One thing we all have in common: Our churches run on volunteers. Big or small, one location or many, mainline or non-denominational, every church needs a bunch of solid and committed volunteers to thrive, which is why it’s so disappointing when volunteers quit.  

Understanding why volunteers walk away from their roles is critically important to volunteer retention.  Let’s talk about six reasons volunteers quit serving in your church. 

The truth is that many people sign up to volunteer because they are motivated by something deeper than a desire to serve. They want to connect. They want to build relationships and find community.  

One of the quickest ways to lose a volunteer is for them to feel alone in their serving role. Everyone wants to feel connected and like they are part of a team and a community. If you want to improve your volunteer experience and retention, find ways to help your volunteers build relationships with other volunteers in your ministry. 

Finally, personally invest in your volunteers. Make sure they feel connected to you as their leader.

They Feel Discouraged 

I remember serving as a small group leader for 6th grade boys when I was a senior in college. Even though I was a youth ministry major preparing for a career as a student pastor, I found the experience to be incredibly discouraging.

It felt like I was trying to herd cats. There were zero meaningful conversations—just wrestling, farting noises and obnoxious comments. I wanted to quit in the worst way.  

What I needed in that season was encouragement. I needed a veteran volunteer or the youth pastor to sit with me and remind me that 6th graders are wild animals and that my role was primarily to build a relationship with these boys—to build trust and to help them have fun at church. The meaningful and spiritual conversations would come with time.  

Really, all I needed was someone to listen to my frustrations and tell me that my experience was normal and to hang in there. I just needed encouragement.  

Take the time to encourage your volunteers by listening to them, validating their experience and inspiring them to continue serving faithfully.  

They Feel Like It Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes volunteers feel like they are wasting their time. If they can’t see the value in what they are doing, they’ll likely quit serving.  

If you want your volunteers to serve faithfully for a long period of time, they’ll need help seeing how their role matters. Remind them that helping guests find a parking spot can help those same guests be emotionally ready to engage in the worship service.

Remind them that holding babies in the rocking chair serves weary parents by providing them with not only respite, but also the opportunity to engage with the worship service without distraction.  

If you want to keep your volunteers around, remind them regularly of the significance of their roles.  

They Feel Like They Aren’t Doing A Good Job

I hate losing.  I bet you do too.  

One of the reasons people quit serving is that they feel like they aren’t doing a good job. If you want to retain your volunteers and help them bring their best to their role, you have to help them feel like they are winning.   

One of the best ways to do this is to give volunteers clear expectations. 

Back to my time as a 6th grade small group leader: If someone would have told me that the win with those 6th grade boys was simply relationship, it would have revolutionized my experience. 

If a veteran small group leader would have met with me and said, “Look, during small group time, just get them to share highs and lows from their week—laugh with them, listen to them, and have fun together. For 6th grade small group time, that’s a win,” that would have transformed my experience.  

Volunteers who feel like they are winning are far more likely to serve well and serve longer.  

They Feel Frustrated

Okay. This is a big one. Even if the volunteering role is incredibly meaningful and even if the person serving feels like they are doing a good job, if your communication is confusing and if the volunteering experience is disorganized, people will not stick around for long.  

If the building is locked when volunteers arrive, if you forget to let them know where the event is happening, if there was supposed to be pizza at 5:00 but it shows up at 6:00…you won’t have volunteers for very long.  

You can provide a better volunteering experience simply by respecting your volunteers with organization and clear communication.  

They Feel Overworked

Lastly, because every ministry in your church needs volunteers to run effectively, it is common for multiple ministries to recruit the same people. That means your most faithful volunteers are serving in two or three different ministries.  

Just a caution there…you run the risk of burning out your best volunteers. One of the most common reasons volunteers quit is that they feel like they need a break. In other words, they were overworked and they are burned out.  

The simplest ways to address this problem is to coordinate between ministries and refrain from asking people to serve in multiple ministries. If you want to keep your best volunteers over the long haul, make sure they are serving at a sustainable pace.  

Wrap Up

Your church runs on volunteers! So does mine. Your volunteers are perhaps your most precious resource in ministry. Invest in them. Encourage them. Equip them and help them serve in a sustainable way.

Hey, don’t be overwhelmed by all six of these reasons. Just pick one to improve over the next season.  

I hope this has been helpful. Enjoy your week!