Why Your Volunteers are Miserable (and what to do about it)

But by the twenty-third year of King Joash the priests still had not repaired the temple. Therefore King Joash summoned Jehoiada the priest and the other priests and asked them, “Why aren’t you repairing the damage done to the temple? Take no more money from your treasurers, but hand it over for repairing the temple.” The priests agreed that they would not collect any more money from the people and that they would not repair the temple themselves. – 2 Kings 12:6-8 (NIV)

If your volunteers are miserable in ministry it’s probably because you have them in places God never intended for them to be, doing tasks He never gifted them to do.

Joash made this mistake. He made the priests repair the temple. On paper it makes sense. The temple was in shambles. They’re the priests. They should build it back up, right?

In practice it was a whole different story. The priests weren’t craftsmen. They didn’t know HOW to fix the temple. That’s not the role God had for them. God wanted them to minister to the people by teaching His laws and offering sacrifices. And that’s what they did. And the temple went in disrepair for over two decades!

I think we make this mistake a lot in ministry.

In Joash’s case he had a temple that needed fixing. He had people willing to help (the priests). The problem was they weren’t very good at it. Not even a little bit. We do the same thing.

We have a small group that needs a leader or a lesson that needs to be taught and we grab the nearest warm body who is willing to help. And six months later they quit and we’re right back where we started.

So how do we break this cycle? Here are six steps to make sure your volunteers aren’t miserable:

1. Streamline your orientation process.
Don’t put people through the rigmarole. The more complicated your process, the less likely people are to do it. Make each step easy, obvious, and strategic. I gave away a ton of resources here to help.

2. Place volunteers according to their gifts and fit, not your need.
Don’t make anyone serve in places God hasn’t wired them to fit in. Ministry becomes a chore when this happens. Jobs were made for people, not people for jobs.

3. Connect them to a volunteer coach.
Having volunteers care for other volunteers is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I care for our staff. Our staff cares for volunteer coaches. Coaches care for volunteers. Volunteers care for kids and parents. This will revolutionize your ministry! Click here or email me for more details on how we make this happen.

4. Give them a say in how they do what they do.
People want to be heard. People leave people who don’t listen to them. Before you make a major change to what your volunteers are doing, ask them what they think about it. You don’t always have to follow what they say, but it shows you value their opinion. This will make all the difference.

5. Provide ongoing training.
In the fall I’m going to re-launch a monthly 2 – 5min podcast for our volunteers. It’ll be designed to give them a bite-sized bit of training on the go that will help them do what they do better. You don’t have to create a podcast. You can forward posts, articles, or read a chapter a month from a book together. Whatever you do, make it short a relevant to their needs.

6. Make meetings meaningful.
Everybody hates meetings, but it doesn’t need to be that way. When you gather all of your volunteers together (I recommend just a few times a year) make it fun. Eat together, play games, provided a little training, and leave space for people to share praises and prayer requests.

Being a volunteer in your ministry should be a pleasure, not a pain. When you streamline your process, place people based on their SHAPE, connect them to a coach, give them a say, and provide ongoing training and a loving community they’ll be more likely to stay with you for the long haul.

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5 comments

  1. Good thoughts. I have a question about volunteer coaches. We’ve tried something like this in the past and theoretically it makes sense, but the functionality of it was another story. We have creative leaders: curriculum development team, elementary large group leads, media directors, etc. and we have great teachers: nursery director, preschool teachers, small group leaders, but none of those people enjoy leading other people. How do you pinpoint the volunteers that enjoy the leadership aspect of Children’s Ministry?

    1. Hi Mycal,
      Here’ what I’ve done in the past to identify volunteers who enjoy the leadership aspect of Children’s Ministry:

      1. I look for volunteers who have been in the trenches for several years (usually 3 – 5+).
      2. I look for volunteers who come early and stay late to help set-up and tear down.
      3. I look for volunteers who go above and beyond and who do more than their asked.
      4. I look for volunteers who help other volunteers.
      5. I look for volunteers who have leadership roles at work they are good at and like doing.
      6. I look for volunteers who other volunteers follow.
      7. I look for volunteer who ask for more responsibility (it’s rare, but I love it when it happens).

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