When It’s Time for a Volunteer to Retire

When It’s Time for a Volunteer to Retire
November 2, 2017 Bob D'Ambrosio

I met Wally at a Colorado Eagles hockey game. He was the usher in my section, and I discovered he attends one of the local churches in town. Wally shared he’s been an usher at his church for 30 years.

Thinking I’d learn the secret to volunteer retention, I asked Wally the reason for his longevity in ushering. His response was, “Never let them tell you what to do.” Not the answer I was hoping for.

Wally’s sage advice was based on his experience with the new senior pastor who wants to “change things.” Wally operates as a solo performer and refuses to give in to the new hospitality procedures his church is trying to implement.

I’m thinking: It’s time for Wally to retire.

Here are three signs that it’s time for a volunteer to step down:

  1. No longer a team player. Effective ministry is team-based. Lone rangers who do their own thing prevent unity and synergy. When an individual puts his or her own interests above the mission, it’s time to leave or find another position.
  2. Unwilling to learn new skills. Ministry today is different than it was just a few years ago because culture, technology, and expectations are rapidly changing. People who are unwilling to learn new methodologies or update their skills will be lost in today’s ever-changing world of ministry.
  3. Motivated by obligation rather than passion. When serving is a “have to” rather than a “get to”, the effectiveness and quality of the service diminishes. With today’s volunteer pool aging out, many need to be given the permission to step down rather than serve out of duty. It’s possible some of your volunteers would welcome the opportunity to retire with appreciation for time well served.

So how do you facilitate the volunteer retirement process? Gently.

Approaching the subject of retirement isn’t easy in the workforce, let alone in a volunteer ministry role. After all, we never “retire” from serving God. So it’s a conversation that needs grace and personal interaction. (You don’t send an email.) When the conversation is opened it provides the opportunity for reflection of service, feedback and evaluation, and discussion on redirection—if another role may be the solution.

If your church has a Wally, it’s time to schedule some coffee and a talk. You, your ministry, and Wally will benefit from some fearless conversation.


Bob D’Ambrosio is a 25-year veteran of frontline church ministry and now serves with Group’s content solutions team. He’s a trainer for volunteer equipping, a Refresh the Church blogger, and a ministry coach for Group U. Bob is a contributing author and general editor of the E4:12 Bible Study Series Better Together: Connecting to God and Others and Leading Out: Connecting People to Purpose.


  1. John 7 years ago

    I am Wally. Not really, but could be. I have served my church for years. One thing I think you are missing here. Most of us serve because we love the Lord, love people, and the church. We are faithful givers as well as servants and are in need of a place to continue to contribute, especially as we move into our later years. My guess is that Wally needs a new role rather than to be retired. Since when does the Scriptures call us to retirement from service to Christ and the Church anyways. Could it be his role as usher is past but his role as a servant needs to change? I would ask him to consider a new role. Clearly, they still have a place for him at the Eagles games. Why not at the church as well?

    • Author
      Bob D'Ambrosio 7 years ago

      Thanks Wally – I mean, John. Yes, we never “retire” from serving God, but sometimes we get “stuck” in a system that doesn’t let us try a new ministry role, or step down from a volunteer position where we no longer enjoy serving. I think that’s what has happened to Wally.

  2. Sherrie Jackson 7 years ago

    I have mixed feelings about this article. There does need to be change at times but sometimes changes are implemented that are made to ‘just make a change.” I agree its better that everyone works as a team.
    And since a change has not been made in 30 years with Wally, the coffee and talk are going to be difficult and not taken well……………I don’t care how you do it. There often is not a cohesive ministry focus between the pastor and the laity. I have found that a lot of pastors do not want to support any ministries that were begun before they arrived. And by doing this they are trying to remove any influence past pastors have had on the congregation, and are not looking at the big picture of what the individual church’s ministry is. We had one minister who wanted the outreach and missions chairs to change because they had both been doing the job for some time. They were both effective and they encouraged others to take part in both ministries. It wasn’t about the individual leaders, but they were both good leaders and kept the ministries focused, made changes as needed and encouraged participation.

    The new missions chair lasted between 1 and 2 years. The outreach chair received the information that was passed on from the previous chair as to what the church was involved in and why the church what had been done each year to continue that focus, and changes that had been made, etc. His first question was……………….how much of this do we have to do! He lasted less than 2 months. He wanted to be in charge……….but he didn’t want to do anything or lead anyone in ministry.

    I am sure that Wally has some gifts that can be utilized in a way that will keep him active in ministry but allow some changes to be made. From what I have seen in many instances people take a ………..let’s get rid of him attitude, instead of taking the time to explain what is trying to be done, and setting a time limit to see if changes work, and then re-evaluate.

    Making Wally a part of those changes is the best plan for everyone involved!


    • Author
      Bob D'Ambrosio 7 years ago

      Thanks Sherri for sharing this example. After 30 years in one volunteer role, it will probably take more than one sit-down to talk. But it seems that’s what Wally needs, someone that cares for him, instead of just being concerned with filling a slot with a willing volunteer. When our passion is gone from our service it’s time to find a new ministry role, or to even take a rest. Both are acceptable, but often not encouraged by the church. So glad you have a heart for the Wally’s of todays church.

  3. Edward Pierce 7 years ago

    Its interesting you make an assumption that the changes that are being made are good.
    I would have liked to here more about Walley’s concerns. You may have the same attitude the Pastor does. If its not new it needs changing. Not that change can’t be good
    however to assume change is always good and never wrong and those that disagree need to go is a policy for disaster.Maybe its time for you to go.You should have engaged Walley more to find out the complete story.I find quite often its not the change its how its done.Without even flinching you made a determination about a person who has served faithfully for 30 years in there church.Then you relegated them to a time warp problem (technology and skills) that sounds just like corporate America.Maybe thats whats really wrong with Walley. His church is begging to look and act like something it should’t. Pastors are human and subject to error the problem is many of them don’t know it. Old is not always good neither is new.

    • Author
      Bob D'Ambrosio 7 years ago

      Thanks Pastor Eddie…agree completely…if its change just for the sake of change, it does not always mean better ministry. I’m not from Wally’s church so I don’t know the back-story, but it seems that more communication is needed on the vision for the change, and how it will impact those involved. If a volunteer doesn’t want to move forward with the shifts that come when trying to be more effective in ministry, it might mean it’s time for a new role.

  4. Carolyn 7 years ago

    Being the Children’s pastor and over a group of volunteers how do I know when it is time for me to step down from that position? Mainly my concern is due to my age and no longer capable of doing what I once could.

    • Author
      Bob D'Ambrosio 7 years ago

      Thanks Carolyn for sharing your concern. Some of the thoughts in this article may also apply to a staff member when deciding when it’s time to retire. I think you’ll also need to spend time in prayer and discern what God has in mind for your future. It may be that your role shifts from leader to mentor as you coach someone else to step into this position. God be with you as you work through this process.

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