“I just did not have the energy to keep coming back to church.”
Though my consultation with the church took place many years ago, I remember vividly my interview with a member of the church who had recently dropped out. Her departure stunned the members and leadership. She was the one member you could count on. She was there “every time the doors were open.”
And then she never showed up again.
She simply sent an email of resignation of all ministries and left.
This church member experienced classic church burnout. And, as a consequence, she put herself on the sidelines of local church ministry, unsure if she would ever come back to active church life.
Burnout among church members may not be as obvious and dramatic as this example, but it is real. Some members gradually become less and less involved until you don’t see them anymore.
Such are some of the symptoms of church member burnout. But what are the causes? Here are five common causes.
- The church does not have clear purposes or vision. Many times the busyness of church life is not the problem; it is the lack of clarity of the vision of the church. Give church members a clear “why” to the ministry they do, and many will never grow weary of the work.
- The church has certain activities because “we’ve always done it that way before.” Few things lead to burnout more quickly than asking a member to be a part of something that has ceased to be useful to the church. “I was on a committee that met every month,” one church member told me. “But our committee never accomplished anything. If the committee disappeared tomorrow, very few people would notice.”
- Too few members doing most of the ministry. This issue is both a symptom and a cause. In most established churches, about 90 percent of the ministry is done by one-third of the members.
- The church does not celebrate enough. Celebrations are great motivators to continue the labor and ministry. They remind us of God’s provisions and His victories working through us.
- The church has no clear expectations of membership. In most of our churches, we expect little or nothing of our members, and that is exactly what we get. It is imperative for churches to have a new members’ class or entry point class that provides both information and expectations.
Burnout is common with so many church members.
But it does not have to be.
Let me hear your thoughts.
Posted on February 1, 2016
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
Over the last year, I came perilously close to being that woman who sent an email and then just quit showing up. I suffered burnout for at least 2 years before finally saying I needed a break. I took a couple of months and visited other churches, with the full support of my pastor, for which I am grateful. I took that break, completely open to the possibility that God may be calling me elsewhere, but equally open if God was calling me to stay at my home church. It would have been easier to stay home for 2 months but I knew if I did, I would risk never returning to any church. I came back refreshed and ready to serve again.
Items 3-5 applied in my situation. One of the most important things I think church staff can do to help members avoid burnout is to recognize that every member is called by God to serve a role in the church. We’re not all called to the same responsibilities, but our call is no less than that of paid staff. It is the role of staff to equip lay members for ministry. See requests for help not as a burden, but as an opportunity to equip the volunteer. Ask volunteer leaders for input and include them in any planned changes. Recognize their contribution. If your actions do not support your blanket “thanks for all you do” then realize that the volunteer will begin to hear nothing more than “yada yada”. Over time, they will begin to feel invisible, marginalized, and completely unappreciated. And while we’re not called to serve to be appreciated, it’s still a natural desire and one that shouldn’t be ignored unless you want your hardest workers to completely give up.
WOW this is on the money. I have been following posts for the past year or so. I started following your posts when my wife and I started feeling “burned out”. We are not the leaders of our church but have been fairly involved as a younger couple with 3 boys. Youth group, sunday evening kids programs, Scouting program, church activities, sunday school classes and many other things. We did it all. It seemed the more we did the more we were asked to do. That’s ok I guess but some of it was what you mentioned, “this is what we have always done” programs. We wanted to get some updated youth programs and the powers that be in our church pulled out stuff that they had from the 80s and said use this…
we helped lead participation in a week long trek to a christian music festival. when we came back with ideas and enthusiasm for what could be we were told we had to be debriefed and brought back to reality. the same thing was said to my son when he came back from church camp. He had a mountain top experience and the pastor told us he had to accept the disappointment of coming back to the church instead of encouraging him and using his experience as the springboard for more spirit lead fire.
when we started our church had a vision and mission campaign based upon debts and some growth from years past. now those things are paid for and it seems like they are a flag in the wind at the top pole with no higher to go. the new pastor is trying. But the powers that be in the church are reluctant to let others grow in different directions.
we did have classes and my wife and I took them all. membership, spiritual gifts, service, etc it was all great and we came out of each one expecting to be able to find our own way to serve but like my son found disappointment that there was no follow up or mentoring or fostering of our fire.
when our new pastor asked what was wrong and I tried to convey my feelings such as programs that have outlived their usefulness, not allowing new endeavors to be perused because they might infringe on some of the old programs. A wonderful school of the arts program that takes a large amount of resources in the church. That actually should be encouraged to move out of the “nest” and fly on its own. No new vision. he said i was wrong and that things were not really the way I perceived them. We have since all but stopped going to the church and have been seeking another.
