Setting the Right Expectations for Volunteers

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Lewis Center Director F. Douglas Powe Jr. says it can be difficult to hold volunteers to high standards of job performance, but clear position descriptions, mentoring, and regular evaluation and feedback can help assure that volunteers will do their jobs well.


What can churches justifiably expect from volunteers? It is one thing when someone is getting compensated to perform a task, but can a volunteer be held to the same standard? This is a particularly challenging question for congregations that depend heavily on volunteers, especially in smaller churches. The fear is that no one will step forward to do the job if the expectations are too high. But the flip side is that mediocracy may rule the day if appropriate expectations are not set. How can you navigate the dilemma between too much and too little?

Position descriptions

Every volunteer role in the church needs to have a clear position description. For example, the position description for a greeter might read something like this:

The position of worship greeter requires an enthusiastic person who enjoys engaging others and helping them experience God’s presence. Greeters are expected to dress appropriately for our church context; wear an usher’s name badge; be at their posts 20 minutes before and ten minutes after the service begins; greet warmly all those entering the service; give a special welcome to visitors, pointing them to the guest book and visitor information; and direct people to the restrooms, the nursery, or Sunday school rooms, as necessary.   

A helpful position description creates a positive expectation of what is needed, but it does not attack the personality of an individual who may not be a match. Sharing the position description with anyone interested in the role addresses the question of fit, without requiring an immediate conversation about whether the individual is right for the job or not. The goal is to encourage those who are a good fit to pursue it and to guide others to consider other ministries.

Mentoring

After reading the position description, some individuals may feel they have gifts for the role, but they are afraid or anxious about moving forward. A good mentor can lessen that anxiety by supporting the person in the new position. The role of the mentor is not to tell people what to do, but to support them while they are doing it. Many of us have benefited from good mentors and the best ones understood the difference between taking over and supporting. The extra benefit to the volunteer who has experienced a good mentoring relationship is the possibility of becoming a good mentor for someone else.

Evaluation and feedback

Yes, it is important to evaluate volunteers! The purpose is not to point out everything that they are doing wrong. Nor is it to make them into saints. The purpose is to hear how they feel things are going and to share in a loving way both positive and negative feedback pertinent to their positions. For example, a volunteer financial secretary may be meticulous in assuring that all the reports are up to date and that the meeting minutes are in order but doesn’t get annual giving statements mailed out until March. This individual needs to be affirmed regarding what went well, but also be reminded of the importance of mailing out giving statements by January 31 for tax purposes. If evaluation never occurs, then the person just continues to send the statements out in March, frustrating many in the congregation. Some people do not like evaluations, especially if it is for a volunteer position. Others will be encouraged to know that someone is paying attention to what they do and taking their work seriously. But evaluating performance is always important in ensuring that expectations are being met.

Setting the right expectations for volunteer positions can reduce the likelihood of the wrong person taking on a job while directing appropriately gifted people into key roles so that ministry thrives. Taking time to have clear position descriptions, mentors, and periodic evaluations can aid in this process.


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About Author

Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr.

F. Douglas Powe, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and holds the James C. Logan Chair in Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.


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