When Is It Okay To “Fire” Church Volunteers?


“Volunteers are the lifeblood of your ministry” is not an overstatement.

The success of your ministry rests on the shoulders of a team of dedicated and committed volunteers. Their passion and creativity fuel and energize your ministry. Their personal sacrifice and selfless generosity motivate current members and attract more people to get involved. As you seek to recruit and retainthe best volunteers, the fear of losing good team members may keep you awake at night.

But the truth is, keeping the right people may sometimes mean letting others go.

Firing someone is tough. Firing a volunteer is even tougher. It hurts, even when done gracefully. Compared to confronting them with a hard conversation, it seems easier to just keep them on the team. After all, your volunteers offer their time and services “free of charge.”

If it’s time to fire a volunteer, these 4 myths may help you think deeper about your volunteer base.

1. The “Free Labor” Myth

First off, your volunteers are not free. Even though volunteers do not ask for monetary compensations, retaining volunteers has a price tag. A successful volunteer strategy needs a well-planned volunteer training program, and it’s also a commitment to invest in your volunteer’s life – to build relationships, to discover their potential, and help them grow in skills needed for your ministry. Thus, keeping a volunteer on your team does have hidden costs, both in your time and budget.

Second, they are not just labor. They are the resources God has put under your authority, and it’s your responsibility to be their good steward. Does your ministry have sufficient resources to maintain an effective volunteer training program? If you’re not able to fully equip and care for all of your volunteers, it may be time to re-structure your volunteer-base to be more lean.

2. “The More The Better” Myth

When your ministry grows, more manpower and resources are necessary to run your ministry. However, the issue is not a quantitative one, but a qualitative one. Having more volunteers is not necessarily a guarantee for a successful ministry; the key is having the right volunteers.

In 7 Dangerous Mistakes Made By Fast-Growing Ministries, we explain that sometimes the people who got you where you are won’t be the same church staff who will get you to the next level. As your ministry grows, new challenges may call for a new team.

Do your church volunteers possess the needed skills to meet the challenges of your ministry?  It may be the time to consider reorganizing your church volunteer team, which may mean releasing some and recruiting new ones.

3. The “Necessary Evil” Myth

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when the reason for firing is not performance-based or when you are firing friends. But saying goodbye is more than a “necessary evil.” Releasing your volunteers can benefit both your ministry and your volunteers in the long run. Letting volunteers who aren’t a good fit go means more resources to recruit and retain the right people. And your volunteers can feel more valued and motivated serving somewhere where they’re a better fit.

4. The “Harmony Over Truth” Myth

Jesus asked us to love one another, and firing someone doesn’t feel like the most loving act you can think of – it hurts. But Jesus’ command does not mean we cannot think strategically and communicate openly as we work for the Kingdom. 

While the desire for a successful ministry should not take precedence over our love for our volunteers, avoiding the hard conversation under the excuse of “love” is not genuine love. Ephesians 4:15commands us to speak the truth in love. Releasing your volunteers when they are no longer a good fit may be a more loving act than keeping them in the team for the fear of hurting the relationship.

The above discussion is by no means comprehensive, but we hope it is helpful in illuminating some blind-spots in church volunteer base building.

What are your thoughts on recruiting or firing volunteers at your church?

If you liked this, then you’ll also like Thoughts on Firing People in Ministry.