6 Steps to Lead a Difficult Volunteer

Most volunteers are awesome. However, there are others who are difficult and can become a nightmare.

Have you ever had a volunteer that literally drove you nuts?

What about the volunteer that seems to be naturally rude?

What about the volunteer that refuses to change and wants to keep doing what he/she has been doing for years even when it hurts the team?

I have worked with all three of these volunteers. Numerous times.

What can you do?

Big question: Can leaders in the church ask volunteers not to volunteer anymore?

Simple answer: Yes.

There is a quiet myth that volunteers cannot be released from serving. Of course, letting a volunteer go is not a preferred or desired task, but sometimes it is necessary. If you lead volunteers, you better be ready and willing to make the tough decision.

The behaviors you allow from one volunteer communicate what you are willing to accept from all volunteers.

Start with five key decisions only you can make:

  1. Decide what you are at the church to achieve. 
  2. Decide what you want the team environment to feel like.
  3. Decide what you want the guest environment to feel like.
  4. Decide what you value and what you expect.
  5. Decide on a healthy leadership structure.

Once you make the personal leadership decisions above, avoid these three temptations when handling a nightmare volunteer:

  • Ignore them and/or the issue
  • Talk about them behind their back
  • Get another volunteer to do your dirty work

Don't feel the pressure to decide right now. After all, you have four working options at this point:

  • Coach them
  • Don't let them go immediately, unless necessary
  • Give them a break
  • Reassign them
Don’t forget to pray. Sometimes the task of handling a nightmare volunteer can crowd out prayer, which in turn can crowd out the wisest decision.

Here is a step-by-step process to make the best decision for the church, the team, the volunteer, and you:

  1. Gather the facts and don't make assumptions
  2. Observe the volunteer in action
  3. Chat with the volunteer in private about their performance
  4. Reassess the volunteer in action
  5. Check-in with the Team Leader and volunteer 
  6. If the situation continues, coach them more, let them go, give them a break or reassign the
If you lead any number of volunteers, be bold and humble in how you lead them. Make hard decisions. Everyone will be better for it.