The Volunteer from Hell

Posted on: 08/9/16 5:45 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Serial KillerWhenever my dad and I teach a workshop about recruiting, retaining, training… and even firing today’s New Breed of volunteers (based on our book on the subject), we can guarantee we’ll get questions about ‘The Volunteer from Hell.’

You know the one I’m talking about. That one volunteer that you either inherited or recruited without thinking. We’ve all had them. I had one. She was terrifying.

The question most people ask is, “How do I get rid of this volunteer?” (Garlic and a cross?)

Allow me to ask a much better question: “How do I make sure I never recruit this volunteer?”

In the next few posts I’m going to provide 3 effective ways to screen volunteers so you avoid ‘The Volunteer from Hell.’

No. 1: Make the Call
It’s funny. Most jobs require references. Most ministries require applications, which have a line at the bottom where our volunteers fill out references. But honestly… do you always call them?

Our ministry gets a lot of emails from youth workers on the front lines asking us questions. At times these Q & A emails are from volunteers complaining about their pastor or youth pastor. I’ve received several emails over the years from one individual in particular who always complained about her pastor, how he didn’t support her and didn’t understand youth ministry. In her emails to our ministry she explained how she left the church and began serving at another church. Soon I received another email about her new pastor—same situation. It didn’t take long for us to begin reading between the lines. After all… we didn’t know this person… and it was pretty evident we were only hearing one side of the story. This person left several ministries, causing a stir with each move. I finally confronted her on something she wrote and she lashed out at me (and conveniently doesn’t email me any more).

Here’s the funny thing. This person has left a trail of destruction at each ministry she volunteers at…. yet new churches keep putting her into positions of leadership.


They sure aren’t calling references. If they were, they’d hear, “Run for your lives! She caused a church split. She’s convincing kids to leave with her!” (Sadly, if you’ve been in ministry long, you’ve probably seen something like this)

This is an easy fix.

Make the call!

I don’t care how desperate you are for volunteers. I don’t care how amazing they are with kids. It doesn’t matter if one person in your church recommended them. Call references. Find out where they served in ministry previously, pick up the phone, and call.

A few phone calls will take you 10-15 minutes.

Volunteers from Hell can take years to recover from.

But this isn’t the only effective way to screen volunteers…

(more in PART II)

Jonathan is the author of 20 books, including THE SKINNY ON VOLUNTEERS, and THE NEW BREED which has entire chapter on the volunteer from Hell. Join him this September in Colorado for several days of training at GROUP on “Mobilizing a New Breed of Volunteers.”