How to Deal with Challenging Volunteers

By Karen Kogler

Most volunteers are wonderful, self-giving people. But when one is a challenge, you not only can do something about it, you should!

“Alice is wonderful with the kids in the church Nursery, but she’s late half the time and I have to cover until she shows up. But I’m afraid if I say something she’ll quit and we’re already short-handed.”

“Elton complains no one helps him on the committee, but it’s because he has such a negative personality. We’re all just waiting and hoping he’ll retire.”

“Sherry has run the annual fund-raiser every year for 10 years now. She never considers new ideas and she controls every detail, so her only helper is her long-suffering friend Emily. We raise fewer and fewer dollars each year, and that hurts our program. But what can we do? She’s a volunteer.”

Here are three effective steps you can take to deal with challenging volunteers:

1. Prepare

First, don’t put off dealing with it. Delay only makes it harder to solve. Start by praying for wisdom and Christ-like love for the challenging volunteer. Then carefully examine your own role. Are there things you have done, or not done, that contributed to the problem?

2. “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15)

Meet in private, at a time and place comfortable for them. Explain the specific behavior that’s a problem and explain the consequences of the behavior. Admit and ask forgiveness for any role you had in the issue. Look for common ground. Ask the volunteer to suggest a solution. Listen to their concerns. When you agree on a solution, write it down, along with a plan for following up later.

3. Follow up

Do follow up as planned. If the first solution didn’t work, is there another possible solution? If you and the volunteer honestly cannot find a solution that works, you may need to ask the person to accept another position. Throughout the process, and no matter the outcome, assure them of your concern and love for them, and demonstrate that concern in your actions.

By the way, prevention is easier than problem-solving!

• Give clear expectations, in writing, at the start
• Have an initial trial period, so both sides can see how it works
• Plan regular “how’s it going?” meetings, where all can be open and honest about concerns
• Invest in your leadership skills. WLI is a great resource for that!

In the church, there are no “wrong” people, just people in the wrong position. Every person has a place that suits their gifts. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). “From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16). It can be a challenge – but it’s also a great joy and privilege! – to help each person in Christ’s body find their place to serve!


Karen is Director of Equipping and champions the “Equipping Each to Serve” value at St. Peter Lutheran, Arlington Heights, IL. She also maintains www.TheEquipper.org and can be reached at Karen@TheEquipper.org.

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Posted on: December 1, 2016, by : WLI

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