Keeping your volunteers motivated is difficult.

They and you are dealing with a host of challenges:

  • Struggles at work
  • Challenges at home
  • Financial stress
  • Lack of purpose

Any one of these issues can totally deflate a volunteers desire to serve.

Besides, motivation isn’t something you always possess.

Motivation in your life is more like gasoline in a car.

It’s a fuel.

Studies show that motivation—the willpower to do something—is a limited resource. The more you use it, the less you’ll eventually have.

Keeping this in mind is essential for managing your volunteers.

A volunteer’s motivation to serve Jesus and your church will go up and down with time.

However, there will be times when your volunteers will be on the struggle bus. In other words, they’ll be having a difficult time doing their work, or they’ll be just not doing it at all.

Before you fire your volunteers, I’d like to share with you five ways you can motivate them to do excellent work.

#1 – Define the issue

Why is it difficult to motivate your volunteers?

Before you confront a volunteer, it’s best to take the time to define the issue.

There are times when the problem will not be the volunteer per se. The problem could be caused by poor recruiting and/or a lack of training.

Consider these two questions.

First, does the issue revolve around your process?

From recruiting volunteers to preparing them to serve, do you have a system in place to help you empower your volunteers to serve well? If not, then you’ll have more than one volunteer to motivate because your process didn’t prepare them well.

Second, has your church lost momentum?

Has your church experienced a setback or did your pastor transition off staff? When this happens, you can lose momentum, which means while your church figures out what’s next, your volunteers may not care as much as they once did.

In both of these scenarios, you’ll need to address your church systems and culture. However, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid individual volunteers who are struggling. As you define the issue, you’ll see that you’ll need to work on your church as you support your volunteers.

Now, there will likely come a time when you’ll need to confront a volunteer.

Not in an aggressive, we-need-to-settle-this-in-the-parking-lot type of situation.

But there will be times when volunteers aren’t necessarily volunteering.

Instead of doing the work they agreed to do, they …

… show up late …
… don’t really do their job …
… and make life difficult for everyone else.

When you’re dealing with a problematic volunteer, there are several things you can do to empower him or her. Let’s explore a few of those options in detail.

#2 – Retrain

Do your volunteers know what they need to do?

If there’s a lack of clarity, then your volunteers won’t know what they should do, which means they’re not going to do their job.

If your volunteers are not serving to their fullest potential, the first thing you need to address is whether your volunteers know what’s expected of them.

Review their positions.

Walk through the requirements with them.

See whether they understand what needs to be done.

Afterward, do they have a better idea of what’s expected?

Great, your work is done.

Do they need help with their job?

Provide them with the training they need to get the job done.

If your volunteers’ lack of motivation isn’t due to a lack of clarity or training, it can be social, which leads me to the next point.

#3 – Build team chemistry

Teamwork is never easy.

In Christ, your church is unified—not perfect. You strive to live and love like Jesus the best you can. But at the end of the day, your church is made up of a mixed bag of people with different personalities, experiences, and expectations.

Putting a variety of people together to serve as volunteers can create challenges.

Here’s the deal:

It can be tough for people to get along with each other.

There are different types of personalities that just don’t mesh well together. That’s okay. Everyone who follows Jesus is always learning what it means to love one another (John 13:34–35).

Regarding team chemistry, there are two things you want to be aware of:

  • Do your volunteers struggle with specific people?
  • Do they thrive with other people?

If a few volunteers struggle to be around certain people, see if you can help them work through these differences. Provide them with guidance to navigate the minefields of personal relationships.

After you give someone an opportunity to work through his or her differences with someone else, and there’s still no resolution, then consider scheduling him or her to serve at a different time or in a different position (more on this later).

Is there someone in particular your volunteer thrives around? See if you can arrange for these people to serve together. Finding the best teams to work together can create a wonderful dynamic where the volunteers thrive and performance is improved.

#4 – Find a new position

Is someone miserable when serving?

Not in the “I don’t like serving” sense.

But in the “I want to serve, but I can’t stand what I’m doing” type of thing.

If so, there’s a good chance you’ll need to find him or her a new volunteer position.

At times, your church will need warm bodies—people who can temporarily serve in a position outside of their comfort zone. But there are other times when either you misread someone or someone doesn’t really know his or her passion and skills and how to best serve.

In either one of these situations, don’t beat yourself up about it. There are a ton of variables at play, and it can be difficult to find an ideal position for someone to serve in.  

How do you know if someone’s a bad fit for a role?

Consider these clues:

  • He or she regularly talks about doing something else
  • He or she dreads serving
  • He or she isn’t productive
  • He or she is clearly bored
  • He or she lacks passion

From this list of clues, the first one is what you really need to be on the lookout for. If your volunteers are struggling in their work, and they talk about doing something else, then consider helping them to do whatever has perked their interests. Their struggles may totally be a result of misalignment—they’re just in the wrong position.

#5 – Give them a break

People are terrible at taking breaks.

According to a report by Glassdoor, most people in the United States don’t use half of their allotted vacation time.

And you know what else?

Most people who take a vacation actually work on their vacation.

You’re probably thinking:

What does this have to do with volunteers?

Perhaps more than you think.

If people in America struggle with taking a vacation, then there’s a good chance some of your volunteers need to take a break. They won’t admit that they need a break. But here are some telltale signs that your struggling volunteers need a rest:

  • They appear irritated
  • They’re habitually tardy
  • They show a lack of enthusiasm
  • They’re experiencing personal or family struggles
  • They’re making constant mistakes
  • They’re clearly serving with a “glass is half-empty” kind of attitude

There are a number of reasons why your volunteers may be exhibiting these behaviors.

Perhaps they’ve been serving for months or years uninterrupted, and they’re just tired or burned-out. For others, life has thrown them a few curveballs and they’ve hit a couple of bumps along the way. They may just need to take a step away from serving. In either one of these situations, let them know that it’s okay to take a break. Jesus is building his church, and God will lead new volunteers to step up and take their place.

It’s time to raise the bar

There you have it.

Five ways you can motivate your volunteers:

1. Define the issue
2. Retrain
3. Build team chemistry
4. Find a new position
5. Give them a break

Before you wash your hands after trying one or more of these tactics, there’s one last thing you need to do: Follow-up.

With every one of these tactics, you must follow-up with the volunteers you worked with. You want to make sure that they’re thriving in their roles or they’re being re-energized by taking a break.

If you find out your volunteers continue to struggle, then you may need to ask them to step down. Confrontations are never fun. But avoiding an ongoing problem with your volunteers may lead to a more serious issue.

In the end, your goal is to motivate your volunteers by helping them serve Jesus. Follow these tips to make this as easy as possible.