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How to Lose Your Volunteers in 25 Days

If you’re looking for a sure-fire plan to lose all those annoying, highly energetic, ridiculously loyal volunteers who show up week after week, we’ve got the lowdown for you. After all, there’s not a children’s minister out there who wouldn’t give up his or her left lung to finally shake that clingy entourage of hangers-on who seem to think they actually have something to offer in children’s ministry. Simply use one tip a day to virtually ensure that every last one of your children’s ministry volunteers will quit in just 25 days or less. (Or don’t do these things and you’ll have what you’ve always dreamed of: a thriving team of committed leaders who impact the next generation for Jesus!)

Day 1: Volunteers are here to serve; make them serve you.

Take a fresh look at your volunteers: They signed up to serve in your children’s ministry. So don’t spend a lot of unnecessary energy serving them. Give them plenty of ways to serve you and your ministry.

Day 2: Provide zero vision.

You might end up with some long-term volunteers if they know your long-term vision, so keep that something of a secret. Recruit to the task, not to the greater vision. For instance, just tell prospective volunteers that for the 3-year-olds, you just need “another warm body in the room.” Don’t fill anyone in on the real purpose of the ministry: helping little ones love Jesus.

Day 3: Don’t pray for your volunteers.

It’s okay to tell volunteers you’ll pray for them, but don’t actually do it. Some children’s ministers keep a small notepad or Evernote on their mobile devices to take down prayer requests, but be warned: This might actually encourage you to pray for your volunteers. Don’t be fooled into keeping an updated list of your volunteers handy; that way you won’t slip into accidentally praying for each person by name. Most importantly, don’t pause on a Sunday morning for impromptu prayer with a volunteer in the classroom or hallway. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it’s also embarrassing for you, the volunteer, and everyone else who might happen to see you. Your volunteers might begin to think you actually care for them.

Day 4: Cram in as much mindless activity as possible.

High-capacity volunteers know that if their room isn’t fun, kids won’t come. But they also don’t want it to be all about empty activities. To shake these volunteers, pack the weekend schedule with random activities, playground time, snack time, travel-to-another-area time, introductions, icebreakers, free play, and burn-off-energy, busy-work options. Never have an activity tie into the actual Bible lesson. Cram the schedule with activities designed to kill time-not explore the Word of God.

Day 5: Don’t encourage volunteers personally.

There’s one rule when it comes to volunteer encouragement: Stick with the bare minimum. Hang up a generic sign on your office door once a quarter thanking “all the volunteers” for their work in children’s ministry. Rely on a once-per-year appreciation event that only 25 percent of your volunteers attend. Some pesky volunteers will actually serve for months at a time if they just get a pat on the back and a softly-spoken, “Thanks for all you do.” Never, under any circumstances, say a personal thank you. And resist all temptation to give a high-five, pat on the back, or fist bump.

Day 6: Use parents. A lot.

A dirty little secret among children’s ministers is that we know how guilty most parents secretly feel when they don’t serve in children’s ministry. Capitalize on this guilt. Press these parents to sign up right away and then squeeze them for all they’re worth. Tell them that being parents of a 3-year-old automatically makes them experts at teaching 17 of them. They’ll only last a few weeks. For best results, don’t cast your recruiting net much wider than the pool of parents.

Day 7: Don’t give honest feedback.

All volunteers really want to know is that you’re aware they showed up at some point and didn’t cause problems. A cursory, “I see you made it” (even if they’re 10 minutes late) will suffice. Don’t bother with giving people the “truth in love” about how they could grow as kidmin volunteers. They don’t really want to know.

Day 8: Make bait-and-switch the norm.

Your standard practice must be to recruit volunteers for one job and then slip them into another role once you have their commitment. This method really is Old Faithful when it comes to running off volunteers. Talk up how a position is right up someone’s alley, then place him in a different area. Your most effective route with this is to carefully place people in areas that are either too easy (holding a sign in the lobby announcing the dates of VBS) or too difficult (running the sound-and-video booth in kids church with no training). Let your hapless volunteer know that this is a permanent move. The new position is hers. For. Ever.

Day 9: Ensure a constant supply shortage.

Little frustrates a volunteer more than when the most basic supplies are nowhere to be had. Find a way to misplace all the pens and pencils in the ministry. Deliberately fail to stock rooms with the essential extras called for in the curriculum. If you really want to frustrate your volunteers, leave handy restock forms in the room (“My Room Is Missing….”), and then never do anything with the forms volunteers turn in—except to toss them in the trash in a highly visible location. Guaranteed success!

Day 10: Make volunteers do their own setup.

It’s hard enough to find volunteers to actually minister to kids, let alone find a family or two that can come in 45 minutes before services to ensure chairs, tables, and other items are arranged in the right place. So tell volunteers it’s all up to them to set up their room before kids arrive. Even better, recruit a handful of teenagers to come in the night before and stash tables and chairs in other rooms around the church. Think of it as a game of Hide-and-Seek.

Day 11: Switch curriculum often and unexpectedly.

Volunteers love consistency. For some kooky reason, they strive to do better and better each week by really getting to know the curriculum. To drive them away in droves, announce a curriculum change no less than once a month. Surf the Internet and download the cool sample lessons from each curriculum publisher on the market. Try a different one each week!

