Published: August 4, 2023
Find out the top reasons why volunteers quit and learn how to keep your team satisfied.
John just filled the last Sunday school teacher slot. He heaves a sigh of relief. Now he can sit back and relax. But not for long. The next week, one of the volunteers calls. She says she can’t teach the first and second graders anymore. “Here we go again,” John thinks.
Do you share John’s frustration? Just when you have all your volunteer slots filled, some volunteers quit. Why does this happen?
Why Volunteers Quit
1. Volunteers aren’t challenged.
People need to feel they’re getting something in return for their work. For example, if you ask school teachers to teach the same grade at church as they do in school, they’re doing something they’ve always done. And they aren’t challenged by anything new. “If you try to make [volunteering] too easy, you just cut the legs out of it,” says Dr. Cynthia Thero, former president of The Source International, an educational development firm. Marlene Wilson, who conducts workshops and conferences on volunteerism and is the author of How to Mobilize Church Volunteers (Augsburg), agrees, “Sometimes we recruit people and we don’t give them anything really significant to do. So it’s a waste of their time. With dual-career marriages and single parenting, people want whatever time they give to make a difference.”
2. Volunteers don’t have a job description.
“People don’t dare say yes to something they don’t know what they’re committing to,” says Wilson. Even the secular sector considers job descriptions important to get volunteer support. A Maryland school puts a detailed list of “volunteer opportunities”—including tasks and dates for special events—right on the student information form that parents receive when enrolling their children.
3. Volunteers aren’t sure of their performance.
People want to know they make a difference. They want to know how the program is better or different because of their service. “[Volunteers] leave the program because no one evaluates their impact,” says Thero.
4. Volunteers aren’t trained.
“Volunteers quit because they say yes to something and assume that somebody is going to train and support them,” says Wilson. “But they find they are thrown out there on their own.” Thero affirms, “How good the program is depends on the training.”
How to Keep Volunteers
Even though volunteers often check out for valid reasons, there’s good news. You can ensure long-term, satisfied teachers in your ministry.
1. Know what your volunteers want.
Develop an interview process. Ask volunteers: What expertise do you bring to the program? What do you need out of this experience? What are your goals in working with children? “Help team members understand that they need the experience,” says Thero.
2. Understand current trends.
“Two-thirds of volunteers work outside the home,” says Wilson. “A lot are part of the sandwich generation and inheriting additional family responsibilities [from elderly parents].” Consider shared leadership or shorter time slots to lighten volunteers’ loads.
3. Develop a clear job description.
Give detailed descriptions of specific tasks, such as leading children’s singing for one-half hour each Sunday morning. State how much time the position requires, including training time. Specify a finite term of service.
Volunteers want good training to succeed in their job. But how do you know when you’ve had a good training session? Ask yourself: Do people give all kinds of excuses not to come? Do team members drop out? Ask those serving: What do you wish you knew? What do you need to know to be effective in your job?
5. Devote time to your volunteers.
Pour into the hearts of your team. Thank them for their faithful service, and inspire those who are just jumping into volunteering. By reaffirming their personal calling of investing in children, you’ll spark a renewed passion for what you are doing in your children’s ministry. When you train your team, they experience greater satisfaction in their service. They’re happier. And a happy team member is a one who stays around for years and years.
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