Five Common Reasons Church Members Burnout

“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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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  • #6 – Too many church members choose to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I’m talking about church members who constantly complain about problems but do little to fix them, and then end up leaving the church on the pretext that the church “doesn’t do enough” or “has no vision”.

  • Thanks for the article. Simply put, crashed and burned! Some at the church have no clue and deal with it be ignoring / avoiding. Not the best healing ministry then!
    One day who knows!

  • the church for all intent and purposes has fogotten that it has one primary goal…glorify Jesus Christ, in lieu of that we have substituted programs, entertainment and activites to the exclusion of preaching the Word. Furthermore many churches are still teaching the law with its “do’s and don’ts” rather than Grace and for the most part prayer is missing. I am not saying prayer is not being done at all, but what about intercessoryu prayer? Youwould be hard pressed to find churches where this is done on a regular basis even though Jesus said his house is a house of prayer. Furthermore, most ministers I have seen are too chicken to actually preach the Word and have substitued milk when they should be presenting the meat in the Word and heaven help them if when 12 noon comes along they are not finished speaking…obviously football can’t interfere with church or the world would end!! bunch of wimps!. I use to attend church regularly and taught as well and about 5 years ago I walked away and have not missed it one bit yet since then I have grown more on my own than I had going on a regular basis. I go to church using the internet and have found where the Word is preached and Jesus glorified, I have also started a teaching web page that in 6 months over 38,000 views without any advertisement, its a God thing( and I spend 5-7 hours a week in intercessory prayer…I have never been happier nor more fulfilled!

  • Our problem at our church is we feel we aint needed anymore. Our church is small, anything that went on in the church with kids, youth and special events me and my wife along with two other couples was there heading it up and doing most of the work. We all worked so good together until couple things happened. First we had an older preacher and his wife that was there helping and supporting everything. He retired and we got a younger preacher that we was so exited for having someone our age. Well its got so that they want to run everything and never wanting our help any when we ask to help. Makes all of us feel as we are not needed anymore and being pushed away from what we love.

    • Truly sad. Senior adults are often some of the most reliable workers.

      • In our case it’s the senior adults that do 80% of the work….even in youth activities. The young adults in the church seem to be the most inactive and the least willing to get involved.

      • Yes, I share your frustration about young adults. Many of them grumble about how they’re “shut out” of the church. In my case, I’ve all but begged them to get involved and take on positions of leadership, but they either find some excuse why they can’t, or they get their feelings hurt over some trivial issue and leave the church.

      • senior adults are also among the most inflexible and stubborn church members. Many of them serve but they want to serve their way.

      • Susan Perelka says on

        Has anyone ever thought about the fact that everyone in the church is at a different level of spiritual maturity (and that is not dependant on how long you have been a christian). Doesn’t scripture tell the more spiritually mature to be more patient with those who are weaker in the faith and do nothing that might hinder their spiritual growth. Some people just need some time to mature. Doesn’t scripture say that ANYTHING done without LOVE, helps no one, does no good, a noisy gong. 1 corinthians 13. The thing that I am disturbed the most about in the church is the lack of LOVE. It manifests itself in many different ways. We get so engrossed on accomplishing a goal, that we aren’t loving people while accomplishing it, I am disturbed by the amount of unkind christians. I think this is most likely the number one cause of burnout. People are tired of all the work, but no love. Maybe we should be working more on our love walk (as defined in 1 corinthians 13) than in how many programs we have in the church. We could have a million programs, but without love it does no good. Not my words, but the LORDS. Please brethren, get back to loving one another according to Gods definition of love, not the worlds definition.

  • A much needed conversation. Thank you.

  • Harold Harris says on

    If we read Leviticus 16 and other passages about how God views sin and how we deserve Hell but were raised up from the gutter by Jesus’ gift then we could never burn out. We just think like the Pharisees that we are pretty good compared to others. If we asked the Holy Spirit to show us the reality of our sin we would fall on our face and humble ourselves before a Holy God and beg Him to let us serve.

  • Mary Beth says on

    Great points! I would to hear more suggestions after the points on how to keep from burning out. As a leader Im always trying to keep something new and exiting and rotate my team so burn out doesn’t happen. I do monthly meetings cause I feel like I lose them if I don’t. Should I not?

  • What’s a reasonable amount of time to ask someone to serve? Is twice a month too much? Is asking them to attend a small group during the week adding to the problem?

    I don’t know the answer to those questions. I do think all the talk about burnout leads some people to cry burnout, when it’s really just an issue of not wanting to serve.

    In a way it’s created an entirely new issue for pastors to deal with. I mean can you really burn out when you’re only serving once or twice a month. I feel like the Christians in Acts are looking down at this generation of American Christians and thinking, really?

    • Something that I haven’t read anyone comment on is; when our members are so busy in the world ( with good and bad things) they are so warn out by the time Sunday comes along, all they want to do is sit and be served! Also some of those same people do not understand the truth “all are called to serve”! The desire is either not there or not strong enough!
      This is a great area for prayer focus, that the hearts of the Congregational members we already have, would come alive, be changed and the need to take their faith more seriously would become apparent! Then we would see the ‘Body of Christ’ functioning in a greater way! And that would please our Heavenly Father!

  • I am coming up on the end of my term as Finance Director of my church. I have served two two year terms. I think like most churches we are strapped for funds to run our church and school. It is a very stressful position and we are having a hard time getting anyone to volunteer. We are looking at splitting the responsablities between a couple of people so it isn’t such a burden. This position requires the director to sit on the Personnel board, Finance Board and Church Counsel. We hope to divide these duties to avoide burn out. A couple of our boards have already begun this practice. Like most we have the same people doing the work. We have begged our congergation to step up but it has been in vain. I continue to ask God for his guideness. Thank you for letting me vent my fustration. May God keep you in his care.

    • God provides the church all that is needed to do what He wants it to do. The problem is that pastors and church leaders do not know their people, the talents, nor their gifts. Many tools exist to find this out. Pastors are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Too many pastors and leaders are overjoyed when a new person or family joins but fail to get to know why God has brought them into that church. God always has a reason. I believe the main fault of idle church members lies with the church leaders, especially the pastor. Get to know your people and why God brought them to the church!

  • My burnout is not related to working in ministry – I LOVE what I do and the team I am working with. My burnout has to do with going to church on Sundays. I have heard these sermons before… they lack the freshness of the Spirit. I feel like I am attending a lecture, and getting together big-group style doesn’t foster connection. I am all about small group ministry and am active in that, but Sunday morning church means nothing to me at this point.

    • Hey Dawn,
      What if you took your focus off of the sermon, and put your focus on connecting with new faces on Sunday mornings. Not that you’re not listening to the sermon, just that it’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is in fostering relationships that point others to Christ. It’s the relationships that make Sunday mornings so special to me.

  • Louis J Wachsmuth says on

    I quit after forty very active years. I found the basic structure of sitting and listening to a hired seminary expert tell me what the bible says, as if I don’t own or read the bible; this is not the path for spiritual growth. Church should be a workshop where christians practice the skills of memory work, public speaking, writing, all based on the bible and personal life experiences. Only through personal study and memorizing that long, hard book can a christian “walk with the Lord.”

  • Thom Rainer says on

    Rob –

    I don’t have an easy answer, Rob. You are in my prayers right now.