Negative Volunteer Behaviors: What’s Happening and What Should You Do?

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Why are volunteers showing negative behavior?
When praying about my ministry, I can’t help but reflect upon my blessings. I have such faithful volunteers; without their help, children’s church would be a whole lot crazier.
However, during busy times, it’s easy to see my team get stressed out and me too! I must confess that I rarely have difficulty with volunteers but when problems do arise I understand that it is just a part of ministry. Sometimes, it’s not simply snapping at children or showing up late–it is a recurring behavioral problem that you must deal with. These are good people and if a bad behavior does develop, it’s likely for a few reasons—at least in my experience.
1. Is communication broken?
 When volunteers don’t know what’s going on, why things are happening, when they should arrive or what they should do, frustration arises. Negative behaviors could be triggered by a lack of communication. Reinforce your efforts in this area. Offer orientation for new volunteers and continuing training. Set up new ways to communicate with your helpers. That could be all you/they need!
2. Do volunteers have a different vision?
I’ve experienced this myself. You have a volunteer who has a ton of experience or perhaps has been in a place of leadership elsewhere. Your children’s church vision is focused on evangelism, his is teaching. Conflict can arise. What should you do? Of course begin by communicating, including listening. Say, “Joe, I know you have a heart for the particular ministry you are describing but that’s not our focus at this time. However, I do believe there is a place for what you are talking about. Let’s brainstorm some ideas to see how we can better utilize your skills.” Lead the volunteers into some new areas of ministry. Sidewalk Sunday School, evangelism, adoption ministries, these are all some ideas that may help.
3. Are program changes making volunteers afraid?
 You are proposing some big changes—some are excited, others not so much. Even small changes like how to register visitors or the a swap up in the order of service can shake things up. If volunteers didn’t have a chance to voice their concerns or opinions, they may feel unconnected to the change. What should you do? You may have to back track a little and explain what you are doing. Spend a little more time casting vision and explaining the merits of your plan. At the end of it, do ask for some measure of trust. Even if they don’t get it, you need them to trust you.
When problems do arise, you have some choices. You can’t avoid problems—they will appear and sometimes more than one at a time. Follow these leadership rules when dealing with poor volunteer behaviors.
Always talk about problems in private. Have a conversation, not a “talking to.” Explain what you see wrong and ask them to share what’s on their heart. It could be something personal or even misinformation that’s causing the problem.
Help find the answers. Ask open-ended questions, “What else could you have done?” or “What could you do that would have made that situation better?” You want to help troubleshoot the problem by leading the volunteer into thinking about solutions.
Plan to meet in the future. Once the meeting is over, the volunteer may walk away and forget about your discussion. One good way to reinforce (gently) you expect change is to plan a future meeting for a follow-up. Explain to the volunteer that you will get together again to take a fresh look at the problem to see how far they have progressed.
Always recognize improvement even if it is only done in private. Be your volunteer’s biggest cheerleader but don’t lower the standard of your ministry. You can do it!
Read more from Mimi by following her blog at Tools for Kids Church.
Learn more about finding the right leaders for your children’s ministry and why easy is not always the right motivation.

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