They don’t get paid to do this. You do.

7. Assume they feel appreciated:

Volunteers know you’re thankful for them, so don’t worry about showing up randomly with thank you notes.
End of the year celebrations are such hard work and cost money. Only do them every other year.
Don’t have coffee or water available to them when they show up early. And always place signage to let them know the food, candy and snacks are for staff only.

After all, you gave them a t-shirt to wear every week, right?

Bonus: Expect they know what to do.

It’s super easy to work with students. They’ll figure it out on their own, right?

So. Obviously you don’t want to do any of these things. You want a volunteer to return year after year. Yet, after talking to several (former) ministry leaders and volunteers around the country, I’ve heard them express situations where all of these situations have happened (or worse).

As church leaders, we are busy, but that’s not really a good excuse, is it? After all, our volunteers are busy, too. Many have full-time jobs, families and responsibilities outside of their volunteer role with the church. And they don’t get paid to do this. They do it because you made the big ask, they caught the vision and want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Make sure they feel and know how much you actually care for them and want their partnership in ministering to the next generation.

Give them more than they need.
Tell them what you need them to do.
Over-communicate schedules and changes, and share valuable information like scripts and curriculum in a timely manner. Follow up and make SURE they have everything they need BEFORE Sunday morning.
Thank them ALL THE TIME.
Listen and consider their suggestions. They’re interacting with kids on a regular basis—they’re the practitioners and in some ways more expert than you are.

Collectively, your volunteers are more intelligent than you alone; listen to what they have to say. They are in the trenches experiencing how everything works (or doesn’t). Ask for them to share their ideas. Chances are you’ll want to put a bunch of them into practice.

Let your volunteers take ownership of the mission. They will help you take your ministry to the next level.

Your turn: How have you seen volunteers start to take ownership of the ministries at your church? How can you encourage your volunteers this weekend?

For more great articles on leading volunteers, check out 25 Best Articles on Leading Volunteers (That Get Them to Stay and Thrive!)