Published: 10 months ago

Q&A: How Can I Break Up Volunteer Conversations?


When my volunteers are serving, they are often more excited about focusing on each other than focusing on our guests. How can I prevent personal conversations among volunteers while they’re “on the clock”?

[submitted via the 2018 blog survey]


Short answer: you shouldn’t.

Notice I didn’t say you can’t. You certainly can. You can create rules and policies that discourage volunteers from talking when they should be serving. You can act as the Fun Police, heartlessly squashing any attempts at fellowship. You can keep a pocket full of ping pong balls and lob them at the skull of anyone who gets out of line and tries to make a friend.

I’m being a little melodramatic, but here’s the point: I don’t think we want to put our volunteers in a position where they can’t talk to each other, encourage each other, and befriend each other. A volunteer may start serving because of a desire to help others, but they’ll keep serving because of healthy relationships.

But I get it: we really do need to make sure that we’re not focusing on our old friends to the detriment of our new ones. So here are a few thoughts:

1. Remind them of the win. 

If the best defense is a good offense, then leaders need to constantly point volunteers to the reason they’re here. So tell stories. Every weekend, cast a vision for what the morning should look like by telling stories of guests who have connected. Call out positive behavior when you see volunteers connect with guests.

2. Stand ’em shoulder-to-shoulder.

There is going to be downtime when guests aren’t coming in. But rather than using those times to huddle up and whisper the latest gossip to their friends, volunteers should maintain an outward posture, constantly scanning their surroundings to make sure they can drop the conversation and focus on a guest when they arrive.

3. Provide a backstage. 

No matter a person’s level of extroversion, it can be hard to be “on” for 100% of the time. Provide an area where volunteers can gather and not worry about having to focus on guests. We call our area Volunteer Headquarters, or VHQ. But even if you’re providing a relaxed space, don’t forget your guests. Leave a skeleton crew in place.


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