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The Best Ways to Lose Volunteers

 —  August 27, 2014 — 2 Comments

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“I can run a ministry alone,” said no youth worker ever. We simply can not do everything ourselves. Yet, so many times we recruit volunteers in a way that acts like it.

Having been on both sides as a volunteer and recruiter I am more convinced than ever that there are some key ways we can shake a really great unpaid team member. (Notice… large doses of sarcasm ahead.)

Never Communicate Expectations or Just Don’t Communicate Anything Ever

This is super simple. Never tell your volunteers what you want from them, don’t reach out to them regularly and merely avoid being clear on much of anything. Along these lines, use the excuse that you are “too busy” or that you “just aren’t administrative,” when they ask simple questions about logistics. Bring them curriculum they should use the day you want them to teach it, without allowing any space for preparation. Run around like a crazed lunatic all the time without directing anyone. They can figure it out as they go, this is a great learning opportunity for them.

Never Ask Anyone Where They WANT to Volunteer

You have ministry needs. If someone shows up to help, just put them wherever there is a gap, without asking them if they are all right with that. Just don’t bother to empower them or give them ownership of anything in the ministry. Make assumptions based on obvious skill sets that this is exactly where someone wants to give their time. In addition make sure to either raise the bar too high, or too low. It is really helpful to treat someone who is giving their time for “free” as if this is the only activity they participate in. You can also create an environment where everyone sort of stands around with no direction. As a matter of fact just give your volunteers a funky name like “Servants” and then you can treat them like this is the only thing they ever do.

Complain That “No One” Is Helping

Ignore the key team members who always show up, drive, go on trips, or generally pour their hearts out. I mean we are all “doing this for Jesus,” so those that are coming don’t really need encouragement. At the end of the year throw a half-hearted gift at them, and hope they feel like they have done something worthwhile. Better yet just send a mass email saying, “Thank You,” with no personalization. Nope, do nothing. This is best. Make sure you spend all of your time whining how you are “doing this by yourself,” then put an “ad” for more help in the bulletin and keep grumbling that the masses don’t come.

Don’t Bother Offering Training- At ALL- Ever

You can’t get anyone to come to meetings, so why would you want to bother to help your team know how to reach teens better? Chances are they are going to do everything their own way, no matter what you say. Never send them an article, suggest a book or video or take them to any sort of conference (one day, local or in house included.) I mean you have heard it said that those who volunteer believe they are there to support the youth pastor, as opposed to loving teens. You have also heard something about most people who “give” their time really don’t intuitively “understand” youth ministry. Ignore these thoughts. Avoid being creative, or brainstorming with your team ways they would like to be better equipped.

I have done all of these. I have had the tables turned and seen just how frustrating it is when they happen to you. Over the years I have come to learn the quality of volunteers matters more than the quantity. It is possible to keep a team member for a long time. The key is to treat them like the precious jewel they are. Stop making it easy for them to walk away. And remember this one thought: most of the time they will feel guilty telling you why they go, because they do see how hard you are trying so they will make an excuse or better yet- just stop coming and never tell you why.

How do you lose volunteers?

- Leneita

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Leneita Fix

Leneita Fix

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Leneita Fix is the Director of Ministry Development for Aslan Youth Ministries, a family focused urban ministry serving Monmouth County New Jersey and Haiti. She has been working in some form of youth and family ministry for almost 22 years. In addition she has launched the coaching and resource organization, Front Line Urban Resources with Jeffrey Wallace serving those who work with families living in survival mode. The early years were spent in camp ministry, suburban and rural youth groups. With the Lord’s moving the last 17 of those years have been spent ministering in three different urban areas to primarily unchurched families (New Jersey, Virginia, Florida back to New Jersey). Her responsibilities have included Bible based program direction for children ages 5-18, curriculum writing, staff training and recruiting, discipleship, resource creation and speaking to national audiences. Her passion is to raise up workers in practical, relationship-driven methods while remaining in the trenches with the youth and families she loves. Her goal is to help others understand every student living in a survival mindset can and will be transformed in Christ. One of her greatest joys is serving in ministry as a family with her husband three wonderful children, and her niece. Simply she resides among her friends in the city just living life as a family that loves being there. You can contact her at leneitafix@aslanyouth.org.

2 responses to The Best Ways to Lose Volunteers

  1. Do you recommend having expectations written down? When I was a youth pastor I had everybody sign a ‘covenant’ each year that covered our mission statement etc. Now I am a volunteer coordinator of sports ministry for kids and am considering doing the same thing but I am hesitating because I don’t want to feel to rigid or formal.

    • Leneita Fix

      Oh yes write them down!! I think the more clear the better. I world recommend that you have a volunteer handbook that has policies and procedures in it that they sign. This way you both know what you are asking. I don’t think of it as rigidity in the area of clarity and I don’t think there is anything wrong with “formal.” The less you can leave up to interpretation the more both of you will have a great experience with serving. People are busy and knowing what you want is actually less overwhelming than, “Just help.”

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