5 Keys to Managing Unhappy Volunteers

5 Keys to Managing Unhappy Volunteers


If you’ve been leading volunteers in Children’s Ministry for more than a little while then you’ve been there – face to face with an unhappy volunteer. It’s part of leading and managing in ministry, and it’s inevitable.

In some case, the volunteer has every reason to be upset. Other times, you walk away shaking your head and the petty things people complain about. Either way, you have to deal with this volunteer. You do so (hopefully!) because of the love you have for them, but also because whether their complaint is valid or not, it can become a virus infecting other volunteers, parents and even the kids of your ministry.

So how do you manage unhappy volunteers? Here are a few ideas:

5 Keys to Leading Unhappy Volunteers

1. Love them 

No matter what, receive them with love. You do not have to agree with them or concede to demands for change, but you do need to love them.

2. Listen to them

This may be what they are really seeking – just to be heard! But they may also have a very valid complaint (whether they are presenting it to you appropriately or not). So listen to what they are saying without beginning to formulate your answer or defense.

3. Liberate them

As the leader, it is part of my responsibility to be a problem-solver (in fact, that’s one of the best ways to establish my leadership). So solve the problem…liberate them from their concerns. There are many ways to do this, including:

  • Removing the problem. If their complaint is valid, provide a solution. This may mean getting more supplies or better curriculum. It may mean finding more volunteers or providing better training. It may mean creating a better check in system or addressing another problem volunteer. Solve the problem.
  • Reassigning the volunteerOften times an unhappy volunteer (especially a chronically unhappy volunteer) is the result of simply being in the wrong place or assigned the wrong responsibilities. Consider this and offer solutions that may include finding a better fit for the volunteer (one that matches their talents, gifts and abilities better).
  • Relieving them of their duties.This is a last resort, but sometimes it is necessary. If a solution can’t be found for the the unhappy volunteer’s complaint, or if they are consistently negative in their attitude, then sometimes removing them (gracefully and lovingly, hopefully to a better ministry fit in another department) might be the best option. 

4. Learn from them

Leaders learn from others. As frustrating as unhappy volunteers might be, I can learn from them. Assume that there is a better way to do things to avoid the problem in the future. What would that look like? How can I think differently about what they are complaining about? How can other key leaders be trained better as a result of the problem I am dealing with now?  Learn all you can from every situation…you will use the knowledge sometime in the future – guaranteed!

5. Love them

Yes, this is on the list a second time. You are the leader. Regardless of the problem or how it is presented to you, it is your responsibility to engage them in a loving manner. It does not mean you have to be soft, or cannot be firm, but you must lead them appropriately, and that means that you love them…period.

What have you learned about managing unhappy volunteers?

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Greg Baird
Founder of Children's Ministry Leader at Children's Ministry Leader
My passion is seeing the lives of children transformed. I believe the best way to do that is to equip leaders in the local church to serve children, volunteers and parents to invest in the lives of children at church and in the home. That’s what we do here at Children’s Ministry Leader – equip leaders to create healthy Children’s & Family Ministry.
I serve as the Vice President of Global Resources in the Global Mission department at David C. Cook.

I love what I do as it is the outflow of 25 years of ministry experience as Children’s, Family & Administrative Pastor, consultant, trainer, speaker and short-term missions leader.

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