Your volunteers should [in a perfect world] be the happiest people in your church.
Too many times, reality looks like this….
Here’s a real email from a church leader named Beth. She writes:
“The issue our staff has been discussing lately is how to handle people who are serving regularly in the church (most often in kid’s ministry) and asking to step out of their roles because they need a season of rest. Sometimes it is because of family issues they are dealing with that seem serious and sometimes it is more an issue of feeling overwhelmed with everyday life. We are currently experiencing an exciting time of growth and the last thing we need is less volunteers. Does anyone out there have suggestions for how to handle this issue?”
Volunteer burnout is a very real thing. Too many times, we hear from people when they are ready to “step out of the ministry for a season,” usually never stepping back in. This is bad for the ministry and the volunteer.
So what can do to prevent volunteer burnout?
#1 – Celebrate the group while appreciating the individual.
When I was pastoring, I thought I was doing a pretty good job at this. Looking back, it could have been so much better. In fact, without knowing anything else about your church, I can probably guess you’re not thanking your existing volunteers enough.
You may feel thankful, but you have to actually say it. If you don’t, people will easily think you’re taking them for granted.
Thanking people doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it’s extremely impactful. You’ll want to adopt two approaches here.
Celebrate your collective group of volunteers.
You can appreciate people with a broad brush by thanking volunteers in sermons, publications, and on social media. Mention your great volunteers often. When you lump all of your volunteers together and make a big deal to thank the group, it helps create a culture where volunteers are valued.
Appreciate the individual.
It’s not enough to thank a group of volunteers. You must thank people individually. One of the best ways to do this is sending a hand-written note card in the mail. This works because people routinely ignore emails, but almost always read a hand-addressed letter that comes to their home.
You can also use your social media channels to recognize specific individuals.
#2 – Connect the dots.
Most of your volunteers are not fired up about completing tasks or filling spots. Sure, a few people do want to just put in their time, but most people want to invest their time into something that really matters.
That’s why volunteering at your church needs to be about much more than filling a spot or completing a task.
If you lead volunteers, it’s up to you to draw a clear line between what they do and the overall mission of your church. You have to tell people, then continually remind them, that what they do DIRECTLY affects how the church is doing.
If you’re casing a compelling vision, you can lay off the guilt. No more “we need 10 people to serve over here or we’re not going to be able to offer this” or “you waste a lot of time doing things that don’t matter so come spend some of that time here.”
If you have a clear and compelling why, you’ll keep people engaged for a long time. When people know that what they do matters, they are intrinsically motivated and happy to play their part.
#3 – It IS about them.
Most churches do a very good job reminding people “it’s not about them” when it comes to style and preferences. “You don’t like that kind of music? Well, remember, it’s not about you.”
And that’s a good message.
We don’t want people to get so stuck in their ways that they forget about who we are trying to reach.
But when it comes to asking volunteers to serve and make sure they stay engaged over time, it’s absolutely appropriate to make it a little bit about them. In other words, can you clearly articulate some benefits to serving? How will it help someone? What’s in it for them?
I’m talking about the difference between describing features (this phone has a 5 inch screen) and benefits (you can watch movies in amazing HD without squinting).
When you talk about volunteering, it’s easy to describe the features. “You do this, at this time, with these people, for this purpose.” But what about the benefits? Can you think of any benefits to serving.
- You’ll make friends, maybe even life-long friends when you serve.
- You’ll model selflessness to your teenage kids.
- You’ll come to church planning to meet people.
It’s subtle, but it’s really important.
#4 – Be clear and realistic with your expectations.
If you’re on staff at a church, you’ve probably forgotten what it’s like to volunteer. Church is already a huge part of your life. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just important to recognize.
People in your church area already busy. Training meetings are tough to attend. Long-term commitments sound tough to keep.
We can complain about how busy people are, but it really won’t do any good. That’s why it’s so important to create multiple levels of leadership and be really clear about the expectations.
Every volunteer should have a one page job description that says what they do, why it matters, how much time it will take each week, who to call if they need something, and how long they will serve. Clarity is your friend.
In many cases, clarity will even enable to you to raise the bar on commitment levels. There are people in your church who are willing to serve, but they won’t consider it until they know exactly what’s involved.
#5 – Make sure every volunteer has a pastor.
If your volunteers only hear from you when they show up to serve, or if you only check with them when there’s an issue, you’re missing out on the biggest opportunity to lead people.
Each volunteer needs someone to pastor them.
They don’t just need clear roles and a big vision; they need to know who is going to care for their soul. When someone makes it to the level of a volunteer, they need more pastoral attention, not less.
It doesn’t need to be the senior pastor, and it doesn’t even have to be a staff member, but every single volunteer in your church needs someone to shepherd them.
This is the way we stop using people to accomplish our vision. This is how we invest in people before asking them to invest in the church.
I’m not asking about who directly supervises your volunteers; I’m asking who directly supports them.
Caring for their soul, checking in on them periodically, getting to know their kids…these will make a huge difference in the health of your people.
When you start shepherding people and really caring for them as people, it won’t be long until other people in your church notice. People go where they are cared for. And they stay there, too.
So What’s Next?
How do you take the stuff in this post and put legs on it? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating to implement.
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. Leading volunteers is an integral part of that process so everyone can spend time on what they’re best at. As a result we created a free guide to leading volunteers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor’s Guide to Leading Volunteers today by entering your name and email below.