There is a church I occasionally drive by that is called "Burnout Missionary Baptist Church." I'm not joking. That is the name of the church. Here's the link if you want to see for yourself.
Why does it have this name? It's because the church is in a rural community called "Burnout."
Why is the community called "Burnout?" The name goes back to the Civil War. A group of Union soldiers stopped to camp just outside Red Bay, Alabama. During the night, a solider accidentally knocked over a lantern and started a fire that burned down the church. Local residents worked together to rebuild the burned church. They decided to call it "Burnout Church." The surrounding community also adopted the name "Burnout."
The truth is, there are thousands of churches that may not be named "Burnout Church," but they could be. Their volunteers are burned out. Visit them, and you can sense it. They are just going through the motions. You can see it in their eyes. There is no enthusiasm or momentum. Very few smiles. Serving is a duty rather than a delight.
What causes volunteers to burn out? How can you help prevent it? Let's talk about some of the big reasons volunteers burn out and how to counteract it.
Volunteers burn out when they are placed in a role they are not wired for. How does this happen? When you enlist a new volunteer and ask them where they would like to serve, what do they say?
"Wherever you need me."
And the temptation is to place them where you need them, even if doesn't align with their giftedness and passion.
Fast forward. Because they are not in their sweet spot, a few months down the road, they quit. Or they keep serving because of their character, but they are not fulfilled.
You can help volunteers avoid burn out by helping them find their sweet spot. When you are interviewing them, ask some key questions that will help identify their sweet spot. Questions like:
- What do you really enjoy doing?
- What are you passionate about?
- What is your dream job at church?
A month after they start serving, go back and ask them how it's going. Are they in their sweet spot? Are they enjoying it?
If the answer negatively, then help them find another role that is a better fit for them.
When you do this, you are showing new volunteers that you really care about them and want to help them grow as Christ-followers and volunteers.
When a person is in their sweet spot, they will thrive. When a person is in their sweet spot, serving will be a joy rather than a duty they have to fulfill.
Volunteers burn out when they are not able to attend the worship service. This is especially true for churches that only have one service. This causes volunteers to have to choose between attending church and serving.
Whatever it takes to get volunteers in the service, you've got to do it. It may mean rotating volunteers. It may mean emphasizing it on a regular basis. It may mean setting the example by getting in the service yourself on a regular basis. It may mean emphasizing it in your orientation process and making it a requirement to be part of the team.
Volunteers burn out when you ask them to stay over and serve an additional service. Does this scenario sound familiar? One of the volunteers for the next service has called in sick. You ask a volunteer who just served to stay and do another service.
This may be a quick fix for a need, but in the long run, it will cause burnout. It leaves volunteers feeling used.
Enlist a few volunteers whose role is to be on call for when a volunteer doesn't show up. This gives you a safety net when someone is absent at the last minute.
Volunteers burn out when they don't establish relationships with the people they serve with. Relationships are one of the biggest reasons volunteers stay. Encourage volunteers to make connections with the people they serve with. Do icebreakers when you meet with volunteers to help them get to know each other at a deeper level.
Volunteers burn out when you don't give them any time off. Summer is a good time to let volunteers take a break. This is when they would normally be out of town on vacation anyway. Enlist summer volunteers who can step in and carry the ministry while your regular volunteers rest and get ready for the early fall when school starts back.
Volunteers burn out when you don't give them the opportunity to have more influence and grow in their roles. If you are equipping and empowering volunteers, they will grow as ministry leaders and desire to make a bigger impact. Have a clear pathway that gives volunteers the opportunity to increase in their responsibility and influence.
Volunteers burn out when you don't keep your ratios in check. Picture this. You have a brand-new volunteer for your 4-year-olds class. You walk them down to the room and see that it is packed with kids. You tell them to take a deep breath, and in they go. Two volunteers for 30 4-year-olds.
If the volunteer survives, they will begin to dread serving due to improper ratios and will burn out. Keep ratios in check. You can see what the proper ratios are in this article.
Volunteers burn out when they don't know what they should be doing and what the wins are for the role. Provide a clear job description for volunteers. Keep it simple and short so they can remember it. Put in writing what the wins are for the role so volunteers can know what they should be focused on (you can get over 20 volunteer job descriptions at this link).
Volunteers burn out when they are serving in multiple ministries. There are normally a few volunteers who are so committed that they are serving in multiple ministries. While you appreciate their zeal, you must help them monitor their serving commitments. If you don't, sooner or later, the S will fall off their shirt.
If you are going to succeed in children's ministry, you must build a solid volunteer team and empower them to go the distance with you. As you implement the steps above it will help you close the backdoor.
A healthy volunteer team is made up of veteran volunteers who have been serving for many years. It is also made up of new volunteers that you want to stick around and become veteran volunteers. Follow the steps above, and you can build a solid team that will help you reach and disciple many kids and families.
Dale Hudson has been in children's ministry for over 27 years. He is the director of children's ministry at Christ Fellowship Church in South Florida. Christ Fellowship has nine campuses and ministers to over 25,000 people on weekends. Dale leads a children's ministry staff team of over 70 and a volunteer team of over 2,600. He has authored 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Children's Ministry, 100 Best Ideas to Turbocharge Your Preschool Ministry, Children's Ministry in the 21st Century, Sunday School That Works, the churchleaders.com Top 100 book, and If Disney Ran Your Children's Ministry. You can find more of his helpful resources at relevantchildrensministry.com or buildingchildrensministry.com.
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