Mar 17, 2021

What to Do When a Volunteer Is Burned Out

Burn out.  It happens.  It can happen to pastors. It can happen to volunteers.  It can happen to anyone who serves in children's ministry.

Let's talk today about volunteer burn out.  

How can you know when a volunteer is nearing burn out? 

How can you help a volunteer who is burned out in your ministry?

Let's start by talking about how you can identify a volunteer who is burned out.

Here are some signs.

They begin doing the bare minimum.

You see a small group leader in the back of the room reading over the lesson while the kids are in large group time.  This is the first time he or she has looked at the lesson.  

They start missing volunteer meetings.  

They get there at the last minute or they are late for their serving role.

The smile they used to have while they were serving is gone.

They used to stick around for a few minutes after serving to talk with the other volunteers and hang out with them.  Now they quickly leave as soon as the last child is picked up. 

They start calling in at the last minute and saying they can't serve today.

You can sense they are just going through the motions.

So what should you do?  How can you best minister to this volunteer?  

Sit down and talk with them.  The earlier the better.  As soon as you sense the person is starting down the road to burn out, set up a meeting with them. 

This meeting should be to help find out why they are feeling burned out. 

Remember this...

"Use the ministry to build people instead of using people to build the ministry." 

Find out why they are feeling burned out.  It may be family issues.  It may be a change at work.  It may be health problems.  It may be they are struggling financially. 

Be compassionate.  Demonstrate genuine concern and interest for them as a person.  

Listen and empathize.  Show them that you have their best interests at heart.

Work with the volunteer to come up with a remedy.  

If the burn out is coming from personal stress, offer some options.  Perhaps, for a while, they need to only serve once a month instead of every week.  They may even need to take a few months off from serving.  

If the burn out is coming from feeling overwhelmed, maybe you need to go back and offer the person more training so he or she can better manage their serving role.

Make sure people are in their sweet spot.  By "sweet spot" I am referring to being in a role that aligns with the person's talents, gifts and passion.  Don't just place people in random roles.  Instead, work closely with new volunteers to help them find the best place for their skill set.

"Don't place people where you need them, rather place them where they need to be."

The burnout may be from boredom.  Sometimes volunteers will get bored with the role they are in.  They want a bigger challenge.  They want more responsibility.  And if you don't offer it, they will go somewhere that will present a bigger challenge.  You can help with this by offering a growth plan that will challenge them and help them grow into a volunteer role that is a bigger challenge.  

I have personally seen this happen.  At the last church I served at, we had over 70 staff members in the children's ministry.  With the exception of 4-5 people who were brought in from the outside, all of the other people came from inside the church.  They were all volunteers that we had invested in and raised up to be leaders. When you challenge people, you will see many of them grow and move into full-time ministry roles. 

Make sure they are jogging rather than doing an all out sprint

Often a volunteer gets burned out because of the pace he or she is on.  In their zeal to serve Jesus, they sign up to serve in like 3-4 ministries. They are like a super volunteer...flying from ministry to ministry...running in an all out sprint. 

While you are so thankful for their heart for ministry, you also realize that eventually the "SV" (super volunteer) letters on their shirt are going to fall off and they will crash and burn out. 

We must remind volunteers that ministry is a marathon and not a 100 yard dash.  Encourage them to choose one or two ministries (at the most) to serve in.  20 years from now, when they are still serving, they will thank you.

Your turn.  What do you do when a volunteer is burned out?  Share your thoughts and insights in the comment section below.

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