You’re winding down after the busy holiday season and enjoying a
bit of a lull in your ministry when the phone rings. It’s one of
your preschool volunteers. Casual chitchat opens up a conversation you’d rather not have.
“I’ve prayed a lot about the upcoming new year,” she says. “And
one of my resolutions is to cut back on my commitments. I’m sorry,
but I need to quit volunteering in the preschool ministry.”
High volunteer turnover is nothing new when the midyear blues hit.
In reality, a resignation may be a good transition for a volunteer
who’s not happy or comfortable in a position. The volunteer’s exit
doesn’t make your job any easier, though. Read on to learn the key
reasons volunteers quit midyear and how you can prepare for this
potential volunteer drought.
The new year is a common time for people to reflect on their lives
and re-evaluate their commitments. As a result, some people find
they’re overcommitted or focusing their energies in misguided
directions. Reasons for resolutions are endless–a volunteer may
have a “service addiction” (spending too much time giving to others
and not enough time caring for themselves or family). Sometimes
volunteers realize their personal faith growth has stagnated. Or a
volunteer may come to the conclusion that he or she simply needs a
break from volunteering. This type of New Year’s resolution is
usually a positive thing in the volunteer’s life–even if it puts
you in a bind to find a replacement. Here’s how to respond.
Support the person. As a rule, don’t react negatively any time a
volunteer leaves, but be especially compassionate when someone
steps down with the intent to grow healthier spiritually or
emotionally. Offer help and guidance in this new journey because
there’s an obvious need for personal growth. Consider that a
resignation of this nature may actually be a leave of absence, not
a permanent separation. Use these pointers to encourage these
- Spiritual Growth–Equip the person who’s resolved to grow
spiritually with a devotional book or suggestions for spiritual
growth classes. A volunteer stepped down in our ministry to pursue
personal growth opportunities, so to demonstrate that I supported
her and appreciated her contributions to our ministry, I paid for
her Bible study book fees and gave her a journal to record her
- Service Addiction–Provide family-strengthening ideas and
family ministry opportunities for the person who’s resolved to
spend more time with family. Alert other staff members when someone
is struggling with over-involvement so they’ll respect that
person’s desire to cut back for personal growth. Stay in touch with
your former volunteer to offer support and encouragement. Should
the time come when the volunteer is ready to return to your
ministry, help set guidelines to avoid the pitfalls that caused the
person to leave the volunteer position initially.
The new year is a convenient time for volunteers to step down if
they feel overwhelmed or out of place. Perhaps the volunteer
committed to your ministry before considering the match potential
or praying about the position. Or maybe the person is fleeing from
a position of high responsibility that he or she wasn’t prepared
for. The new year is a natural, midway point in ministry when
reality sets in and volunteers take action based on a realization
they aren’t right for the job.
Explore options. Meet with your volunteer to assess what’s
happening. Do this in a private, welcoming environment where your
volunteer will feel comfortable speaking freely. Follow these steps
to retool a position or reassign your volunteer.
• Overwhelmed–For an overwhelmed person, tweaking the position
may be all that’s needed. Follow these steps.
- Discern–Ask questions to determine why the person is
overwhelmed, such as “What do you enjoy about your ministry? What
do you not enjoy? What would make your experience more enjoyable?
If you could create the perfect ministry experience, what would it
- Create–With your volunteer, create a position or situation
that’ll diminish the pressure. For example, perhaps the volunteer
needs to serve with others instead of alone. Simply reassign this
person to a mentor or add people to the team. Perhaps, though, the
volunteer would be happier doing a smaller part of the role, such
as preparing the craft only instead of teaching the entire lesson.
Carefully listen to your volunteer to help you determine the right
• Out of Place-If someone feels out of place in your ministry,
determine whether the person has been prematurely assigned to a
- Explore–Dig to see whether there’s a better place in your
ministry for this person. Begin by asking the volunteer to describe
what feels wrong about the position he or she is in, and encourage
the person to speak frankly.
- Compare–Juxtapose what you hear with what you already know
about the person. Maybe the person says he doesn’t feel comfortable
teaching, but you know he connects well with the kids. Express the
talents you’ve observed.
- Offer–Come up with an alternative. Ask if he’d rather be in a
different position that could access his gifts, such as being a
greeter for your ministry. Give specific reasons you think this
would be a better fit such as, “You really connect well with kids
and help them feel comfortable and welcome.”
If you discover during your conversation that children’s ministry
isn’t a good fit, look for another place in your church to keep
this person serving. If you can’t find a place somewhere, the
person may not serve-period. Guide your volunteer toward a place of
successful service and enjoyment instead of feeling burdened by the
I had a mom who felt she should serve in children’s ministry
because her kids participated. Every Sunday she dreaded the
experience because she didn’t click with young children. When she
told me she wanted to quit, I asked if there was another place
she’d rather serve. She said she loved teenagers, so I connected
her with our youth director. Within the week she plugged in as a
youth leader and she’s now thriving.