When It’s Time to Fire a Volunteer
Can you actually fire a volunteer? Absolutely! As shocking as the concept might be, sometimes it needs to be done.
The thought of firing a volunteer probably raises your anxiety level. But I bet you also have the name of someone on your team who needs to be “set free” to serve somewhere else. As a leader, you have to decide that allowing people to fail is far more heartless than speaking the truth in love and setting that volunteer free to serve in another area.
Note: I have only fired volunteers a few times – mostly over moral issues, not performance. Reassignments or extra training can solve most performance issues.
The first step I take when I have a volunteer experience failure is to ask the following question:
Is the volunteer failing because of incurable incompetence, bad gear, a lack of training, a lack of systems, or is it just a bad fit?
Discovering the answer to this question is not a rapid process. But you need to determine if this is a “people issue”. In order to get accurate data, you need a consistent system for reporting issues each week. We use a tool called a “campus report”. Our campus report is simply an email that each of our campus producers send detailing how things went at their respective campus’ services. This type of system will really aid you in discovering any trends related to a struggling volunteer. With solid information from our campus reports, I try to remove as many possible factors until there is nothing left to blame except the incompetence or attitude of the volunteer.
A solid recruitment and training process will greatly reduce the number of difficult conversations you will have to have. Here are a few suggestions:
- Try slowing down your recruitment process. Don’t throw a new recruit into the rotation too quickly.
- Take the time to audition volunteers for their potential role.
- Have your seasoned volunteers help train and coach the new recruits.
- As you recruit, give the volunteer plenty of escape routes. Most likely, they will realize they are no good at a job during training and will either bail out or ask to try another position. Don’t make them feel guilty about this.
If I determine the problem is indeed a “people issue”, I first offer some additional training. I personally step in and show them where to place their hands on the camera zoom trigger, or where to frame the eyes of the pastor on their screen, or set the audio mix so that they can hear how I would like it to sound. Countless times these little personal coaching sessions push them over the hump and into success.
If training doesn’t work, I try shifting them to another position. The conversation normally is very positive and most times one move to a new position solves the problem. Every person is wired up differently and they may not enjoy the rapid fire pace of a video director. But they may love the focused attentiveness required to run song lyrics. Very often, volunteers are “failing” because we ask them to do a task God did not design them to perform. It’s like installing a screw using a pair of pliers instead of a screwdriver – you can do it, but it will neither be efficient nor pretty.
The key to this strategy is having a wide variety of volunteer positions that are bite-sized and volunteer friendly. If the only other jobs available on your team are highly skilled, high intensity positions, you are missing out on the opportunity to retain committed volunteers who just need a different task they can succeed in.
We have a camera operator on our team who simply doesn’t like one of our video directors. The camera operator gets annoyed every time the two of them are scheduled on the same weekend. Both guys are volunteers. So what should I do? It’s a no-brainer. I schedule those two on different weekends. Yes, that’s work on my part, but it’s less work than having to recruit and train a new camera operator or a new director. Pay attention to the team chemistry. Chemistry is difficult to predict, but it is vividly clear when it is not working right.
If none of those steps work, I have to fire the volunteer. There is no easy way to do this – for the leader or the volunteer. I wish I could tell you that there was one single way to correctly fire a volunteer, but there isn’t. The key is to make sure they understand that you love them so much, that you can’t imagine anything more cruel than allowing them to continue serving and not being successful. They need to know you love them. They need to know that God has uniquely gifted them for some service in the Church, but they need to keep looking for that place.
Then I commit to help them find a spot. I suggest a couple of ministries who need help and may be able to utilize their passion and giftedness. But no matter what, they need to understand that God has given them a gifting. We just have to all work hard to find that sweet spot of service.
If the issue is a moral issue, everything changes.
Every ministry has some high-capacity leaders who are visible and have high responsibility. But each church should also have “entry level” positions where people can get their feet wet in ministry. I’ve had lost people serving on our team side-by-side with mature Christians. I love that! Team members come to salvation this way.
But, if you are one of my leaders, there is a moral standard I hold you to. I had one key leader decide to divorce his wife so he could start seeing another woman. I said: “You know that’s sin. You know that if you move forward with this, you are off the team, right?”
He decided to anyway.
Those are the conversations that must happen, but mark you forever. I’ve also had similar conversations with other leaders who have repented, reconciled with their spouse, and continue to serve to this day.
No sane pastor enjoys firing a volunteer, but it’s part of our responsibilities as leaders.