Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Church volunteers are the labor engine of a church 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. This valuable labor force needs to be managed well to ensure their continued loyalty.
Volunteer oversight requires flexibility, patience, and creativity in planning and scheduling.
Managing church volunteers can be challenging because they are volunteers – free labor!
And, they are imperfect humans who are on the same spiritual development journey that we are all on.
Sometimes There Is A Need To Let A Volunteer Go
Churches rely heavily on volunteer labor so it is difficult to imagine having the need to let this free labor go.
However, there is an occasional need to relieve a church volunteer of their duties.
This is difficult for ministry leaders. The decision is not an easy one and leadership may need help in making the painful decision and having a difficult conversation with the volunteer.
The need to let a volunteer go could be because of any number of reasons – 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 can be a very difficult situation to manage.
6 Tips For Letting A Volunteer Go
1. Gather All The Facts
I learned early on in my career to never rely on assumptions. Even when we hear things from other people we need to investigate thoroughly.
Regardless of the reason for letting the volunteer go, it is important to make sure the decision is 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.
Take the time to gather all the information before having a conversation with the volunteer.
2. Have A Conversation With The Volunteer
There is always more than one side to a story and the volunteer deserves to be heard.
Give the volunteer the benefit of the doubt and let them share their side of the story.
This should be an informal conversation but the goal should be to verify any information that you have collected.
For instance, you may have a conversation with the volunteer and simply share the facts that you have gathered. Present them with the information that you have and simply ask them to provide feedback.
A lot can be learned from simply asking the question.
Try to remember that this person is on a spiritual journey and you want to treat them gently. The last thing you want is for this volunteer to slip away because the incident was not handled appropriately.
3. Document, Document, Document
Documentation helps us to recall details that might otherwise slip our minds.
Create documentation for all of the information you gather to keep the facts in order.
This document also serves as a tool to retain important information and specific details about the incident should there ever be a need to recollect the situation.
Whether you document something that another employee or volunteer reported or something that was revealed in a pastoral conversation, it is important to make note of the information with a date, time, and accurate objective details.
4. Decision Making by Committee
No one enjoys making decisions that impact another person’s life. This is why gaining a different perspective can help to make good decisions.
Any time 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 the incident that contributed to the decision.
Use this group to brainstorm the best approach to communicating with the volunteer, who the best person is to have that conversation, and the specifics of how the conversation will take place.
The approach that you take to the conversation can have a lasting impact on the volunteer so use diplomacy and confidentiality as a guide.
For instance, let’s say you are letting a volunteer go because of a moral failure. Be sensitive to the volunteer’s family and only share details with those who have a need to know.
5. Communicate Gently
As Christians, we understand the importance of communicating in a Christ-like fashion.
Strive to always be sensitive in communicating with the volunteer- regardless of the reason they are being asked to step down.
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 can greatly reduce or eliminate any lingering issues as a result of asking them to step down.
6. Incident Debrief
I’m a proponent of debriefing after situations of this magnitude and trying to learn from the event.
The debrief meeting should focus on identifying what (if any) changes the volunteer program could make to eliminate similar situations in the future.
Ask this type of question to the debrief team:
- Was this incident the result of poor screening and placement of the volunteer?
- Was this incident the result of a training issue?
- Was this situation the result of a communication issue?
- Was it a rebellion issue?
- Was it a process issue?
- Was it a moral breakdown?
Take Time To Learn
Take the time to learn about the incident and how it affected the volunteer, their job responsibilities, and other aspects of the church. This investment of time into the incident can be helpful in finding new ways to improve how volunteers are managed.
It seems counter-intuitive to imagine the need to ever “fire” a church volunteer. However, it is occasionally necessary.
Church leaders that give volunteers the benefit of the doubt, and work 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?