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Avoiding Volunteer Burnout

Prevent volunteer burnout and create a healthy ministry environment. Discover three practical tips for recognizing and avoiding burnout in your team.

We regularly hear about how pastors and leaders face burnout at alarming rates. When this happens, mistakes are made, people are hurt, and there is harmful change. But the truth of the matter is that volunteers can get burned out as much as those who are leading. This produces the same results. When small group leaders start teaching from a deficit, when storytellers are too tired to learn scripts, and when other individuals providing ministry support start dropping the ball because they are carrying too much, we all feel it. As leaders, it’s essential that we put safeguards in place to avoid burnout and to recognize it before it happens.

Teams don’t have Volunteers. They Have Teammates! 

Teammates are closer than volunteers! Teams create environments of belonging that make it easier to recognize when someone is not doing well. Using “teammate” instead of “volunteer” reinforces that we are all in this together. It connects us all to the emotional and physical nature of Next Gen ministry and links us all together to celebrate when we meet the common goals. Being a team, instead of a leader with volunteers, evens the playing field and helps people move forward together.

Celebrate Wins Relentlessly

When we move forward together, there will be challenges to solve, and tackling that head-on, with the people in the trenches, will help your teammates feel valued. But we don’t just want to tackle challenges; we want to celebrate wins! It’s easier to motivate people to stay in the game when we call out what is going right more often than discussing areas that need growth. When we celebrate wins that emphasize vision and faith growth, we are reiterating why we do what we do so that no one gets lost in tasks that can become routine. Celebrating team wins builds cohesion. Celebrating personal wins reminds everyone that, while we are in this together, our individual lives matter, too. It allows everyone to be a part of a team while knowing they are still seen individually.

Prioritize The Person, Not The Volunteer

To avoid burnout, people should know that you see them as more than a route to an end. Your teammates need to know that you see them as individuals and recognize they have individual needs beyond Sunday morning. Their families, health, and personal goals all need to matter. And as much as we value our teammates showing up predictably, life can often be unpredictable. When we as leaders plan for unpredictability, that shows our teammates we care about them as much as they care about the ministry. We need to celebrate their vacations. Ensure they don’t feel guilty for needing to be out when sick. And before they hit burnout, recognize when it is time for them to take a break.

Encourage Breaks Before Burnout Hits

We love teammates who serve year after year for decade after decade. It makes it easier for us during recruitment. It provides stability for families. It builds healthy relationships. But in reality, life will no doubt present seasons when your teammates need to take a break for their well-being. If we encourage them to take a break at the first sign of needing a break, it is more likely that they won’t burn out and will return sooner, happier, and healthier.

Anyone can burn out, but it is less likely when we treat our volunteers, who should be viewed more as teammates, as people more than workers towards a goal. We need to see the people we serve with each week as part of a team that influences the faith of kids and students. Teammates look out for each other, bring out the best in each other, aim towards common goals, and celebrate the wins. When we do that, it is easier to stoke the fire in each other so that we win together and all avoid burnout.

Not sure where to begin when it comes to recruiting and retaining great volunteers? Read our guide to elevating volunteer strategy here!

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