Church volunteers are the engine of the operation and without them most churches would not be able to support the services they provide. Volunteers donate thousands of hours each year to sustain the functions of the church and need to be managed well to ensure continued loyalty. Managing church volunteers can be challenging because they are volunteers – free labor! Volunteer oversight requires flexibility, patience and creativity in planning and scheduling.
Unfortunately, there is an occasional need to fire a church volunteer and ministry leaders need help in making the painful decision and having the difficult conversation with the volunteer. The need to let a volunteer go could be because of any number of things – a volunteer may have crossed a moral line or maybe they demonstrated behaviors that didn’t represent the church appropriately or maybe there are some things going on in their personal lives that affect their performance as a volunteer. Regardless, the need to fire a church volunteer is a difficult situation to manage.
6 Steps to Firing a Church Volunteer
1. Get the Facts
Regardless of the reason for letting the volunteer go, it is important to make sure the decision is made based on accurate and objective facts. It is important that the information that led to the decision comes from credible sources that can be verified.
2. Interview the Volunteer
This should be an informal conversation but it is important to give the volunteer the benefit of the doubt and let them share their side of the story. A lot can be learned from simply asking the question and remember that this person is on a spiritual journey – like the rest of us.
3. Document, Document, Document
Documenting every step of the way helps keep facts in order and serves as a tool to retain information and remember specific details should there ever be a need to recollect the situation. Whether it is something that another employee or volunteer reported or something that was revealed in a pastoral conversation, document the information with date, time and accurate and objective details.
4. Decision Making by Committee
Anytime difficult and sensitive decisions are made, it is important to take this scripture into consideration:
“where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety”. Proverbs 11:14.
Gather a few of the right people around a table and discuss not only the incident that contributed to the decision but also to brainstorm the best approach to communicating with the volunteer and the specifics of how the “conversation” will take place.
5. Communicate Gently
Regardless of the reason for asking a volunteer to step down, there should always be sensitivity in how the decision is communicated. Whether the volunteer is in rebellion, had a moral failure or simply was the wrong person for the job, the communication should be gentle, forgiving and pastoral. At the end of the day, he/she is still a fellow Christian, a congregant and a volunteer – free labor. Sensitivity in the way things are communicated should greatly reduce or eliminate any lingering issues as a result of asking them to step down.
6. Incident Debrief
I’m a proponent for debriefing after situations of this magnitude and try to learn from the event. The meeting should focus on identifying what (if any) changes the volunteer program could make to eliminate similar situations in the future. Answering questions like:
- Was this a training issue?
- Was it a communication issue?
- Was it a rebellion issue?
- Was it a process issues?
- Was it moral breakdown?
Taking the time to learn about the incident and how it affected the volunteer, their job responsibilities and other aspects of the church can be helpful to improving how volunteers are managed.
It seems counter intuitive to imagine the need to “fire” a church volunteer but unfortunately it is occasionally necessary. Church leaders that give volunteers the benefit of the doubt, and works with them as they develop in their role, can at least minimize the frequency of such a difficult situation.
Have you ever had to fire a volunteer?
photo by WBUR