Your post sums up the feelings we have had and I am sure several others that have left before us have felt the same.
Sorry for the long reply but this stuck a cord. We don’t want to feel we are running away from problems that all churches have. we know the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. but how long do you fight “the powers that be”?
my family had a very similar experience, we were very active in our church. When we stopped going to our church – we were not contacted by the staff except thru the mass mailings for some event. I know others who I have seen in our community who have said the same thing they were burned out and left. It seems like the burnout is accepted and there is no need to have people mentor and shepherd anyone thru their crisis of faith and bring them back into the fold. It gives me some hope to read comments like Edwards because that is what a church needs.
Thanks Julie. Be encouraged.
Rob, I have heard the scenarios you mentioned as releasing water on the fire and often times new believer’s or even the faithful are putting out the fire among each other instead of releasing the revival flood together. I’ve learned that I have had to politely say, “No” so that I am not involved in everything and burn out. I have also learned to know when a ministry is not ready and have accepted a “not right now” response. I tell people to respect their leader’s (especially if you know God has called you there) and God will honor that. However, don’t just wait on them. I find ways to serve without being frustrated with leadership and embracing them at the same time if possible. Win-win. Sometimes, taking a step back is the way to move forward with an impulse. For example, I stopped leading a youth Bible study at one time and someone else came in to learn. Why not before? They are now leading and I am helping at another church. Now, if the leadership is on attack and resistant to new people and new ideas, or there are revolving door pastors (I noticed you said “new pastor” and “powers” in your post), then there are problems and moving on may be the best thing. Love them, pray for them, move on and do not be bitter but learn from it and teach others in love so that there may be unity in the body of Christ.
Not having support within a local ministry can lead to burnout too. This can emerge in different forms but it would probably fall in the third category or even the first in some way. Often times, there is a need of involvement by other members who are not present. Sometimes, only those who are willing are placed instead of those who should be participating but are idle. Then, when burnout does happen, people get involved. Successfully using the spiritual gifts God gave you to build others up is a way to combat burnout in your local church. For example, someone with the gifts of teaching and dicernment who is dedicated can invest or disciple a person, win them for Christ and He (The Lord) will help mobilize them where they belong. The encourager, giver, person of service or the one who shows hospitality can aid. I’ve been blessed to have backup in the past following this approach. Just let the Lord show you because there are some that will be with you and leave toward the world instead of with Christ. Perhaps like Demas. Yet, others will serve the Lord next to you and beyond you. Perhaps like a Timothy Mark or Barnabas. That’s a blessing too. Keep a servant heart for Christ.
Thank you for your heart, Edward.
Thank you, Dr. Rainer! I believe in the concept of multiplication and win-win scenarios within ministry. One should never feel as if they will lose their “position.” Nor should they feel serving is for someone else. Let us be humble and have an ear to hear Jesus Christ in our situation. Every follower of Christ is valuable in the body of Christ. Lord knows how many times He used a person to reach me when my original intention was to reach them.
As long as most people are not allowed to participate and their efforts are rejected, there always be few people available to do the work. The hard workers burn out from being overworked and the rejected burn out from not being allowed to do anything.
True this happens a lot in women’s ministry. The ladies only allow a small group of women which reminds you of a click to serve in those ministries. Other women are not needed or asked to be a part to serve in that ministry. Even if you sign up you don’t get called to serve.
Very wonderful, some pastors are dictators in away that they dont care about the speed and ability of the flock. Jacob told Esau that let me walk according to the speed of the flock. I know church here in Uganda they gather on friday Bible study evening and again they are asked to come back at night Overnight.
Often I have found in the 20% 80% theory of church work is the 20% have a death grip on work and their is no entry for the 80%. Then the 20% ask where is all their help.
Amen Amen Amen
It is the first point that is interesting to me — what is the purpose of a church. I would think that is it to guide it’s members with their walk with God and for some form of community outreach. That brings up the question of what is the church’s responsibility to it’s members when someone suffers burnout which I think is a form of a crisis of faith? if the Church is a spiritual guide then there should be an active commitment to bring the wandering sheep back into the fold. But too often it seems the shepherd (clergy) is focusing on the 99 sitting in the pews instead of the one that needs to be found.
