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Recognize These 10 Irksome Volunteers? Here’s Volunteer Management Help.

Troublesome volunteer management? Here’s how to effectively manage and love the most difficult people who volunteer in your ministry.


No matter how much screening you do, you can never screen out difficult people from your ministry. Because the church is a “grace place,” people come to your ministry with their “issues” — God love ’em. And try as you might, love and understanding may not be all these people need. At some point, you have to manage volunteers. Read on to discover how to lead 10 of the most difficult volunteer personalities (these are listed in no particular order, by the way).

1. THE BIG TALKER

Usually Volunteers For: Anything and everything!

The Challenge: Talks a good talk, but never follows through.

This volunteer is easy to recruit but doesn’t get the job done. Often The Big Talker, after saying yes, calls back weeks later and says, “No, it won’t be possible for me to organize next week’s vacation Bible school after all!”

The Solution: Establish evaluation checkpoints.

Clearly outline the responsibilities of the position in a job description. If you go over the duties of the job with The Big Talker, you may get a more sincere commitment. Don’t accept a “yes” until the person has had time to think, pray, and consider the position. In the job description, build in checkpoints or a timetable so you can check to see if the volunteer is staying on schedule. With this tool, you’ll know in advance if nothing has been planned for VBS early in the game so you can find another volunteer, or divide and reassign the tasks to others who can do the job.

2. THE WHINER

Usually Volunteers For: Committees, small groups, or any role with a captive audience.

The Challenge: Focuses on the negative.

This volunteer always looks at what’s wrong with the situation and rarely offers suggestions for improvement. The Whiner complains about anything and everything, but continues to serve.

The Solution: Give this person short-term assignments.

Being a round peg in a square hole can often pave the way for unhappiness and complaining. While this characteristic may be just a part of an individual’s personality, you can often prevent it from surfacing by placing the person in a ministry that gives him or her great joy and fulfillment. Start with a personal interview to find the person’s passion. Assessment tools such as spiritual gift indicators and personality profiles can help you make a good match. Place these people in short-term “trial” positions so they can determine if a ministry is something they enjoy. Finding a good match may not make them smile more, but it may cut down on the whining.

3. THE PILLAR

Usually Volunteers For: Decision-making positions, policy-setting boards, or planning committees.

The Challenge: Ego and pride.

This volunteer has been in control for so long that he’s become a part of the foundation. The church will fall down if The Pillar leaves, he thinks. This power (and self-deception) creates an unwillingness to let new people participate in any significant church ministry.

The Solution: Assign specific lengths of service.

Term limits for volunteers? You bet! Every position needs a job description that clearly states when the position begins and ends. This has two advantages. First, it prevents The Pillar from monopolizing ministry so roles, tasks, and groups are available to new people. Second, it prevents volunteers from burning out. Many may want to step down but feel obligated to continue because “no one else will do it.” You must change the culture in your church to promote the idea that no one person does it all. As ministry is shared, the load becomes lighter. Pillars need to understand that the goal is to equip others so ministry is multiplied, rather than trying to become Superman or Wonder Woman to keep the church going.

4. DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

Usually Volunteers For: Boards, committees, or positions that call for an exchange of ideas and resources.

The Challenge: Appears to be in agreement (in public) but later tries to force a personal agenda.

This passive-aggressive person sits back quietly while decisions are made, waiting to see if the classroom carpet will be her favorite color or whether his favorite entertainer is selected for the outreach event. If not, long after the time for healthy input, this volunteer silently transforms into a monster and attacks!

The Solution: Focus on unifying your team to work as one.

A team works best when everyone works together to support a common goal. Begin with basic training that teaches team members the importance of a unified effort. During meetings, openly ask for feedback and suggestions, but make sure the group knows that once a decision is made, everyone needs to support it. Even the paid church staff may have different opinions, but successful staff members are those who put aside their personal agendas for the growth of the church’s total mission.

4. THE TRADITIONALIST

Usually Volunteers For: Positions that feel traditional, such as usher, greeter, or Sunday school secretary.

Positions that feel The Challenge: Focuses on the past; resists growth.

The Traditionalist can’t conceive of doing ministry any other way than how it’s always been done. These people are completely unaware that people, trends, and effective programs are much different today than they were in 1952 — or even 1996! Traditionalists are territorial and tend to think if a person hasn’t been in the church for more than, say, 30 years, he or she doesn’t have anything meaningful to contribute.

The Solution: Change your ministry culture.

The seven last words of a dying children’s ministry are “We’ve never done it that way before.” Reinforce biblical teaching on the purpose of your ministry. Are people here for their own comfort and convenience or to proclaim the saving news of the gospel to the unchurched? Culture changing takes time — so go slowly. You don’t want to offend those who’ve been faithful to the church for many years. Move them to see beyond their own perspective and through the eyes of a first-time visitor. Cast a vision for what God wants your children’s ministry to become, and help your volunteers understand that change is a good thing when it brings people to Jesus.

(If you’re looking for great team training for your volunteers, check out Children’s Ministry Local Training, coming to a city near you. For an unbelievably low price, you can take your entire team to this half-day training that strengthens skills and bonds between your volunteer team members!)


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