5 Volunteer Best Practices to Prevent Burnout

5 Volunteer Best Practices to Prevent Burnout

The greatest asset of any church is its volunteers. They carry out the lion’s share of the church’s operational activities and help meet its long-term goals. They’re the fuel that the church’s engine runs on. So it’s imperative that you treat them with the utmost care.

We know that not everyone in the church is as involved as they should be. This means that a lot more work is spread across fewer shoulders, which inevitably leads to burnout. The problem is that these volunteers tend to keep working long after weariness has set in. And this can lead to resentment and eventual collapse. The individual may stop helping entirely—and even leave your church.

Because you love your volunteers and want them to serve comfortably, we’ve put together a handful of tips that you can use to save your volunteers from burning out!

1. Be clear and upfront about expectations

If you had a babysitter that you relied on but you constantly asked her to stay late or perform other household duties, eventually she’s going to move on—and she’s not even helping you for free! What happens when you’re doing virtually the same thing to volunteers?

Anytime you ask for volunteers, make sure you communicate what’s expected of them and how long it will take. Don’t ask for open-ended commitments. That gets old really fast. By telling people how long a task will take and what it entails, you’re communicating that you value their time—and giving them the ability to make educated decisions.

2. Pay attention to how much someone is helping

It’s easy to overwork church volunteers because no one has visibility on how much someone’s doing. If a volunteer is known for helping out whenever they’re asked, people will unintentionally take advantage of them. They don’t realize that this person is helping out Sundays in the nursery, making meals for their small group, putting in time in the prison ministry, and creating Sunday school handouts every week.

It’s important that you create a system that gives everyone visibility on how much time and effort various volunteers give to the church. This way, people aren’t taking advantage of their generosity. If a certain threshold of volunteer time is reached, consider giving them a sabbatical from volunteering.

3. Be aware of hero syndrome

We all know that there are people who will not volunteer—no matter how much they’re asked. But there’s another individual that’s just the opposite. They’re compelled to be in the middle of everything. They want to be seen as a volunteer with a can-do attitude and boundless energy.
It’s incredibly easy to take advantage of these individuals because they’re always up for helping out, but when they crash—they crash hard. The need to overwork yourself to prove your value and loyalty isn’t much healthier than not helping at all. We need to do what we can to keep the “heroes” balanced. This means ensuring that they take breaks.

4. Help people work within their gifting

The church talks about gifts a lot. But the truth is that there are a lot of tasks that come down to service and not gifting. For instance, God didn’t give anyone the gift of toilet cleaning, but church bathrooms still need to get cleaned. So there are a lot of things that people need to be willing to do irrespective of their inclinations.

That said, the more people can do what comes naturally to them, the happier they’re going to be—and the longer they’ll want to do it. An introvert isn’t going to flourish as a greeter like an extrovert might. It’s good to be mindful of people’s gifts and help them work within their strengths.

5. Provide healthy food and refreshments for volunteers

Most church volunteering happens around people’s work schedules. That means that they’re often running straight from the office to the church. If you’re asking people to volunteer in the evenings or weekend afternoons, make sure that they’re fed and taken care of. This will have a huge impact on their morale.

When churches do try and keep this in mind, they fall back on the same standby—pizza. If someone’s volunteered at a church for a couple years, it’s quite likely that they’ve eaten a lifetime supply of pizza. After a while, it no longer feels like a thoughtful way to say thank you.

Loving Your Volunteers

Jesus tells us to treat others in the way we’d like to be treated, and your volunteers are a great place to put this into practice. They’re serving you, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Find creative ways to serve them back and tell them thank you, and you’ll build a faithful volunteer army!

Jayson D. Bradley

Jayson D. Bradley is a writer and pastor in Bellingham, WA. He’s a regular contributor to Relevant Magazine, and his blog JaysonDBradley.com has been voted one of the 25 Christian blogs you should be reading.