This past week I had a troubling conversation with one of the best church volunteers I know. After faithfully serving in his role for over 15 years, he is strongly considering resigning his position.
Though sometimes a good idea, mostly when great volunteers resign their positions it is one of the most tragic and avoidable things that can happen at a church. Sadly, when great volunteers leave a position, they often leave their church as well. They feel they have no other options. This is something pastors and church leaders must aggressively address.
Operating under the condition of anonymity, he allowed me to capture his thoughts and pass them along to you for the purpose of helping churches better serve their volunteers and helping to prevent burnout.
- No Return On Investment – Volunteers must constantly be reminded what they do matters. He said, “I don’t think I’m getting a return on my investment.”
- No Life Change – One of the roles of church leadership is to constantly tell stories of life change currently happening as a result of their volunteers. He said, “I don’t sense I’m making an eternal impact and I don’t know what I’m doing is impactful for today.”
- No Difference – He added, “I feel like if I’m there or not it doesn’t make any difference.”
- No Desire – Do your volunteers look forward to serving? Are they excited about what God can do in and through their lives? My heart sank when he said, “I just feel burnt out. I just want to go sit down.”
- No Breaks – 15 years is a long time to serve. Churches need to be monitoring the emotional health of their volunteers. He said, “It may just be time to take a break. I don’t need permission. I’ll just tell them I quit.”
- No Attachment To Vision – One of the most important things church leadership can do is connect the dots from volunteer positions to the fulfillment of mission and vision. He admitted, “Some of it may be my attitude toward the church’s direction and leadership.”
- No Appreciation – In some churches, it is simply ministry malpractice how we use our volunteers rather than serve them. Pastors, are you aggressively communicating appreciation for your volunteers? Unbelievably, his shoulders sank and said, “Brian, in 15 years of serving, only one person has told me ‘Thank You.'”
- No Community – One of the reasons people volunteer is they are looking for friends. He went on, “Maybe it would be better if we prayed together or something. There is no relational component to what we’re doing.”
- No Direction – I want to stress this is a Godly man who knows serving in his church is about God’s glory and not his personal fulfillment. He points out, “Maybe this is God just moving me on to serving somewhere else.”
- No Urgency – As I spoke with this gentleman I realized there was simply no longer a sense of urgency related in his ministry.
- No Respect – In frustration he said, “The departmental head makes me feel valued. He gives them space to do what I want to do. The people don’t value what I do.” Note – Senior pastors are responsible for owning this. People are a picture of the leader. It should be a core value at a church that their mantra is “This is how much we value volunteers. This is what we think of volunteers. This is what we do for volunteers. This is how we treat volunteers. This is how we serve volunteers…etc” And it starts with the senior pastor.
- No Future – Pastors and church leaders must paint a picture of growth for their volunteers. He said, “It’s not a self-esteem issue but I’ve come to a dead end and I don’t know how to extend the road.”
- No Emotional Attachment – Some people will tell you, “My heart’s just not in this anymore.” He said, “Part of me is sad because I’ve done it for so long but part of it is I’m not even disappointed.”
- No Margin – The last six months have been a difficult stretch personally, professionally, financially, and from a health perspective for this individual. Because of these challenges, he will fall through the cracks at many churches. The scary question, though, is how many volunteers in our churches are also at-risk because of similar issues? We must have personal relationships with our volunteers and know what challenges they are facing outside of church.
- No Chance – He concluded, “Two weeks on and two weeks off wouldn’t make a difference. It’s not that kind of burnout. It’s a “I’m done” burnout.”
Pastors and church leaders, what are your thoughts of this interview and the subject of volunteer burnout as a whole? Do his thoughts compel you to take some form of action?
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