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I’ve never spoken to a ministry leader who didn’t want to do an amazing job. Everyone I’ve ever met that works in a church is motivated by a desire to serve Jesus and His church. And that’s especially true of those who lead volunteer teams in what is largely a thankless job filled with stress, conflict, and hurt feelings (among many, many blessings, of course).
It can be especially painful when a volunteer quits. On one hand, it means you’re suddenly shorthanded or have to do some reassigning of roles. On the other hand, it can feel very personal.
Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s your fault and sometimes it’s out of your hands.
They might have personal issues at home or they may have stretched themselves too thin. I know I have a tendency to join too many teams at my church. I have to be conscious of that and keep myself from joining new teams.
In fact, earlier this year I found myself on three teams at my church. I was volunteering with the children’s ministry leading a pre-kindergarten class, I was on the setup/breakdown schedule (we’re a portable church plant), and I was on a leadership development team. Something had to give, so I quit one of the Sunday morning teams. And I had to be very clear with that team’s leader that it was my fault for joining too many teams.
But apart from personal issues like that, losing a volunteer team member is very likely a reflection of you or the church’s leadership. And yeah, that hurts. No one wants to lose volunteers or drive someone away from serving in the church because of their own decisions.
But denying that it’s your problem and shifting the blame or responsibility elsewhere is only going to perpetuate or exacerbate the issue. So you need to own it, identify the problem, and fix it.
Let’s look at some potential reasons why someone might quit your volunteer team. And then we’ll look at how you can fix it.
1. Your communication needs to improve.
One of the most frustrating experiences as a volunteer is not knowing about things I really should know about. Poor communication can lead to volunteers quitting simply out of annoyance because they always feel out of the loop or unprepared. That can be fixed with a few systems to make sure everyone gets the communication they need to be ready to serve.
2. You care more about performance than people.
It’s tough to balance ministry effectiveness and also caring for your people, but who said leadership was easy? It’s your job to hold performance in one hand and the wellbeing of your people in the other. If you’re only concerned with your team’s performance at the detriment of their personal health, then you’re not a Christlike leader. You should be living Galatians 6:2 as a leader.
3. Your church or ministry is overstaffed.
When you have too many people as paid team members, you create less need for volunteers. You will find that you recruit fewer people and the people on your team will feel less necessary. Simply put, people don’t show up if they don’t think their presence is needed.
4. You aren’t clarifying the vision for your team.
This one is tough for most leaders because it’s difficult to nail down exactly what “vision clarity” means. So let’s clarify “vision clarity” together. First, you should be regularly painting a picture of why the ministry exists and answering the question of “to what ends are we working?”
5. You aren’t connecting your team’s work to Scripture.
The second part of vision clarity for your ministry team should be connecting your team’s work to the truth of the Bible. They need to know that what they are doing is a fulfillment of what God expects of them as Christians. Here are some easy references: 1 John 3:18, 1 Peter 4:10, Acts 20:35, Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 6:10, Isaiah 58:10, Matthew 25:35, Proverbs 11:24, Titus 3:8, Hebrews 13: 1-3…
6. You aren’t connecting your team’s work to God’s work.
The third part of vision clarity is connecting what your team does to what God is already doing. You should spend time in every conversation talking about the work of God in the lives of those whom your team is serving. When people get saved, when they experience freedom, when they learn something new, when they experience a breakthrough, when they meet new Christian friends…everything good in their lives is the work of God like the Bible says in James 1:17.
7. You aren’t creating opportunities for your team to connect to one another and build friendships.
One of the top reasons people keep volunteering is because they have a close friendship with someone on the team. When that type of friendship is absent, there is less motivation to continue serving on that team. Human connecting matters that much.
8. You aren’t equipping your team to do a great job.
When people don’t feel equipped to excel in a job, they quit. Most people would rather not do something that they’re not good at. You have the power to make them great at their volunteer job and when you don’t equip your team, they will leave. Nobody wants to be bad at something.
9. Your volunteer scheduling strategy is confusing and frustrating.
I’ve seen so many volunteer teams struggle to keep team members simply because the people are frustrated with how scheduling happens. In many cases, volunteer scheduling is ad hoc and unplanned. Or, even worse, people’s schedules are assumed to be understood or they’re talked about on Sunday mornings, but nothing is written down for reference. People leave your team when they don’t know when they’re supposed to serve and, therefore, can’t make appropriate plans.
