What to Do When Volunteers Quit


It’s that time of the year–people are re-evaluating commitments. And they may resign from your ministry. Learn what to do when volunteers quit.

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.

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“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 Resolution

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 volunteers.

  • 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 journey.
  • 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 Reality

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.

  1. 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 look like?”
  2. 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 changes needed.

• Out of Place-If someone feels out of place in your ministry, determine whether the person has been prematurely assigned to a position.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 commitment.

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.

What to Do When Volunteers Quit
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