Church volunteers are vital to executing worship gatherings and church events. And providing ways for members to volunteer immediately plugs them in and builds community within the congregation. Serving on teams (like the church production team) is how people get to know one another and also enables the staff to minister to those volunteers intentionally through serving together on Sunday mornings.
There is one problem, however, that many churches face when plugging people in to serve at church. That problem is church volunteer burnout. Many church volunteers get burnt out and quit abruptly because they have experienced stress while serving and their natural reaction is to want to eliminate that stress by quitting. This is hard on churches because they may not only lose that volunteer, but the experience may have also damaged the relationship that the volunteer has with the church leadership.
Church staff must be proactive in preventing church volunteer burnout. There are many ways to preserve relationships while having people serve at church. Here’s a shortlist of 6 ways to prevent church volunteer burnout.
Celebrate Your Volunteers
Plan parties and events to celebrate your volunteer team members! This is an easy way to show how much you appreciate all their hard work and dedication. It would be best to do this at least twice a year if not quarterly so that you can consistently keep the morale and feeling of “connectedness” up. One of the things you can do at these events is volunteer highlights or awards. You can make these funny awards or serious ones. It’s up to you, the goal is to show appreciation and give your volunteers a good time. Show the awards up on your worship software for all to see!
Another great idea is to have a few volunteers share some of their best experiences while serving at the church. Perhaps they were able to lead someone to Jesus in a conversation they had, or they’ve been able to pray for someone who was going through a hard time and saw God answer prayers. (After all, the work of volunteers serving in church is ultimately a ministry, not just running church presentation software or a camera or video switcher). Share time is a great way to hear about what’s happening in your church and also to share it with other volunteers to encourage them and remind them that they are making an impact in the church community through serving.
The goal is to show them how much you appreciate them and that you see their hard work. (Plus, allow them to hang out with you and their peers in an environment where they don’t have to worry about serving). Think of some ways you can celebrate your church volunteers and go for it! (We’d love to hear about your ideas in the comment section below!)
Listen To Your Volunteers
As a church staff, you must remember that your first job is to shepherd the people you are leading. One way to love and lead your church volunteers is to simply listen to them. It makes such a difference in building relationships when your team feels and knows that they are heard. When you lead a team of volunteers you are in charge of building a relationship with each of them and you should have a genuine desire to hear and understand how they are doing. Their job is often difficult and minor issues with a screen or an audio issue bring the entire church looking toward the tech booth, oftentimes making them feel guilty or bad. This can oftentimes encourage negative self-talk and self-shaming as they feel bad that the program or computer glitched causing what feels like a massive issue to the service. There may be issues with processes or church technology that you don’t see from your vantage point on Sundays.
For example, if they seem reluctant to follow your lead or jump into every event you are planning, ask for feedback and listen. There may be details you aren’t thinking about. Take into account how they feel and also give attention to their ideas as well. It’s pretty easy to spot a disgruntled volunteer. Don’t avoid the conversation. Ask how they are doing and why they feel the way they do. It may take a few times to get them to feel comfortable opening up, but continue to be there for them and establish the feeling that you’re a safe place to voice their opinions. Remember that you are building a relationship with them and that the relationship is what will help you get through any bumps along the way. Take the time and listen, and then follow up with how you are going to use their feedback.
Even more important than listening to feedback about serving in church is listening to how they are doing outside of church gatherings. Meet with them to hear about how they are doing in their family life and how they are doing in their relationship with God. Listen to their needs and pray for them often. Pray in person together as well. Be their pastor, leader, or mentor. Walk through life with them and show them that they are heard, loved, and cared for by their church. This will go a long way and make a greater impact than anything.
Remember That Your Volunteers Are NOT Church Staff
A quick way to overwhelm and overwork your church volunteers is to treat them like paid church staff. Some churches are small and everyone has to pull weight as a volunteer. But you cannot hold volunteers to the same expectations you would a staff member. Asking volunteers to attend frequent meetings, calls, or Zooms can be overwhelming for them. Asking them to take on the responsibilities of a paid staff member may seem flattering to them at first, but will eventually cause confusion and frustration.