10. You’re overworking your highest performing volunteers.
Every leader is tempted to lean on high performers more than they should. High performers are good at their job, show up on time, and are ready to serve when they arrive. They’re usually easier to lead for these very reasons and, as humans, we like to take the easier paths. When you overwork your top performers, you send a message to others that there’s no need for the rest of the team. And you send a message to your best team members that you’re not going to be giving them a break any time soon.
11. You’re not discipling your team members.
You are a leader, but you’re also a spiritual guide, pastor, or mentor. You should be doing more than scheduling and resourcing your team members. They need you in their lives to point them to Scripture, challenge them to a daily walk with God, help them learn to pray, and to find meaningful godly relationships. If you don’t take your chances to disciple them, they will gravitate to those who do and that may mean leaving your team.
12. You’re hoarding all the leadership responsibility and not delegating to others.
If everyone on your team is a doer and no one is empowered to lead, then you’re going to be losing people. There are people on your team whom God has called and equipped to lead. When there’s no opportunity for them to lead on your team, they will seek out opportunities to follow God’s lead somewhere else. By not providing the chance for those people to lead, you’re forcing them to follow God elsewhere.
13. You’re not developing current and future leaders within your ministry.
If you’re not creating space for leaders in your ministry, then you’re also not developing people to become leaders. This is related to #12. People that are called and equipped to lead, but find no investment or empowerment from their leader, will leave the team to find a place where they can grow into the leader God wants them to be.
14. You’re not listening to your team members.
People leave teams when they have no voice on the team. Your people have ideas and concerns. They should be able to voice those concerns to their leader. If your team culture or attitude is such that people don’t feel safe or heard when they voice an opinion, then those people are going to leave. Why would they continue to serve on a team where they have no input on its direction.
15. You have a pessimistic or negative attitude.
I was talking with a pastor recently who had a leader over children’s ministry that was losing team members. He asked me for guidance in how to coach her. After some digging into the issue, he admitted that she just wasn’t a very positive or encouraging person. “She’s a great manager of the details, but she’s terrible with people”, he said. There you go. She runs a tight ship, but everyone wants to get off the boat because the captain is a jerk!
16. You haven’t changed or improved anything in years.
Change for the sake of change isn’t helpful, but change is necessary at some level. If you’re still running felt boards in your children’s ministry or your worship team is still singing the same 10 songs on rotation, you’re not stewarding your ministry well. And your team can see it. They’ll leave just out of boredom.
17. You change things all the time.
The opposite of never changing is changing all the time. If a lack of change leads to boredom then constant change leads to whiplash and confusion. One thing your team looks to you for is clear, stable, conscientious leadership. That means being thoughtful and careful with the changes you want your team to experience. Even if God designed you as someone who loves and craves new things, pump the brakes when it comes to leading your team. Be cautious about change because not everyone is designed to love change and newness like you are.
18. You avoid and never resolve conflicts amongst your team members.
Conflicts on volunteer teams are hard to ferret out. Most team members will endure conflict and unhappiness silently because they don’t want to be one of “those people” that fosters strife. If you allow conflict to go unnoticed and unchecked, your people will see it and they will seek more peaceful pastures outside your team or your church. Part of your job is identifying and resolving conflict on your team.
19. You can’t recruit people to your team.
Great team leaders are great at recruiting and creating a culture of recruitment on their team. Leaders that struggle to recruit also struggle to keep people on their team. The challenges are related. People that love working with you also invite their friends. People who don’t love working with you will not invite their friends, and they’re more likely to quit.
20. You don’t model gratitude to your team.
Gratitude is the greatest antidote to entitlement and bitterness. If you are modeling gratitude, that will rub off on your people and they will have gratitude, too. That gratitude, for what they’re doing and who they’re serving, produces grace that is applied to all the little pimples and imperfections in your ministry. Highly grateful people are more likely to put up with your shortcomings as a leader in areas of organization, motivation, vision clarity, and other frustrations.
Your ministry team is not immune to any of the issues listed above. In fact, most team leaders suffer from a few. No one is perfect and that includes your ministry.
But you should, must, be doing all you can to serve and lead your people well. If you avoid the issues listed above, you’ll find that fewer people quit and many other problems, recruitment, performance, quality, etc, will all improve.
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