How to Protect Your Volunteers From Burnout

"Can I talk with you after the service is over?" asks one of your best volunteers. 

Uh-oh.  Your heart sinks.  You know what's coming next.

Service ends.  You sit down with the volunteer.

"I like serving, but I have too much going on in my life right now.  I'm going to have to step down from my volunteer role.  I'm stretched too thin.  I'm burned out.

Ever found yourself in that situation as a children's ministry leader?  A key volunteer, whom you've invested a lot of time and energy into, crashes and quits because of burn out.  It can take the wind out of your sails, can't it?

While you can't stop volunteer burn out completely, there are some steps you can take to protect your volunteers from burning out.  Let's talk about it for a few minutes.

Rockstar volunteers can hit rock bottom.  Think about your best volunteers.  You know, the ones that always go the second mile.  The ones who show up early and are the last to leave. 

Because they are so good at what they do, you ask them to help with other children's ministry projects.  You keep adding and adding and adding things to their volunteer calendar.  The Rockstar volunteer gladly accepts the extra responsibilities. But eventually it catches up with them and they quit.

Remember this: Just because a volunteer is gifted and talented, doesn't mean they can maintain an overflowing ministry plate long-term.  Be proactive or you'll find them in your office saying they can't do it anymore.  It's just too much for them.

Put high-capacity leaders in their area of giftedness and then don't pile more on them.  When a volunteer is serving in their area of giftedness, they will thrive.  Let them flourish there.  Don't start piling other responsibilities on them just because they are good at getting things done. 

This doesn't mean you can't promote them and give them more responsibility.  But don't ask them to do their current role and the tasks of the harder role at the same time or you'll run the risk of burning them out.

Just because you know they will say "yes," doesn't mean you should ask them to take on unhealthy levels of responsibility.  Remember this...

"Don't use people to build the ministry, rather use the ministry to build people."

Give volunteers permission to tell you when they are feeling overwhelmed.  If you can catch it early on, you can help them make an adjustment to their volunteer role.  Better yet, ask them on a regular basis, how they are doing.  Watch and listen for signs of burnout and help them adjust as needed.

Remind them of the big picture mission they are on.  When volunteers forget why they are doing what they are doing, they can slip into burn out.  Make sure you constantly remind your team about why they are serving.

Strengthen volunteer's commitment to the mission and you'll be able to keep them on mission.

Protect your team members.  Sometimes, other ministries will approach your gifted volunteer to help with a special project or to serve with them on a regular basis.  Set up a policy for this.  First, a staff member should always check with the other staff person and get permission to talk with the volunteer.  It's not about control, it's about care.

Has this happened to you?  A new couple moves to your area and starts attending your church.  You get to know them and decide to invite them to serve with you in children's ministry.  When you make the ask, you hear something like this:

"We're not going to serve at this time.  The church that we previously attended, had us doing everything.  We ran the children's ministry, helped with women's ministry, men's ministry, youth ministry, outreach events and blah, blah, blah, blah.  We got burned out and so we're going to just rest for awhile."

Is it their fault they are burned out?  Yes.  But you'd also have to place some blame on their previous leaders who didn't teach them about saying "no" so they could have a balanced life.

Protect your volunteers so they don't burn out.  Help them find a sustainable pace they can run at long-term and you'll see them go the distance with you.

You can get more information about building a great volunteer team in my book "The Formula for Building Great Volunteer Teams" at this link.

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  How do you protect volunteers from burn out? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.