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A Volunteer’s Best Serving Role

Sue Miller
Sue Miller Wednesday April 8, 2015
<? echo $type; ?> A Volunteer’s Best Serving Role

What do you do when you discover a volunteer who is clearly in the wrong spot?

There’s usually a story behind why they are there . . .

Gina loves being on the worship team, and shows up at every rehearsal. She never misses. She is one of our most faithful volunteers.

The problem is that Gina cannot sing. The tech team just turns her mic off whenever she is performing. She’s the only one who doesn’t know.

Who should tell her the truth?

Mike’s a coach in our ministry. He is a very organized introvert who is on top of all of the details. He has great character and a real heart for the ministry.

But he is not a shepherd. That’s not his strength. Volunteers keep dropping off of his team because they don’t feel valued or appreciated.

Who should tell him that?

Every leader faces situations like these.
Every leader hopes they will just work themselves out and go away.
Every leader gets anxious when leading through this.

So, where do you start?

First, do your homework. Watch the volunteer in action, so you have clear, first hand, specific examples that illustrate why you believe this volunteer is in the wrong spot.

Schedule an informal conversation over a cup of coffee. Pick the right time and place. You want this volunteer to feel safe, and at ease when you are talking together.

Start by affirming their contribution to your ministry. Mention all of the things you have seen them doing right. Thank them for all that they have done so far. Ask them how they first got started in their current role. Learn from their story.

You might be surprised to find out how they ended up in the wrong fit in the first place. Maybe no one else would join the worship team, so this wonderful woman stepped up. Maybe no one else would be a coach, so this man jumped in. Or the previous coach left, and he was the only one who knew anything. Once these volunteers were given their spot to serve, you may hear that no one ever circled back to give them feedback, or challenged whether their fit was right. No leader ever asked them what they would like to do next, or if they even liked what they were doing now. So they faithfully served, Sunday after Sunday. Until now.

Entering into a conversation with a volunteer who isn’t quite in their best role can feel uncomfortable, or even confrontational. Be sure to let them know that your job as a leader is to help them get the most out of their volunteering. That’s why you are having this conversation. You have a sense that they are not in their sweet spot yet. Give your specific reasons with examples that illustrate your thinking. Listen to their feedback, allowing them to digest what you are saying to them.

You might have to clarify your reasons as they process this information, so make sure you don’t hurry through that part. Your goal is to help them see why you believe there’s a better fit for their strengths. Assure them that you want to help them discover what that is so they can have even more impact as a volunteer.

Ask if they would be open to trying something new in your ministry. See if they know what their top strengths are yet. Find out what they enjoy doing. If they don’t know, ask if they would be willing to experiment in order to find out what role maximizes their contribution and strengths. Emphasize again how much you want them to serve where they can make their best contribution heading into the future. Give them some examples of other roles that they could try out in your ministry.

Remember, they may not know what other opportunities are available to them.

Most people respond well to these kinds of conversations, especially if they really believe you have their best in mind. If they don’t respond well, then calmly close up your time together and ask to get together again in a week. That gives them time to think things through, process the information and come back with more questions.

Sometimes volunteers get mad about making a change, and need some time to work their way through it. As leaders, we need to take the time to follow up with them in order to keep walking them through the process to their new future. We will demonstrate how much we value them by how well we follow up with texts, email and future coffee appointments. Convince them that you want what’s best for them. After all, we don’t want to lose them—we are trying to promote them to their next best serving role so they can make an even bigger impact.

want more on this topic?

Not Normal: Seven Quirks of Incredible Volunteers, the new book for volunteers by Sue Miller and Adam Duckworth, will help your volunteers become the best they can be, and in the process, change the culture of volunteering in your church. Available May 2015 at Orange, Apple, and Amazon. To find out more about Not Normal, as well as related resources, go to OrangeBooks.com.


Sue is a leader, author, and gifted communicator. She joined the Orange team in 2005 after 17 years of leading Promiseland at Willow Creek Community Church. Sue was instrumental in leading the change process that grew Promiseland into a cutting edge ministry known around the world. At Orange, Sue travels extensively, feeding her passion to mentor leaders, inspire volunteers, and consult with churches that strive to partner with parents. Sue has recently authored two books alongside Adam Duckworth: "NotNormal — 7 Quirks of Incredible Volunteers" and "Leading Not Normal Volunteers."