One question I frequently receive when talking about recruiting and retaining church volunteers is what to do about a volunteer who isn't working out. In other words, how do you "fire" a volunteer?

This is obviously a delicate situation and needs to be handled with great care. This individual is donating his time and efforts; he's part of your congregation and a brother in Christ. You don't want to offend him or damage the relationship, but his performance in the volunteer role is hurting the team. So, what to do?

First off, any issues that involve breaking the law, overt sin or safety concerns must be dealt with immediately. As soon as you see or are made aware of the problem, take appropriate action. However, assuming that this is a matter of the volunteer not meeting expectations, having a poor attitude or not doing the work as needed, then here are a few options for you to consider.

Is this person in the wrong role?

How do you assign new volunteers? Do you simply match up a warm body with a spot you need to fill? Do you let new volunteers choose whatever role they want regardless of skill set or personality factors? That might be the real issue. Your poor-performing, hard-to-get-along-with volunteer may be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

In this situation, establish a process for all volunteers (current and new) to guide them into a role that will align with their skills, interests and personality. Part of this process should include a spiritual gifting and personality test (i.e., DiSC, Myers-Briggs).

Also, develop job descriptions for each volunteer role and include which spiritual gifting and personality types would be best for each. Once your volunteers complete these tests, see if each person's results line up with their current role. If not, talk with those volunteers about what role(s) might be a better fit and suggest they try a different one.

Does this person know what you expect?

Have you provided this volunteer with documented instructions, a training session and periodic reminders of what you need him to do? If not, do that before you decide he has to go. You can't reasonably expect a volunteer to perform with excellence without knowing what a win looks like. Set your team up for success.

Do you need to confront him about his behavior?

Does this volunteer have a dreadful attitude and is consistently gossiping about church leaders? If so, you need to clearly, yet kindly, confront him about his behavior. It’s probably best to not do this alone, so have one other leader present for the discussion.

A few pointers for this discussion:

  • Let your volunteer know that you appreciate his willingness to serve.
  • Clearly state the undesirable behavior without immediately putting him on the defensive: "It seems to me that you might be upset with how we've handled ..." or "I'm wondering if you have some suggestions for how to do this process more effectively."
  • Listen to his response and repeat back what you thought you heard him say. This communicates that you value his input.
  • Ask, "Going forward, please come straight to me with your concerns. It can sound like gossip if you're mentioning these to people who can't fix them, and I doubt that's your true intent."

Try something along these lines for the first confrontation. If you're still noticing issues, then a more direct approach may be necessary.

What if you've tried all of the above and things still aren't working out?

The first step is to pray and seek God's direction. You may not realize that there's a difficult family drama or other issue going on in this person's life right now. Perhaps he's had a bad experience at another church and that's impacting his response, etc. Pray for him and ask God to give you the right words.

Next, set up a time to talk with your volunteer (do this with another leader at least around if not directly involved). Never do this via email or over the phone. This is too personal of a discussion, and you need to do everything you can to make sure the volunteer's relationship with the church remains intact.

Start off the conversation on a positive note by honestly complimenting and stating how much you appreciate him serving at the church. Ask how he's feeling about his volunteer role. Mention that you like to check in with volunteers on occasion to see if they're happy where they're at, if they want to take a break from serving, or if they'd like to be reassigned to a different role.

See where that takes the conversation. Perhaps he's uncomfortable in that role but didn't know how to approach the issue. Give him an easy, face-saving way out.

If that’s not working, then remind him of prior discussions you've had to correct his behavior and/or offer a change in roles. State that you haven't noticed any changes and that you need him to take some time off from serving. Reiterate that you value him as a brother in Christ and as a member of the church.

This is about making sure that the standards put in place for volunteers are consistent and that this isn't a good fit at this time. Ask for his thoughts and if he has any questions. Close out the meeting in prayer and follow up with him within the next week to see how he's doing.

Remember, you have three key priorities in this situation:

  • Maintain a strong volunteer team that will treat the other members of your congregation and visitors with excellence.
  • Provide opportunities for volunteers to serve using the talents God has entrusted to them.
  • Protect your volunteer's relationship with God and with the church by handling these situations with grace and direction from the Holy Spirit.

Ministry is messy, and this is a perfect example of the mess church leaders must be willing to dive into with their volunteers. However, when these moments are handled well the outcomes can be pretty amazing.

Hang in there, pray for wisdom and seek Godly counsel. God placed you in this leadership role for a reason, and He will equip you for these moments. Trust that He'll lead you to do what's best for your volunteer and for the congregation as a whole.