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 9 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.
5. The Traditionalist
Usually Volunteers For: Positions that feel traditional, such as usher, greeter, or Sunday school secretary.
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.
6. The Soapboxer
Usually Volunteers For: Task-related positions involving groups, such as boards or committees.
The Challenge: Promotes a personal agenda.
The Soapboxer is usually on the political fringe, and it doesn’t matter which end or which side; the tactics and attitudes are much the same. The only things you’ll ever hear from these people are the militant viewpoints of the issues that define their lives. They see the church as the place to push their political or social agenda. These people are convinced that Jesus would be doing exactly what they’re doing about the issues they feel so passionately about.
The Solution: Reinforce your mission and purpose.
Does your children’s ministry have a mission statement? Without this tool, you won’t be able to help people focus on the mission and purpose of your ministry. The church and God’s Word do speak to us regarding many social issues. So as the saying goes, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” Having a clearly defined mission statement will allow you to validate each area of your ministry. The church can’t solve every social concern, so make sure your volunteers know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it contributes to the growth and mission of your children’s ministry.
7. The Pew Sitter
Usually Volunteers For: Nothing.
The Challenge: Inactivity.
Pew Sitters are sidelined for many different reasons. Whatever the situation, they hang around the periphery of ministry and refuse to commit in a significant way.
The Solution: Listen actively.
The only way you’ll discover why people are sidelined is to ask them. Before you ask, prepare to listen. Some will tell of past negative experiences; others will share that they’re burned out. Often these people join a large church to go “underground” in hopes that they won’t have to volunteer—perhaps because they overdosed on service in their former congregations. Some people may be in a season of their lives where they just can’t make a commitment. Others may need time to heal from past wounds.
Your entire church needs to have a system of tracking who’s presently involved and who isn’t. For helpful tools to help with this, check out the resources at Group’s Volunteer Management tools. Once you’ve identified The Pew Sitters, set up appointments to meet with them to hear their stories. Listen to inactive people, and let them partner with you to discover how and when God wants them to connect to service in your church.
8. The Leech
Usually Volunteers For: Small groups, social ministries, or support groups.
The Challenge: Consumes people, time, and resources.
Leeches fit the description “extra grace required.” They seem to consume the time, energy, and patience of their children’s ministry leader and the people around them. Every team, group, or task can get caught in a funnel that sucks them toward this person’s personal problems. Leeches can kill a group because they cross over the boundaries needed for healthy relationships.
The Solution: Redirect this person to a one-on-one ministry.
It’s not uncommon that people who need to be ministered to are often drawn to volunteer positions that offer help and support. Sensitivity is the key in this situation. The Leech needs redirection to receive a one-on-one ministry. If your church or community offers professional or peer counseling, offer that alternative to this person. If your approach is tactful and with the person’s best interest at heart, your offer will often be received with a grateful response.
9. The Gossip
Usually Volunteers For: Positions that have an inside track on the latest scoop, such as office helper, coffee-hour host, or your personal assistant.
The Challenge: Quickly spreads the news—especially negative—that can damage relationships and your ministry.
It often seems that Gossips only agree to serve so they’ll be around the source of juicy church news. They thrive on wanting to know all the inner circle information to make them feel more important. Their validation comes not from serving God, but rather from how much dirt they can dig up concerning someone at church.
The Solution: Establish gossip policies in your staff handbook.
Gossip can destroy a person, a ministry, and a church. This is clearly one of the areas that your church must address. A good place to begin is with a staff handbook. It’s not uncommon for businesses today to have a policy on office gossip stated in the handbook and the action outlined for its correction. Does your church have a handbook for its staff (paid and unpaid)? Communicate a zero-tolerance policy for gossip to all volunteers as a part of their orientation.
When a volunteer is guilty of gossip, follow the procedure outlined in Matthew 18:15-17. First confront the person individually, and see if the issue can be resolved. If the person continues to gossip, bring someone else from the church with you. If that doesn’t correct the situation, involve your church pastor. Don’t allow gossip to exist in your church—or in the parking lot!
10. The Big Kid
Usually Volunteers For: Roles that have direct contact with children.
The Challenge: Lacks adult wisdom and maturity.
Your ministry depends on strong, capable adults who demonstrate spiritual maturity and leadership. Unfortunately, children’s ministry can attract people with opposite characteristics. Big Kids are the type who think young people will like them better if they act cool. So they try to relate to children by acting like one of them. They can often be more trouble than the kids themselves!
The Solution: Train, train, and train.
Often Big Kids just need training and redirection to channel their energy. An overenthusiastic Big Kid needs training in leadership skills and child development. So don’t assume your volunteers just know it’s not appropriate to initiate a game of Truth or Dare or give “body bumps”; teach them those things. In today’s climate of litigation, you especially need to train this volunteer in risk management. A Big Kid can be a big blessing to your ministry if you train this person well.
We all have our little personality quirks. We each come packaged with the good and the not so good. A successful volunteer program has a process for gathering information on its people and placing them in ministry that best matches their God-given gifts, abilities, and personalities. Walt Disney once said of his success: “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us and pointing them toward a certain goal.” How much more important is your role in focusing each volunteer on the goal of reaching children with the gospel message.
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