3 Signs of a Miserable Volunteer

I once spoke to a “been there done that” volunteer from a local church. Put another way, he was no longer a volunteer; he’d “been there, done that” and it didn’t go very well. In fact, he ended up silently leaving the church and was leading worship and a small group at another church. I didn’t have to ask about his volunteer experience at his former church, he told me all about it. The backstory is, I knew this man and also knew he had been faithful and committed to that church for many years prior. He wasn’t a grumpy, church-hopping kind of guy. 

I was glad to see how engaged and excited he was to serve at the new church. I was saddened to realize that he was a miserable volunteer at his former church, which probably meant other volunteers were as well.

Patrick Lencioni wrote a book designed to help organizations identify the key factors that lead to miserable employees in the workplace. As you might expect, those same factors apply to the volunteers in our church and ministries as well.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Volunteer
Adapted from “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job” by Patrick Lencioni

1. People Feel Anonymous

“People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority…. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.” page 221

Volunteers need to believe you know and care about them. This means you’re not just interested in what they can do to make your ministry a success. It means you’re interested in them as individuals. Great leaders will take the time to learn about their lives, their families and the things that are important to them right now. They will check in on them when they are experiencing life-challenges. 

You can make a lot of mistakes as a leader, but if your volunteers believe they are important to you, they are much more likely to be loyal to the ministry you lead, despite it’s weaknesses and faults.

Leadership Test: Do you know the names of each of the volunteers you lead? Do you know what personal challenges they are facing right now?

2. People Feel Irrelevant

“Everyone needs to know that their job matters, to someone. Anyone. Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employees need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just the boss.” pages 221-222

Volunteers want to make a difference. It’s the reason they chose to give up some of their freedoms (to do other things) in order to serve in ministry with you. Irrelevance is a sickness that is so easy to cure, yet is often left untreated. Leaders must regularly keep the vision/purpose for ministry alive in volunteers. Explain why their role is so critical and how it connects to changed lives in the church. Tell them about people who have experienced God in a special way, and how they played a role in that transformation. And make a concerted effort to regularly express gratitude and appreciation for the investment they are making in people’s lives.

You will keep your volunteers motivated by reminding and showing them how they are making a difference.

Leadership Test: When was the last time you sent a special ‘thank you’ note to your volunteers? Do your volunteers know why their position in ministry is important to you and God?

3. People Feel Immeasurable

Employees need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. They cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate. page 222

Volunteers thrive on consistent, positive feedback from leaders. Often, volunteers are thrust into responsibilities with little experience or training. Consequently, they can feel insecure or inadequate for the job, eventually leading to them quitting. Unfortunately, the kind of feedback volunteers often receive is grossly inadequate and sometimes not even real. They don’t need to hear, “You’re doing just fine.” They want to know how they can do better, without feeling like a failure.

To truly “lead” others, we must be committed to modeling the kind of ministry we’re looking for, training people to be a success, and resourcing them with the tools they need to do it with excellence. 

Leadership Test: Do you know how well your volunteers fulfill their respective responsibilities? When was the last time you gave them constructive feedback or training so they might improve?

Are you struggling recruiting or keeping volunteers in the church?

If so, I recommend you contact me today to setup a free 30 minute conversation about how I might be able to provide the help you need. I look forward to hearing from you!

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