Another reason not to over-utilize volunteers as if they are staff is that it could cause some of them to develop a mentality that they are staff. That could lead to confusion among regular church attenders who have issues that need to be addressed by staff members. Relying on any single church volunteer too heavily without actually hiring them can lead to a messy chain of command and will eventually end in someone getting offended or hurt. If a position is needed and you can make a way to budget for it, consider hiring from within and give your qualified volunteers the first chance at the job.
While they are volunteering though, they are freely offering their talents and gifts, so it’s important to respect their time as they do so.
Rotation Is Key
Being overworked is probably the most common reason for burnout, whether in a staff or volunteer context. A simple and effective way to keep your volunteers from burning out is to use a rotation when you schedule them. Making sure you have some form of rotation will give your church volunteers a break and will also allow them to sit with their families in church more often. Even though a task like clicking through slides on your worship software may seem simple enough that volunteer media technicians can worship while doing it (and the act of running worship software or audio or serving in that way IS worship), it is still different than being able to engage in worship without having to worry about the church presentation or hitting cues during the worship service.
A rotation will also maintain a healthy balance of ownership of an area by your volunteers but without them feeling overly possessive of the area. For example, giving one volunteer total say over an entire ministry area like the church tech booth will lead to them thinking they have total control over it and could intimidate others. Or it could make other potential volunteers who could also contribute in that area feel like there’s no room for their input or giftings.
Rotating church volunteers is very important for many reasons, especially when it comes to preventing burnout. Try your best not to use the same volunteers each week. If you don’t have enough people to adequately pull something off, then don’t do it. Sacrifice the way you do things, not the people and relationships you have worked so hard to build.
Communicate Often With Clarity
Email your volunteer team updates about things going on behind the scenes. They don’t get to hear everything that happens in staff meetings so don’t expect them to understand every decision that is made unless you communicate with them. But don’t have another meeting or a call to communicate updates if it’s not necessary. Simply email them or send out a quick text! Remember most volunteers have other jobs and family responsibilities and don’t need to be overwhelmed with Zoom calls or meetings every week.
One great idea for your media ministry is to send a weekly email with team and ministry updates. This way they will know about what’s new (and potentially what’s happening the following Sunday) without having to schedule time away from work or family to listen to you talk about it. Emails and texts are great tools that are extremely beneficial in getting information out quickly while respecting your volunteers’ time.
Equip Your Volunteers With Quality Tools
Not many of us have huge budgets. As is commonly said, sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you have. However, sometimes there are small things we can invest in that will greatly improve the experience of volunteers who are serving every week. If there’s a piece of equipment that is failing or outdated and causing extra work or stress for your team, make it a priority to replace it.
In the area of worship software like MediaSout, this means keeping your software up-to-date. While you don’t have to jump on new versions immediately, you should at least explore the features of new software releases. As software is improved, it will usually offer new ways of doing things that make life easier for your volunteers. (And you, if you are the paid staff member responsible for building presentations during the week). This is definitely the case with the redesigned features of MediaShout 7.
Each version of MediaShout comes with free updates, and you have the option of a paid upgrade to the latest version number when a new one comes out (like from MediaShout 6 to MediaShout 7). MediaShout 7 is the latest release that came out in 2019, and has recently been updated to Version 7.3.2. So it’s a great time to view pricing options or download the free trial to try it out in your worship environment.
As you can see, this list names just a few of many ways to prevent church volunteer burnout. But even focusing on these six simple things and addressing time management, communication, and pastoral care for your volunteers will make a lasting difference with the people you lead.
Focus on building relationships and giving people a place to belong and be known in community. Celebrate wins and share victories with one another. Listen to them when they need to be heard and pray for them regularly. Remember that they need time to sit in church with their families and don’t overwork them. And finally, as 1 Peter 5:2 says, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.”