Editor’s note: Today, we continue the series titled “Ask Karen.” CTA’s volunteer expert, Karen Kogler, will answer one of the most pressing volunteer-related questions facing church leaders in 2017. If you have a question you’d like to ask Karen, just post it in the comments section!
Question: Our church is located close to a college. Several students have attended church and expressed interest in volunteering, but then, they flake. What should I do?
Answer: In my experience, flakiness is not limited to college students. I’ve seen it among all generations, and as our schedules get busier and life moves faster, it only gets worse. People don’t return calls or emails; they don’t show up as expected; they drop out without explanation. Obviously, that kind of behavior makes it hard to get anything done!
Giving up isn’t an option. God calls his people to serve, and the church is God’s people serving together. When flakes get me frustrated, I consider these options.
First, I might just need to calm down. If I’m recruiting many volunteers for a large, one-time serving event, I shouldn’t sweat it when some people don’t show up. In fact, I should plan on it. But it’s a different ball game when it’s volunteers who maintain our church website, plan the church picnic, or teach Sunday school. That’s where flakiness hurts. But before faulting the volunteer, I need to see if I’ve done my part well.
Did they really give me a commitment? Or were they just expressing interest and I took it as a commitment? Did I even ask for a commitment or did I just assume interest meant they were on board?
If their commitment was clear, did I clearly communicate what I expected from them? If it wasn’t in writing, miscommunication is almost guaranteed. Did I tell them what to do if something came up that got in the way of their commitment? Did I also explain why I’m counting on them, with something like this: “So it’s the three of us on this team, and we’ve each got our part to reach our goal. We need each other to get this done”?
Even when we do all that, sometimes people will still flake. I learned the importance of the right response some years ago when I was the staff support person for three volunteers who led our Sunday school. They told me their teachers were very unreliable; only about half showed up each week. I asked about follow-up on the no-shows. They didn’t do any and didn’t want to. So, on Mondays, I called the no-shows, telling them (mostly their voicemail) we missed them and hoped there hadn’t been a last-minute emergency. I asked them to let us know in the future if there were problems because the children missed their presence and needed them. Within a month, our teacher attendance was much improved. If volunteers don’t know they’re missed, they can logically conclude their attendance is optional.
We also need to consider if bigger issues are at work. Our culture is changing rapidly right under our feet. Can we do tasks the same way we did 30 years ago, or perhaps even 5 years ago, and expect the same results? Do we need to experiment with different ways of scheduling volunteers? Do we adapt or, more likely, expand our communication methods? Sometimes we even need to downsize, revamp, or drop certain ministries.
And of course, don’t overlook the most obvious response to flakiness—ask them about it in a loving, supportive way. You might be surprised by what you find out.
Do you have a question for Karen? Post it in the comments section and you may see it appear in the next edition of “Ask Karen.”
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