I love when readers reach out and ask questions. A reader recently asked about the best approach to ensure a smooth transition for church volunteer leaders.
This is a great question and an issue that lots of churches deal with – ensuring smooth volunteer transitions.
Churches would cease to exist without the selfless efforts of volunteers. This free labor source is an integral part of the church. We need volunteers.
However, there can be two extreme ends of the spectrum for volunteer leaders who you might want to consider giving a break.
On one extreme, a volunteer stakes a claim on an area and guards that area with their life. They will never step down.
On the other end of the spectrum is a volunteer who simply needs a break – but is too faithful to ask for one. Those who suffer in silence.
This is my domain, I’m in charge!
All too often it is an evolution of events that lead to this sensitive, awkward and potentially explosive situation.
This is how it typically evolves. A church is growing. Its programs are developing and it is looking for leaders.
Able bodied members step up to the plate and take a sacrificial lead in an area. They do a great job. They develop other volunteers and often a great program.
Then…..years and frequently decades go by. The program gets stagnant, the leader becomes territorial and it has an impact on volunteers and the effectiveness of the program.
Suggestions for change fall on deaf ears – because this leader is protective of their domain. This results in potential rising leaders to step away in an effort to avoid church conflict.
Then, a crisis happens and church leaders need to address the issue.
Sadly it sometimes does not end well.
How do you confront someone who has been diligently serving in an area for decades and suggest they step down? Not easily!
How long do I have to do this job?
The other heartbreaking example is a different volunteer who serves faithfully. For months, years and yes sometimes decades and they are simply tired.
The church does a great job of letting them know how valued they are. So much so that the tired volunteer fears that stepping down will hurt the church.
They love their church and don’t want to do anything that will impact its effectiveness. So they stay in a volunteer role until they are totally burned out.
The problem with burned out volunteers is that they do eventually quit – everything. And once they do, it is very difficult to recruit them again.
It is easy to see. They step down and then they go from being visible every time the doors are open to not being seen at all. They show up for church but that is about it.
No church wants this to happen – but it does.
So how do you fix this?
The secret is to create a system to transition volunteer leaders.
When you create a functioning system, it eliminates the awkwardness of removing a committed volunteer from a role they may not be ready to relinquish. Or a tired volunteer that simply needs a break!
This system can be called volunteer succession planning.
What this means is as soon as someone gets assigned a leadership position, it is their responsibility to work with leadership to identify someone that they can mentor and prepare to pass the wand.
This is a challenge in a lot of churches in that a volunteer digs their heels into a volunteer role.
This is often because it validates them and they never want to leave – of course unless they get offended. Then they often leave making a big scene.
Create A Volunteer Succession Policy
Create a policy that volunteers are rotated out of positions every two years (or whatever makes sense for your church) as a season of rest and refreshing.
Some will not want to do this, but encourage them to take a break. They always have the option to come back.
During their two years they will help to identify the person(s) who will replace them at the end of their term.
The best scenario is to have a new person identified by the beginning the second year to provide ample time to mentor them and ensure a smooth transition year.
Then when the new person starts, they start working with their replacement their second year and so on.
When someone is named a lead in a position, church leaders should work with them to identify the next person in line for the position so they can be involved in training and mentoring their successor.
Create a culture to celebrate the incoming and outgoing person by public acknowledgment and thanking them for their contribution.
Honestly, short of creating a process like this it is very difficult to remove someone who has staked a claim on particularly a high profile position.
More importantly, you don’t want to burn out your volunteers. A system like this helps to avoid that.
It is too easy to take faithful volunteers for granted. Make an effort to recognize contributions and encourage rest and you will find that the volunteer leaders in your church will be fresh, excited and able to serve for decades!
You can access an editable Volunteer Leader Succession Policy in our library of forms available to our members.
How often do you give your volunteer leaders a break?