Day 12: Give volunteers no true responsibilities.

The more responsibility you give volunteers, the more likely they’ll take ownership of the ministry. Confine them to a limited area of responsibility and nip in the bud any sprouts of leadership potential. Don’t listen to your volunteers’ ideas about your ministry. If they don’t take the hint, directly let your team know you’re not interested in their feedback.

Day 13: Make volunteers serve alone.

Volunteers want community, not just tasks. If you want to get rid of them, force them into Lone-Rangerhood. If a volunteer approaches you to express a need for help, tell him or her to buck up.

Day 14: Don’t provide training.

Assume that everyone who somehow makes it into your ministry is pre-trained to be a great children’s minister and should already know what he or she is doing. If you feel sympathetic, send a link to a quick three-minute “training video” that lets them know how easy their ministry will be or should feel. If you’re pressured into providing training events, focus all your attention on the cursory how-to’s and blitz them with Pointless Information Overload. Reading the volunteer handbook out loud is a privately hilarious and super effective way to ensure none of your volunteers will attend another training event.

Day 15: Talk down, patronize, belittle.

Saturate all your communication with the message that volunteers’ ministry is just to children. Let them know their ministry is essentially babysitting and that most of their efforts won’t matter in the long run. Minimize any supposed spiritual progress that children in their care make. Remind them often that they’re mere volunteers. You, after all, are the professional. You’re the expert. Publicly correct, patronize and re-educate your volunteers-in front of other volunteers, naturally, but especially in front of parents.

Day 16: Take the parents’ side no matter what.

Your volunteers must know that, like the customer, parents are always right—even when they’re wrong. Remember: Since you don’t provide volunteers with training, parents are probably spot-on when it comes to observing the poor quality of teaching. Let your new mantra be (always within earshot of your volunteers): “Well, I guess you get what you pay for!”

Day 17: Be vague in all things.

Assume that volunteers already know what’s going on in your ministry, and if they don’t, they’ll come to you and ask. Volunteers are busy enough. Don’t interrupt them with frequent emails, handouts, video messages, Facebook updates, and phone calls. Assume your volunteers get a thrill from discovering what’s happening in the ministry on their own. Surprise!

Day 18: Provide curriculum at the last minute.

Make the lesson guides available online two or three days before the weekend. You and I both know that no volunteer reads the teacher prep and devotion that’s provided anyway. Make the link hard to find by sending it only in an email. Never print out the leader guides weeks in advance. If you finally do give them a link, link to the wrong age group, last week’s lesson, or to Let the fun begin!

Day 19: Go with the most difficult-to-use curriculum available.

To really stump the volunteer who’s preparing at the last minute (refer to Day 18), use hard-to-read, user-unfriendly, text-laden materials. If the leader guide has illustrations on how to explain a lesson or a chart that spells out what supplies they’ll need, don’t include it. Or decide at the last minute to write your own curriculum. I suggest formatting it in ComicSans font size 10 for maximum frustration.

Day 20: Use impossible-to-find supplies.

Look for ways to incorporate the use of pool noodles in activities in January, pumpkins in February, and ski poles in June. Make the life of your volunteers as difficult as possible.

Day 21: Never put a limit on the number of kids in the room.

Stuff as many kids as will physically fit in the room. Rule of thumb: If you have free space on the carpet for another child to sit criss-cross-applesauce, you can add another. (This tip might not work if you have an overzealous fire inspector attending your church.)

Day 22: Let the pastor go 20 minutes over every other week.

Trick your volunteers by going from room to room to announce that you spoke with the pastor and today the service will end on time. This will discourage even your experienced-but-proactive volunteers who had planned extra activities “just in case.” Don’t encourage parents to pick up their children promptly after the service ends—but do provide several fellowship opportunities after the service. Let parents know your volunteers won’t mind watching their kids while they catch up with friends over doughnuts and coffee.

Day 23: Give them junior assistants aplenty.

There’s no better way to make it look like you’re supporting your volunteers when in reality you’re annoying them to no end. Junior assistants (especially 6th through 8th graders without any training) create added work and provide for an exhausting morning for your adult volunteers. It’s almost like secretly adding extra kids to their room.

Day 24: Set up a schedule that makes it clear your volunteers will never attend an adult service again.

This works especially well in churches that only provide one adult worship service a week. Schedule your volunteers to serve every week without a break, and harp often about how one hour per week really is the minimum investment a volunteer can make in a child’s life.

Day 25: Capitalize on discouragements and cynicism.

Require volunteers to pay you for a CD copy of the sermon. Don’t give your volunteers time off—ever. Don’t replace burnt-out light bulbs in their rooms. Stick them in the smelliest, darkest, most cluttered basement room you can find. Let them know every week that you don’t value them or what they do…and in no time you’ll lose every volunteer who brightens your doorstep.

Day 26: Celebrate!

Celebrate by spending a few hours at Starbucks, buying yourself a fancy drink, and updating your LinkedIn profile and résumé. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Christiaan VandenHeuvel is the executive team leader for children and students at his church in Livermore, California.

Want more volunteer management ideas? Check out these articles!

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How to Lose Your Volunteers in 25 Days

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