When Volunteers Let You Down

When I first became a small group point person within a local church I approached it much like a farmer working to grow something. I got up early, labored long, and diligently cared for growing the ministry and mission. I thought this is the way to be successful and the way to model success. I held myself to a very high standard. I also held up the standard for anyone who might join in. Along the way something happened. I began to realize that not everyone was as committed as I was nor was everyone as willing to plunge in to the work with the same measure of enthusiasm I had.
The few that meet my standard, those that had shown themselves to have the mindset I expect of myself, I invited to join in. What happened? A lot of early success. What else happened? A lot of premature burnout. I started taking things personally. Anytime a volunteer did not follow through, let me down, I took it as an attack or indictment on my leadership. Something had to change, but working harder wasn’t an option.
Along the way I found that my experience was nothing new. In fact, truth be told, I’ve let people down along the way myself. It was by the faithful actions of leaders throughout my journey that helped me when I needed it; lesser leaders could have derailed my journey. And if I continued to be a lesser leader I could derail others so I choose a different path.
So, what do you do when volunteers let you down?
  • Empathize: Reggie Joiner’s take on empathy, “Empathy is the ability to press pause on your thoughts and feelings long enough to explore someone else’s thoughts and feelings.” As ministry leaders our interactions with volunteers often devolve into transactional exchanges. When a volunteer doesn’t follow through our focus is often on the task and not the person. When leaders empathize, we dig deeper and humanize.
  • Liberate: Sometimes a volunteer is in the wrong position, wrong ministry or sometimes the timing is wrong. We must be open handed with people. Leading well requires us to take the individuals best interest to heart. Sometimes that requires us to liberate people to volunteer and lead in another time and place.
  • Release: As leaders we can sell out to a small and uncompelling vision by failing to release people to be a part. “If you don’t have enough money and you don’t have enough volunteers that means your vision is outpacing your resources and that is a really good thing”, Jeff Henderson. We must be willing to invite people, not just the select few, to a compelling vision.
  • Take it Personally: As leaders we must take the mission personally without taking offense. It can be a difficult balance when we want inspire people to take it as personally as we do. Yet, it’s a balance we must strike otherwise we will burnout and the mission will suffer.
Systems and strategies are important as a small group point person, but people are the bread and butter of any healthy ministry. We must learn to empower and employ leaders, but we must also empathize, liberate, release people in the mission as we take it personally without taking offense. That is how we will thrive as leaders even when volunteers let us down.
“Accelerate!” is a small group strategic planning workshop for small group point people and their leadership teams. These powerful sessions will be taught by Saddleback Pastor Steve Gladen and other Saddleback small group pastors July 9-11. REGISTER


  • JW Hilliard

    Passionate about empowering others to live boldly for Jesus through biblical community, JW serves as a Groups Director at Southside Church in Peachtree City, GA. He enjoys hiking, coffee, good books, and great conversations. He's blessed to serve Jesus through the local church and to share life with his amazing wife Melissa and two awesome sons Cade and Zechariah.

    View all posts

Have a question or an insight? Leave it below!

Upcoming Events

July 2024

July 9-10: ACCELERATE SoCal
Learn More

Feb 2025

Feb 18-20: The LOBBY Gathering SoCal
Learn More


Follow Us

Sign up for our Newsletter

Daniel Thomas

Connections Director



Daniel serves as Executive Pastor at Community Church of Mountain City, TN.  Daniel and his family are on a mission to establish roots within their community, fight for peace and serve well.  He serves as our Connections Director in laying the groundwork for Circles. He loves great coffee and traveling with his wife Tia and two children, Deklan and Aden



Individual Registration – $209.00

Team of 2 Registration (price per person) – $199.00

Team of 3 or more Registration (price per person) – $189.00

*Registration ends on Nov 8th, 2021. Walk-in registrations are not available.