I have to believe, in consideration of Hebrews 10:34 & 25, that the purpose for the gathered church is to prompt one another to love and good works. That would seem to include the encouragement of gifted individuals … and according to 1 Corinthians 12, we’re all gifted … to discover and use their gifts for the common good.
That’s Hebrews 10:24 & 25…..
In my experience the 99 have established their own importance to the leadership positions the one with anointing to accomplish a work within the church is often the one that sits alone and unnoticed and when they don’t come back no one notices.
On point. However, this is just one of the many other issues. After many many years, of faithful service, always there rain, shine, snow, storms. Up before the sun shine and home late in the afternoon. I found I simply was not appreciated. I have now decided just to focus on my business. Take care of me.
I wont post my business website unless personally requested. Happy New Year All.
I have attended church for at least 60 years and never experienced a sermon or teaching of being burnt out on going to church. It has been and is a crisis of faith. I believe teaching on this subject would benefit the congregation as well as the leaders. There has to be more than a routine service Sunday after Sunday. Emphasis on routine.
At out church it’s mandatory for Deacons to have a 1yr layoff between terms but nothing like that for teachers and don’t even ask about nursery workers.
Where rest is really needed . . .
This is excellent, a dose of good medicine for me
Thom, #3. 80/20. 20% of the people do 80% of the giving and volunteering and yes the Spirit is strong but the flesh is weak
I have to agree with Russ’s numbers, as they have been prevalent not only in my church but in other organizations I have been in (Jaycees, school booster clubs, etc.)
Yes, Russ. The 80/20 thesis is called “the Pareto principle.” It has a fascinating history.
I too agree with these points and Mr. Cleveland. I love teaching and get excited when it is time to go before my class and discuss God’s Word. But it took me a long time to see and understand my calling. In this respect, the leaders do fall short of helping new believers see their calling and understand their gifts. if we but could focus on this aspect as well as doctrine in New Member’s class it would be very beneficial to the individual and the body of Christ. It also couldn’t hurt to provide a spiritual gift’s class to the already sitting congregation.
Good points, Renea.
Several churches in this area are doing a good job of exactly that, in their New Members’ Classes. Among them is the church that went from zero to the biggest church in the state, in less than 14 years.
Great job, as always.
Thank you, Steve.
Excellent points, and all applicable.
They also hint at what may be a most fundamental problem … people trying to fit into a program, rather than finding what the Holy Spirit has gifted them to do, and then doing that for the benefit of the body. As Ken Hemphill said in his study course about Spiritual gifts, we can take a lesson from Moses and the burning bush. The bush was not consumed .. it never burned out … because it was burning with the fire of God. If we are operating on the fire God has placed within us, it never does go out, either.
I am 77 and have been teaching for a lot of years, and haven’t begun to burn out (barring some physical disability or impairment).
Well said, Bob.
“If we are operating on the fire God has placed within us, it never does go out, either.”
That is provided people are allowed to use it in churches or they decide to leave and use it elsewhere. Hindering someone’s use of a God-given talent has really hurt Christianity but is widely prevalent.
That’s exactly right. Too often churches are interested in filling positions without concern for the members’ gifts.
I am in the position of do I stay and pray things will change, or do I go to a church which will use me? I’m feeling very burned out from not being permitted to use my gifts and training in a male dominated church and not excited about breaking in to new church.
I fully agree. All too often churches seek to fill a slot instead of seeking where people are gifted and using them in that area, or better enabling them to serve in their gifted area through the church. My wife was asked to teach an adult class but her giftedness is with children. She is a trained elementary teacher and kids flock to her connecting with her so easily. She turned it down and within a couple of months God laid it on her heart to begin a children’s church for the younger children. Our deacons gladly enabled her recognizing this as in their words, her niche. She is happy and the children are experiencing adult worship and receiving teaching on their level of understanding.
Thank you for your wise words Bob.
In many instances burn out can be the result of a legalistic doctrine….where one is made to feel that he can never do enough….when one is in sync with the holy spirit the result will be rest, quietness and the confidence of abiding in the vine, producing good fruit pleasing into God. Legalism produces a spirit of competition and a host of other unhealthy traits destructive to the Church
This is not true for me. For me it’s
– the pastor(s) instigates every new idea instead of inspiring new ideas
– too many new things happening, or trying to happen, all at once
– committees becoming only a pool of people to do the work