A Good Good-bye (exit interviews)

How does a leader say good-bye to a volunteer? If the volunteer taught Sunday School every week for 30 years, the good-bye might well be with a congregational luncheon and an appreciative plaque. If the volunteer was a burr under your saddle, the good-bye might include a muttered “…and good riddance” under your breath. Most volunteers fall somewhere in between these two extremes, and are sent off with hopefully a word of thanks but not much more.

Some churches are beginning to see the value of including with every good-bye a practice common in the corporate world: an exit interview.

An exit interview is an intentional conversation with a person leaving a position. The purpose of the conversation is to create an opportunity to learn something that will benefit the organization, whether the organization is Boeing or First Lutheran.

Church volunteers can often tell us things we should know about how we recruit, prepare, train and assist our volunteers. Hopefully, they do that—and we ask them to do that—during their time as a worker. However, when they are leaving a position, they may feel freer to tell the truth.

Perhaps that’s one reason many don’t do exit interviews. We may not want to hear the truth. A willingness to hear the truth implies a willingness to do what we can about unpleasant truths.

What about the person leaving in anger? Surely we don’t need to listen to their complaints. Perhaps we need to listen to these people most of all. Perhaps there’s more to learn about the situation. Most of all, listening to, and expressing concern for, this person is perhaps the best thing we can do for them, whether or not we are able to change what has angered them, whether or not change is warranted.

Obviously, the people doing exit interviews must be carefully selected and trained. They must have mature spiritual wisdom and be able to keep what they hear in confidence. Policies need to be set, determining who will be told what is learned.

The greater importance we give to the mission of our church, the more we want our particular family of believers to provide the best possible environment for each other. That means asking for the truth, objectively evaluating what is heard, and working to implement improvements when possible.

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