How to Know When a Church Volunteer Should Be Fired
In church world, we need volunteers and lots of them.
Not only that, but we need quality volunteers who really buy into the vision of our ministries and invest over the long haul. The success of our churches and ministries are dependent on volunteers.
But, what do you do when a volunteer isn’t great? I mean, what do you do when a volunteer isn’t working out? How do you... you know... fire a volunteer? GASP! Can you even do that?
The answer is yes. You can, and sometimes you should because keeping the wrong people on the team for too long negatively affects the entire team.
So, how do you know when to fire a volunteer? Well, the first step is to identify what type of problem you are dealing with. Is this a performance problem, an attitude problem, or a behavior problem? In my experience, each type of problem requires a different approach. Let’s tackle each of them in turn.
Most people want to do good work. I really can’t imagine a person saying:
“Mostly I just want to be terrible at volunteering.”
(If you have actually encountered this person, I really want to hear that story!)
Usually when we encounter a performance problem, it is due to a lack of clarity about the expectations. When confronted, the volunteer might say:
“Oh my goodness! I didn’t know that was an expectation! I will be there every time from here on.”
In this situation, even though you may want to say:
“Yeah, well I handed the expectations document to you myself, with my own hands, these hands, the same ones I want to punch you with, you liar!”
But, don’t do that! Instead, choose to believe the volunteer and simply clarify the expectations. If the poor performance continues, then you may need to let the volunteer go.
Also, I’ve found that it is helpful to take a caring approach when asking questions about poor performance. Consider starting the conversation something like this:
“I’ve noticed that you’ve missed two of the last four youth group meetings. Is everything ok? Were you aware that we require our volunteers to be here every week?"
When we care enough to ask, “Is everything ok?” we communicate that we value the person and the conversation feels less “attacky.” Sometimes, this question will reveal that the volunteer actually has something going on in their life that needs care. Depending on the situation, this may mean that you now get to connect the volunteer with the necessary support and care they need. This is a great opportunity for growth.
Of course, there is the potential that the volunteer might give a weak excuse for their poor performance. When asked why they’ve been absent they may say something like:
“Yeah, my pet Iguana was sick so...”
At which point, you clarify the expectations and ask, “Is this something you can do?” If this answer is “yes” and they keep missing, then you likely need to let that volunteer go.
If the answer is “no” then you respond with, “I don’t think this is going to work out. I’d love to help you find a place to serve in another area of our church.”
When possible, I think it is very healthy to suggest other ministries that might be a better fit for the person. This communicates that we value the person and want them to be a part of our church.
What do you do when a volunteer has a poor attitude?
In my experience, bad attitudes are toxic.
In our church, we have a very low tolerance for bad attitudes among volunteers. We’re talking one warning conversation and if there's a repeat offense, you’re out. From my experience, the best approach here is to pull that person aside and have a conversation that goes something like this:
“It has come to my attention that you’ve been talking negatively about our leadership with other volunteers. We really can’t have this. It’s harmful to the team. If you have an issue, I need you to come talk directly to me and not to other volunteers. Moving forward, can you commit to supporting leadership in the way you talk with other volunteers?”
If the answer is yes, then give them one more chance. If they answer no, say something like:
“Ok. Well, thanks for being honest. I’m going to have to ask you to step down as a volunteer in this ministry. I’d love to help you find a different place you can serve in our church.”
I know this sounds harsh but we can all think of a team that we were part of, at some point in our lives, where the culture turned toxic because of poor attitudes. The mission of the church is simply too important to tolerate bad attitudes.
First, let's start with a definition. When I say behavior problems, I’m talking about lifestyle choices and decisions that a volunteer makes that are outside of God’s boundaries.
The first and most important step here is to define the behavioral expectations for a volunteer role. If you haven’t clearly defined the expectations then you can’t really hold volunteers accountable.
Most likely, your church will decide on different expectations for different roles. For example, in our church, the behavioral expectations for a small group leader are far more stringent than the behavioral expectations for an greeter because a small group leader is acting as a spiritual mentor and guide.
Once you have defined the behavioral expectations, you need you communicate the expectations to volunteers. I would recommend taking an addition step of having volunteers sign an agreement. Then comes the hard part: Actually pursuing hard conversations with volunteers who break the agreement. These conversations can range from:
“Please don’t do that again. Can you commit to changing your behavior?”
“I’m going to have to ask you to step down.”
When you do make the decision to fire a volunteer, it’s very important that we consider their well-being in the process. What can we do to help them get healthy? Sometimes it is wise to offer a few sessions of counseling, paid for by the church. When we fire a volunteer, we try to balance protecting the integrity of the ministry with pursuing the health of the volunteer.
So, how do you know when to fire a volunteer? Well, it depends on whether we’re talking about a performance problem, an attitude problem or a behavior problem.
Hopefully, I’ve been able to communicate that you shouldn’t fire a volunteer until you’ve clarified expectations and asked good questions. Often the questions we ask reveal what’s actually going on. Also, hopefully I’ve been clear that a bad attitude isn’t something that is worth tolerating. It is like a cancer that can infect the entire team.
I would imagine that some of you are wrestling with a challenging situation with a volunteer right now. I hope this post has been helpful in clarifying the appropriate next step. If you've developed some criteria of your own for knowing when to let a volunteer go, I'd love it if you shared it in the comments below.
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