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How to Deal with a Difficult Church Tech Volunteer

How to Deal with a Difficult Church Tech Volunteer

What do you expect from your team?

Do you expect them to show up on time? Have a good attitude? Know their position? Wear certain clothing on weeks when they’re serving on the team? Help out other team members? Be scheduled once a month? Twice a month? One Sunday and one Wednesday? Come to a team meeting once every 3 months?

Now step into their shoes. What would they say you expect from them? We’re not talking about hoping, wanting or dreaming of what it may be someday. As of today, if we asked your volunteer team, what would they say you expect of them?

The reason that team members (and team leaders to be clear) start to get labeled as “difficult” often boils down to expectations, and as the team leader, it’s your responsibility to set those expectations, and help people live up to them.

Team leaders often fall into one of two traps with expectations :

  • Leaders have expectations, but they’re not communicated clearly.
  • Leaders have communicated clearly a list of things called expectations, but don’t help their team live up to them. In this case, the real expectation is “we expect people aren’t going to follow through on these.”

1. Leaders have expectations, but they’re not communicated.

Unless your expectations are written down and handed out, emailed out, hung on the wall, referred to regularly and communicated to every new team member that joins, you won’t be able to help volunteers meet them.

If your team is clear that they are expected to show up 1 hour before service, then when they show up at 40 minutes before, there’s foundation for a conversation about that expectation. You can ask why they were late and they can genuinely reply, “It only takes me 30 minutes to setup, so I think I’m early.”

Frustration happens when you expect something, because to you it’s obvious, but your volunteer doesn’t come through, because they just don’t know or have a different idea.

This volunteer may come across as being difficult, but in reality, they may be doing what they genuinely believe is best.

2. Expectations are communicated, but not supported when they’re not met.

If you have clearly communicated that your team needs to show up 1 hour before service, then when someone shows up 40 minutes before service, you have the foundation to say, “Hey, as a team, we’re all expecting each other to show up 1 hour before service starts. Here are the reasons why that’s important. Is there anything that I can do to help you be here 1 hour before service?”

Maybe they catch a bus that is sometimes late, and another team member who lives nearby could offer them a ride, or maybe they have a new shift working late on Saturdays, and now early Sunday mornings are really no longer a fit, or maybe they just don’t care to meet that expectation (by the way, that’s not acceptable).

Notice we’re not “holding them” or “shaming them” into that expectation. This is often a reason that team leaders don’t follow through on expectations – “If they quit, we have no one else”, or “they might get mad that I’m holding them responsible as a volunteer.”

In any conversation about expectations, we’re looking for ways to help them meet that expectation. “How can I contribute to your success?” is much better received than “I want you to notice that I’m aware you’re late. Don’t you feel bad for letting the team down?”

After all, if you’ve been clear with your expectations, and they agreed to it, then you’re helping them meet their own agreement to the expectation.

What if that volunteer is genuinely being difficult?

So, you’ve been clear with your expectations, communicated them, and this volunteer has agreed to them, and chooses to ignore them, or brushes you off when you attempt to help meet that expectation.

There are 3 questions you need to ask them privately (assuming they’re willing to have the conversation):

  • Are there any other factors in play that I need to know about contributing to this frustration? Maybe something you said rubbed them the wrong way or they feel picked on when they’re always late and you’re always mentioning it, or another team member had a conflict with them, or they’re not sleeping well because of a personal problem at home or at work. We really don’t know. If you have a part to play, apologize, take responsibility and ask to start fresh with them.
  • Is this still the best team for you? Maybe it’s time for them to serve somewhere else at church. Maybe a late Saturday night work schedule is contributing to lack of sleep and serving on a Wednesday night or leading a small group through the week would be a better fit for their schedule.
  • How can I pray for you? This team member isn’t being difficult for the benefit of being difficult. There are almost always factors going on. Our tech teams are helping people meet with Jesus – not just on Sundays when people come to our church – but through the week, with each other, with an encouraging text, and with prayer. This question shows you care beyond their involvement on the tech team.

Communicating expectations in advance is always easier than after they’ve been broken.

If you don’t have expectations written down for your team, write them down, share them with your team, ask if anyone is not clear or able to meet those expectations and then, if necessary, help them find another team in your church that better fits their desire to serve.

Make your expectations an important part of onboarding new team members, and have regular conversations with your volunteers about helping them meet the expectations they’ve committed to.

Need More Advice?

Don’t feel like you’re alone in leading a tech team. We have a Facebook Group filled with over 30,000 church tech leaders who are facing the same challenges as you. We encourage you to join our group and share your experience with others. We think you’ll be surprised by how many others are like you and have advice to share.

Join Our Facebook Group

One Comment

  • Lori says:

    One thing to add could be that the tech person may be right. Very methodical thinkers, a logic based discussion rather than an appeal to loyalty has seemed to prove more effective. Being willing to talk through an issue step by step allows you to add in other pieces of data for him to consider, and being willing to listen to his reasoning makes it more likely that you will be heard. Often the idea is reasonable in isolation but needs to be considered in the larger picture. This can help him feel validated and willing to submit his preference to the larger good.

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