Deborah Ike says people step away from volunteer positions for various reasons. But regardless of the cause, they need to know the church continues to value them. She offers a three-step formula to respond in a way that is respectful and encourages longer-term retention.
It’s that awkward moment you’re always trying to avoid: a volunteer emails you or mentions one Sunday that he “needs some time away from serving for a while.” Maybe you saw it coming; maybe you didn’t.
Regardless, now you’re left trying to figure out what to do about it. Your gut reaction might include a bit of defensiveness, and it’s hard not to take it personally. However, when you truly care for each church member’s needs, there is an appropriate response to have in these situations. Here’s what I recommend on what to do when volunteers quit:
1. Say thank you
Expressing gratitude may not seem like your natural response at this moment, but it’s a great place to start. Before you say (or do) anything else, let the volunteer know you appreciate all she’s done and how she’s contributed to the team. According to a 2017 Employee Engagement study, 76 percent of employees who do not feel valued at work are looking for other job opportunities. Since this study was on paid employees, try to imagine how someone who isn’t getting paid (i.e., a volunteer) is likely to react when they don’t feel valued. This doesn’t mean that’s the reason she’s quitting, but if you ever want her to return to service, make sure you say thank you now.
2. Ask why
This next step is probably more of what your instinct went toward. It’s asking why. See if you can find out the reason he’s quitting. Did he get a new job that will be extra time-consuming for a few months? Perhaps once he gets settled, he’ll be ready to serve again? Or is he frustrated with recent changes, or a lack of changes, in the area in which he’s serving? Talk through those concerns and see if there’s a way to clear up any misunderstanding. Finding out the root cause may feel uncomfortable, but it’s essential to know if you have a systemic issue going on. You don’t want to miss why this person is leaving and then have several more volunteers quit for the same reasons.
Lastly, if this volunteer is frustrated with an issue and you agree it needs to be addressed, invite him to be part of the solution and help you fix it. This can go a long way in regaining trust and volunteer loyalty.
3. Give them time
Whatever reason your volunteer left, make sure you respect her decision by giving her time. Wait at least six to eight weeks before inviting her to serve again. In the meantime, be friendly with this person at church services and events. Make sure former volunteers know you care for them as more than just workers.
When you do decide to ask again, invite her to serve at an event instead of in a weekly service capacity. This gives an easy, low-commitment way to get back into volunteering. After the event, follow up and ask about that experience. If it was a good one, you now have the opportunity to ask for a more regular volunteer commitment.
Losing a high-quality volunteer is never fun. It can be stressful finding new people to fill the vacant spots. By conducting self-evaluations and volunteer feedback sessions, you’re less likely to lose these trusted volunteers in the future.
Keep in mind that people quit for various reasons. Regardless of their reasoning, they need to know their church values them whether they’re serving regularly or not. This three-step formula is not only respectful, but it also encourages longer-term retention. It’s a win-win.
This article has been reprinted with the author’s permission from Velocity Ministry Management.
- Why Don’t People Volunteer at Church? by Mike Schreiner and Ken Willard
- When Volunteers Aren’t Working Out by Lory Beth Huffman
- Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Volunteers and Church Staff (Abingdon, 2017) by Ann A. Michel