Why Volunteers Quit...and
what to do about it.
John just filled the last Sunday school teacher slot. He heaves
a sigh of relief. Now he can sit back and relax.
But not for long. The next week, one of the volunteers calls. She
says she can't teach the first- and second-graders anymore.
"Here we go again," John thinks.
Do you share John's frustration? Just when you have all your
volunteer slots filled, some volunteers quit. Why does this
WHY VOLUNTEERS QUIT
Quitters may not be lazy or uncommitted; they often have valid
reasons for quitting.
- Volunteers aren't challenged.
Volunteers need to feel they're getting something in return for
their work. For example, if you ask school teachers to teach the
same grade at church as they do in school, they're doing something
they've always done. And they aren't challenged by anything
"If you try to make [volunteering] too easy, you just cut the legs
out of it," says Dr. Cynthia Thero, president of The Source
International, an educational development firm.
Marlene Wilson, who conducts workshops and conferences on
volunteerism and is the author of How to Mobilize Church Volunteers
(Augsburg), agrees, "Sometimes we recruit people and we don't give
them anything really significant to do. So it's a waste of their
time. With dual-career marriages and single parenting, people want
whatever time they give to make a difference."
- Volunteers don't have a job
description. "People don't dare say yes to something
they don't know what they're committing to," says Wilson. Even the
secular sector considers job descriptions important to get
volunteer support. A Maryland school puts a detailed list of
"volunteer opportunities"-including tasks and dates for special
events-right on the student information form that parents receive
when enrolling their children.
- Volunteers aren't sure of their
performance. Volunteers want to know they make a
difference. They want to know how the program is better or
different because of their volunteering. "[Volunteers] leave the
program because no one evaluates their impact," says Thero.
- Volunteers aren't trained.
"Volunteers quit because they say yes to something and assume that
somebody is going to train and support them," says Wilson. "But they
find they are thrown out there on their own."
Thero affirms, "How good the program is depends on the
HOW TO KEEP VOLUNTEERS
Even though volunteers often check out for good reasons, there's
good news. You can ensure long-term, satisfied volunteers in your
- Know what your volunteers
want. Develop an interview process.
Ask volunteers: What expertise do you bring to the program? What do
you need out of this experience? What are your goals in working
with children? "Help volunteers understand that they need the
experience," says Thero.
- Understand current trends.
"Two-thirds of volunteers work outside the home," says Wilson. "A
lot are part of the sandwich generation and inheriting additional
family responsibilities [from elderly parents]." Consider shared
leadership or shorter time slots to lighten volunteers' loads.
- Develop a clear job description. Give
detailed descriptions of specific tasks, such as leading children's
singing for one-half hour each Sunday morning. State how much time
the position requires, including training time. Specify a finite
term of service.
Volunteers want good training to succeed in their job. But how do
you know when you've had a good training session? Ask yourself: Do
people give all kinds of excuses not to come? Do volunteers drop
Ask volunteers: What do you wish you knew? What do you need to know
to be effective in your job?
Plan individualized training sessions, if necessary. Have seasoned
teachers mentor new teachers. Send informative clippings to
volunteers. Role play with volunteers what to do in specific
classroom situations. Use books, CDs and DVDs, such as Children's
Ministry That Works (Revised and Updated) . Always be available
to answer lots of questions.
Have volunteers evaluate their training. Ask: Was your training
helpful? What parts do you suggest changing?
5. Support volunteers.
Support is different from affirmation. "[People] get the whole
issue of affirmation mixed up with support," says Thero. "Most
people don't support; they just affirm. Support is an ongoing,
personalized concern for the volunteer."
Children's ministers and Christian education directors have to do
more than give compliments. You need to celebrate volunteers'
marriages, birthdays and graduations. And support them through
their pain. Find out how people are doing in their personal lives:
Ask about a sick aunt or offer to babysit for a night out.
6. Provide times for spiritual
growth. "We can get so focused on offerings to the
unchurched, or to peripheral members, that we forget those who are
going hungry near at hand," says Roy Oswald, author of How to
Prevent Lay Leader Burnout (Alban Institute). Encourage teachers to
talk with each other about the lesson's scripture and pray before
each lesson. Lead a Bible study for Sunday school teachers. Plan
prayer breakfasts or a once-a-year overnight retreat to focus on
7. Recognize volunteers.
Find personal and surprising ways to say thank you. For example,
send notes in the mail-"I'm so glad you agreed to work with us";
make phone calls; make heart magnets that say, "You're at the heart
of what happens in this church"; give plants to say, "Our ministry
wouldn't grow without you."
8. Evaluate volunteers.
Observe volunteers in the classroom. Provide resources for any
problems they may have. "As threatening as evaluations may appear,"
says Oswald, "they are an effective way to make people feel
supported in their roles. [Volunteers] know that someone cares
enough to check on how things are going."
Barbara Beach, departments editor of CHILDREN'S MINISTRY
Magazine, is a volunteer at her church.
These volunteers quit for different reasons:
"I didn't think materials lent themselves to where the kids were. I
spent every Saturday evening punching out materials for the kids
because kids couldn't do it themselves. Materials weren't
"Sue and I felt the Lord was calling us to go into Christian
financial ministries at our church. And we didn't have time to do
both children's and financial ministries. We didn't move out of
Christian ministry. Instead, we just moved into a different
Medford, New Jersey
"I'm pursuing a master's degree and had too much going on. So I
decided to drop Sunday school. I hope it won't be
La Mirada, California
"We have fifth- and sixth-grade girls. We started out okay, but I
couldn't get them to want to learn anything toward the end of the
year...I don't think I'm cut out to motivate this age group."
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