How to prevent volunteer burnout in your church

Unlike any other organization, the church is mostly volunteer led, which puts staff at the mercy of their lay leaders. Whether it is the dad of four kids who gives up every Tuesday night to meet with the elder team or the woman who practices for worship week after week, the church can protect their volunteers from burnout.

Burnout, in the context I’m using it here, refers to volunteer leaders who are overworked and underappreciated. They lose motivation because their leaders often forget some of the basic principles needed to encourage their multigenerational church body.

Here are four simple ideas to help your leaders thrive.

Remind them of their purpose

Millennials, more than almost any other generation, will often choose purpose over a paycheck, which is good news for the church. Yet, they are not the only generation who wants their time and service to make an impact. When your volunteers are serving in areas they feel especially gifted in, they are leaning into their God-given purpose. Yet, when you treat the person as a means to an end rather than a meaningful member of the church, the role will feel less life-giving and more burdensome. They will grow weary without a staff person speaking into the “why” behind their role.

Provide vision regularly. Remind them how important their role is for the whole of the church. Encourage your volunteers to steward their gifts for God’s glory, knowing fully that God will provide the strength needed to serve. (1 Pet 4:10-11) That, in itself, is a wonderful motivator when serving becomes difficult. Reminding volunteers of their purpose and place within the church will continue to bolster that relationship in time.

Develop your leaders

With young adults seeking opportunities to further personal and spiritual development, it is important to create space to train your volunteers. Are you providing development opportunities in their volunteer role? As Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, it is your responsibility “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (4:12).

Our church does a great job at providing workshops for a variety of ministry areas. Our staff has brought in guest worship leaders to train the worship team. They provide one-on-one coaching for small group leaders. Recently, they began a program to train anyone interested in lay counseling. The church has taken the right steps toward offering more education to further the skills of their volunteers. When volunteers feel stuck in their role, educating them further breathes excitement back into their ministry.

Say thank you

Serving in the church is often an unnoticed and under appreciated job. My husband serves on our audio/visual team, which few people care to notice on a Sunday morning. He often jokes, “No one is aware of the team unless the slides are wrong or the mic isn’t working.” Each year, the church provides a dinner for the team, gives gifts and thanks them for their work. Our worship pastor will remember to pick up coffee drinks for the team between services on Sunday. And as wife of the A/V team lead, I bake treats once a year, which is accompanied by a note my husband writes to each volunteer. Saying thank you is a small thing that is felt in a big way.

Provide a forum for volunteers to be heard

Most volunteers want an ongoing conversation with their church leadership. Is there time for your volunteers to share what could make the program better? Perhaps, there is a more efficient way to welcome people on Sunday mornings? Maybe there is a better system for finding help in the nursery on a regular basis? Create forums for volunteers to voice not just grievances but helpful ideas for their area of ministry.

It’s one thing to listen, but you must also follow up. The act of “feeling heard” includes seeing some of their ideas being implemented. If that seems overwhelming — not another thing I have to do — encourage your volunteers to take ownership over those changes. Your volunteers are smart, capable, and often have ideas that should be heard and implemented.

When we forget to treat people like people, we will lose them. We want our leaders to feel loved, known, seen and heard. We want them to enjoy serving the church. We want to protect them from burnout.

At times, leaders will need to step down or step back from their role. Instead of this change feeling like a threat, see it as an opportunity for more lay leaders to be challenged by a new role. Communicate this to your church. This frees your people to not feel obligated to serve in their role for longer than is helpful.

Author’s note: The findings in this article are from a Gallup study you can find here.

Topics: Christian Life, Church and Ministry, The Congregation

About the Author

Bailey T. Hurley holds an MA from Denver Seminary in leadership. She leads a community group with her family, serving twenty men and women every week in their home. Plus, she hosts her own friendship workshops for the ultimate friend date experience. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, Tim, and kiddos: Hunter and Liv.