What can be done to prevent volunteer burnout? It is no exaggeration that volunteers are the life-blood of any church. They are the hands, the feet and the heart behind a church’s many ministries.
If you’re in church leadership, it’s quite possible that at some time you’ve had a hard time recruiting volunteers. If so, read this insight from our team on the importance of “shoulder-tapping” to increase your church’s volunteer base. Maybe it’s time to “fire” a volunteer and you’re not sure how. Or maybe you need ideas of how to encourage and thank your current volunteers. We have some ideas about that as well.
But maybe you’re struggling to keep your volunteers. Maybe you’re so entrenched in your church’s ministries and needs that you don’t realize your volunteers are getting burned out and falling away from serving.
Most of our team here at Vanderbloemen has both served in some capacity at their home church and overseen volunteers on a church staff. Viewing it from both perspectives, we’ve compiled a list of signs that you may be exhausting your volunteers as well as suggestions on how to keep that from happening in your church’s future.
Here are four signs your volunteers are getting burned out:
1. They’re not mentally present.
Have you noticed your volunteers “checking out”? Maybe even making small mistakes because they’re not mentally engaged? Perhaps their volunteer task is so mundane they’ve stopped giving it any thought. If things have started falling through the cracks or being overlooked, it may be a sign your volunteers aren’t mentally all there.
Fix it: Brainstorm with your ministry leaders on how you can make tasks—even routine tasks—more engaging. Whenever possible, thank your volunteers individually and in person for their contribution, so they realize how much even their perhaps unexciting duties are recognized and appreciated.
2. They lack enthusiasm.
Most of your volunteers probably went through a “honeymoon” period where they were really excited about serving their church body. But after some time, especially for volunteers who serve very often or in multiple capacities, that enthusiasm may wane. Volunteering week after week, on top of their busy lives, can feel like a chore, whether or not they realize it.
Fix it: Publically celebrate wins with your volunteers. Make the big picture and their contribution real to them again. And let them take a break! If they serve in multiple capacities, encourage them to focus on just one ministry or switch to an entirely new ministry where they haven’t yet served.
If you do not have any formal volunteer appreciation events at your church, it’s past time to get those in place. Public thanks, group celebrations and thoughtful gifts for your volunteers should be a part of your church’s budget.
I recently heard a story about a church here in Houston where several of our team members serve. The senior pastor made individual and personalized thank-you videos for each volunteer, talking about the ministry where they served, how they were making an individual impact in that ministry, and how much the pastor valued their contribution. This may not be feasible for every church, but I can’t express how much it meant to those who received it (and how impressive it was to those outside that church). The more you make serving fun and the more you thank your volunteers, the more others will sign up to join in on the mission.
3. They made last-minute decisions about serving.
We’ve all been there. We give a tentative “yes” to help with something, but wait until the last minute to see if we can really follow through or not. If some of your volunteers are constantly making last minute decisions about whether or not they can serve—which isn’t helpful to the church or to them—it could be a sign that they are overloaded or overcommitted, be it on their calendar or in their head.