How To "Fire" A Church Volunteer

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No matter the situation, firing someone is a difficult and sometimes an uncomfortable thing to do. Firing someone who is volunteering their time can be even worse. We often tolerate in volunteers what we would not tolerate in an employee because the volunteer is not getting paid. Oftentimes it feels like it would be easier to just keep them on the team rather than have a difficult and potentially awkward conversation.

In a workplace where volunteers are almost always needed, it can be hard to tell a volunteer they can no longer serve in a particular capacity. Here are 4 suggestions for how to gracefully fire a volunteer who is a poor fit for the position in which he/she is serving.

1. Affirm his/her calling to serve.  

Everyone is called to serve the body of Christ. Just because a particular ministry may not be a great fit for this specific volunteer, start the discussion by affirming the volunteers calling to serve the local church and the body of Christ.  

2. Thank him/her.  

Whether they were a good fit or not, this church member did just give countless hours to serve in a volunteer capacity, and that should be acknowledged. Thank the volunteer for the giving of his/her time to do something helpful for the church.

3. Be honest.  

Have an honest conversation with the volunteer as to why he/she will not be allowed to serve in a particular capacity any longer. Communicating why you feel the volunteer is not a good fit for a ministry or position might bring to light something the volunteer had never considered before or noticed in himself or herself. Many times, A poor fit is due to poor self-awareness. Being honest with your volunteers can help them learn from their mistakes and help them discover something about themselves that they might not have known.

4. Suggest an alternate position.  

Was this volunteer poor in one area, but maybe gifted in another? Recently, I was talking with a pastor who had to fire a volunteer from student ministry because the volunteer just was unable to connect with students on their level. It simply wasn’t working. However, the volunteer was very gifted in the area of media and tech. After affirming the volunteer’s calling to serve and thanking him for the time he’s already given to the church, the Pastor informed the volunteer he could no longer serve in student ministry because he did not feel it was a great fit for the volunteer or the ministry.

However, he then went on to suggest that the volunteer serve on the weekends in another capacity helping the media relations team. The pastor was able to redirect the volunteer into a position that better suited the volunteer’s giftings and still allowed the volunteer to serve the church. In turn, the volunteer felt more appreciated and motivated to serve the church well.  

Volunteers are not simply “free-labor”. After all, there are definite costs associated with volunteers – the financial costs of training programs, the time and effort it takes to mentor and pour into volunteers, etc. Keeping a volunteer on a team just because you assume it doesn’t cost the church anything to do so is a myth that needs to be understood.

By affirming their calling, thanking them for their time, being honest and redirecting them to a position that might be a better fit, you will save both the church and the volunteer significant time, money, frustration and disappointment in the long run.   

How have you had to deal with this experience in the past?