How to Reduce Staff and Volunteer Turnover


When you’re trying to develop a solid culture and further the mission of your church, losing staff and volunteers in droves can be Demoralizing. Not only is it frustrating, but it costs you time, money, and productivity that sets everyone back.

Before we talk about strategies for retaining and developing your people, it’s important to understand the reasons why people leave in the first place.

Why people leave.

The reasons that people move on from your organization can be broken into two categories: things in your control and things out of your control.

Sometimes it really is them, not you. There are many times when employees and volunteers leave for reasons that have little to do with your organization. For instance, someone might leave their job in order to retire, move, go to school, change careers, have a child, or care for family.

Of course, there are many valid reasons someone might leave their role that are indeed linked to their experience at your church. Dissatisfaction or misalignment can be influenced by many different factors from core issues like your organization’s values and culture or day-to-day influences like leadership styles and work environment. Common reasons your staff might look for jobs elsewhere include:

  • -Lack of career growth opportunities
  • -Lack of recognition
  • -Lack of job security
  • -Poor management
  • -Uncompetitive compensation
  • -Boredom
  • -Burnout

Crispina Wilson-Jones, an operations executive, states that while “there are many reasons people leave their jobs, . . . the top reasons boil down to people being dissatisfied and disengaged with their work — or both”.

How to limit turnover

While some degree of turnover is inevitable and healthy, there are strategies you can employ to help you hold onto your staff and volunteers.

1) Understand why your people are leaving

As we’ve explored already, there are many reasons your staff and volunteers might choose to leave. Knowing the main reasons why you’re leaking employees will help you understand ways in which you can better serve, support, and engage the people in your organization.

Conduct exit interviews

Make exit interviews count by covering at least these three topics:

  • -HR issues including compensation, benefits, and development.
  • -Perception of the work itself including job duties, work environment, culture, and peers.
  • -Experience with leadership including management style and growth and training opportunities.

These interviews should be able to help you gain insight into what is and isn’t working in your organization and make appropriate changes to optimize things going forward. For more great tips on conducting effective exit interviews, explore these resources: here, here, and here.

Take— and follow up on— surveys

While exit interviews are great and important, ideally you’re able to take a pulse on your staff’s satisfaction levels while they still work for you, as well. Surveys and stay interviews are a great way to gain insight into what is and isn’t working for your employees at any given moment. Listening in this way allows you to take informed action that will actually make an impact for your people. Of course, surveys are merely a nuisance if they never lead to relevant action and change.

2) Develop a retention strategy

While surveys are all well and good, if you don’t use that information to take relevant action, they become a nuisance to your staff and eat away at trust. Once you have the insight and feedback you need, it’s important to use it to create a relevant engagement strategy. Following through on surveys shows you are actually listening, actually care, and therefore helps build trust and enhance the work environment for everyone.

Of course, turning feedback into change isn’t always simple, and a strong retention plan should take into account:

  • -Engagement- how stimulated and invested do your employees feel at work?
  • -Compensation + benefits— does your staff feel like their work is valued appropriately?
  • -Defined (and respected) roles and responsibilities — does your staff have clearly defined roles and have boundaries around them?
  • -Growth and development opportunities— do your employees have the opportunities to grow, learn, and experience mobility in your organization?
  • -Transparent communication— does your staff feel like they can communicate candidly with HR and leadership and that their concerns are heard?
  • -Flexible and remote work options— does your organization offer opportunities to work remotely if necessary?
  • -Culture of recognition— does your organization have defined, lived-out values and prioritize appreciating your staff and volunteers?

Something to keep in mind: unfortunately, churches will sometimes— unwittingly— take advantage of their staff, asking more than required and reasonable from their roles in service of the “greater mission”. Here’s the thing— while a church is technically different from any other business, it really isn’t. You pay employees to show up and do work and they rely on you for the compensation and benefits to pay their bills, take care of their families, and live their lives. And while hopefully your staff is working with you for more than just a paycheck, they still deserve the appropriate, professional compensation and infrastructure that they’d receive at any other place of work.

You can learn more about how to put your retention strategy into practice here, here, and here.

We understand how frustrating it can be to lose valued staff and volunteers. We hope that this gives you some ideas on how to nurture your employees so they feel satisfied, engaged, and empowered to give their best to your organization for the long haul.

Emma Tarp, Author

About the Author

Emma Tarp is a writer and worship leader based in Minneapolis, MN. On her best days, she's highlighter-deep in a good book or teaching herself to sew. On her other best days, she's helping passionate folks and inspired businesses put words to their work. Find out more at

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