Underutilization of key volunteers is as dangerous as overworking and burning out volunteers.

In Children’s Ministry, we often think that the worst possible scenario is to overwork a zealous volunteer. We definitely need to be cautious and conscious of overworking someone, but there is something far more sinister and far deadlier then overworking a volunteer. The underutilization of a key volunteer is the danger to your ministry you need to watch out for.

Years ago, I took over a very large, established event at our church. Please understand that when I took over, the event  had been in existence for quite a few years. This monumental event that brought 6,000 people into the life of our church over the span of three days, found its way under my leadership.

I will never forget walking up to a key volunteer - a small business owner and top tier volunteer in so many areas of the church. Anyone and everyone would have loved to have this woman on their volunteer roster. I approached her with a simple question, “Would you be willing to participate in this large upcoming event?” She folded her arms, pulled her head back, her body language screaming her answer before she ever spoke a word. Her words, however, confirmed my deepest fears. “I will never volunteer at this event. Ever.”

At this time, I took on the hard pastoral responsibility of asking why and bracing myself for the answer. Her reply was filled with hurt and frustration. “You guys got up on stage and begged for volunteers two years ago,” she said. “You said you were in desperate need of volunteers. I cleared my schedule and showed up. When I arrived at the door, I checked in at the volunteer station, and was then told that I was not needed.” Another volunteer at the check-in desk had told her that she could go stand by a door and making sure that no one exited through it - just to give her something to do.

As a ministry leader overseeing this event, my heart sunk. This dear woman was a high-capacity volunteer but was handed a less than engaging job. She cleared her schedule only to be told that she wasn’t actually needed. People want to use their gifts. They want to feel as if they are making a contribution. They don’t want to do something weak and meaningless.

If we, in ministry, are handing high-capacity volunteers low-end jobs, no wonder they don’t feel fulfilled. It should come as no surprise that they don’t want to participate with us any longer. Underutilization of volunteers is riskier than overworking someone. People want to work. Give them something hard to do and watch them thrive.