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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  • Maybe there’s an even greater underlying problem, the elephant in the room, so to speak. Did God ever intend the church to be a building with a huge mortgage, large paid staff, and programs to keep everyone busy? 80-90% of giving goes towards the mortgage and staff salaries in most churches, and often congregations are so big that anyone could attend unnoticed for years. How can a pastor possibly “shepherd” hundreds or thousands of people? The people who volunteer either believe in the programs, or they feel guilty enough to help out on a regular basis. But what is actually being accomplished? Are believers studying the Bible for themselves, rather than being spoon-fed by the pastor or a published Bible study, and are they boldly and lovingly praying for others outside of church time? Is anyone truly discipled? Are people actually maturing? And who is checking up on them? Or has the church become a business whose bottom line is the driving factor? (This comes from someone whose entire family volunteered for over 30 years in two churches, who were respected for their leadership and commitment, and who now attends a home church and finally sees that church could and should be whole lot simpler than we’ve made it.)

    • I am totally with you on that one. Church has become like a business. I knew there would be comments on here that people are ‘lazy’ or ‘uncommitted’ etc. Whatever. Modern life is busy and stressful, many commute long distances to work, it’s not the 1950s anymore and the church hasn’t adapted to the fact people have lives outside the building. My church is small, congregation-led and run by chronic workaholics who unfortunately wear busyness as a badge of honour. All I’m managing is the Sunday service at the moment, along with refreshments and doing the church website (they didn’t have one). I can’t do the thurs evening group because I’ve had severe fatigue for months now. It started as a one off study course, but morphed into a weekly meeting with no clear purpose, basically a social. Then a leader suggested everyone contributing to the music. I just said no. I don’t play anything, and we’re just too small a congregation! My husband and I have had a lot going on this year (workplace restructures, house move, bereavement) but seem to have taken on more tasks at church. Because it’s run by workaholics, no one is busier than they are, so… Help!

  • Ashley Downey says on

    I am currently at a church where I have been a member for a few year, but for the last few months have been feeling burnt out. I know it because I do a lot of things at the church. I am on several committees and I do a lot of volunteer work for the church. I noticed that most of the people on the committees are the same people who do a lot for the church as well. It is getting to the point where I am looking to start looking at other churches to visit.

  • Sean Idland says on

    I do have a question for you about an issue I am facing in my church: I think it fell under #3, but what about an individual does too much? You see, I do the audio/visual at my church, and have been doing it for 11 years this March. As of late, however, I have had to do everything, and I have been holding the proverbial bag as far as being the technical support at my church as it were. My duties in this nature extend outside of my church because I am the one who has to edit and upload our sermon videos to my churches YouTube channel. It is very hard for me to ask for time off since I am working solo and having to run 3 things at once, and I find myself exhausted when I leave for the day. Is there any advice you can give to my situation?

  • I think a big reason is, that it is easiest for staff to ask faithful people who are already doing more, to do more, instead of asking the people who aren’t doing anything. In my experience, in certain churches if you serve well in one area, you get asked the next year to add another thing to your plate, and then another, and another. You end up with a core 20 percent of the people who are doing 3-4 things each, and the other 80 percent sitting on their rear benefiting from the people who work. The service-minded members are used to saying yes, so they do without thinking about it. It’s the path of least resistance for the staff to ask those people. The problem is, in a few years these people feel unappreciated and totally burned out. \

    Just an opinion from a non-staff church member.

  • This article really resonated with me . I am LDS , and I was asked to help minister with the teenage girls called young women’s . I was excited to be a leader and help the girls gain testimonies of Jesus Christ and work with other leaders . Being the youngest leader I felt like I could give great ideas because I was closer to the girls age. Then the young women’s president or main leader moved and they put someone else in . The new leader did not invite me to meetings to plan activities and rarely asked for my thoughts or ideas. Our numbers of girls coming to church dwindled, along with trying to fellowship girls who went coming as regularly. I felt disheartened , I finely asked my bishop ( similar to pastor) to give me a new ministry (aka calling)) to do because I felt like I wasn’t needed. Now I feel needed again ,and hope this time around it’ll be better.

  • Very good points Thom and this topic clearly created great discussion! This is one of those topics that has always been a challenge for churches and will continue to be one to a certain degree at least for years to come. However, I definitely believe believer burnout can improve in the church. As a pastor at my local church I saw this issue at work all the time and as a consultant to churches I have heard about it for years from many pastors too.

    I specifically think your point number 5 is a key thing to help solve the issue. I think pastors are often afraid to encourage members to serve or set expectations for them because they feel they may lose their membership etc. However I believe if the benefits of serving are encouraged such as: fulfillment that comes in using one’s gifts, or the blessing serving brings to themselves and others; a believer will respond to serve more optimally or not get burned out as easily too. Spiritual benefits trump a feeling of obligation!

  • The five reasons listed by Dr. Ranier are a good starting place but the next four reasons will call on your Church to focus on the real purpose of being called a Christian – “Doing Ministry”. The Great Commission was not given to the church or any one church and it was definitely not given to any one organization… It was given to the followers of Christ. Jesus intended his commission to call all of his followers to go into the world and make a difference and make disciples.

    The Church has actually never made a disciple; instead it has been the People in the Church.

    If we believe, it is people that do ministry and not the Church we need to address members.

    Why do Members get burned out?

    1. Members have either not received a “Call” to a ministry or have not followed through on the call they have received. If you talk to people who are not serving in any ministry position in your church the common answer for “Why are you not serving?” is “I don’t know what to do.” Or “no one has asked me to serve.” Unfortunately, most Pastors and Ministers do not know what you are call to either.

    2. Members burn out because they either do not believe in or have a passion for the ministry they are performing. As the Church, the organization, we have a responsibility to lead members into using what passions they have in serving God. Why did Jesus tell Peter, James and John that he wanted to make them fishers of men? Because they loved fishing, they were passionate about it. Notice Jesus never called any of his disciples to do ministry that they were not passionate about or where they were not skilled.
    3. Give people freedom to minister. Too often I find people doing the work the Pastor or Missions committee believes in but the church body does not share the same level of commitment. Why is that? Is it lack of leadership or a desire for too much control? Should we be afraid of letting our members do the ministry to which they have been called? When Jesus sent the 70 disciples out in Luke 9 he did not limit them in any way. He taught them and then empowered them to do ministry. He trusted them to do what the Spirit lead them to do.

    4. People get burned out and drop out when they are serving in a ministry for which they are poorly prepared. Have you had the experience of getting people to fill a slot because you have to have so many people on a committee or in a ministry role but knowing they did not have any skills or desire necessary to be successful in that ministry position? If you have been in ministry long, you must have seen this in your churches.

    Dr. Ranier is correct when he points out that some churches need to get rid of outdated programs or ministries that no longer are viable. With such limited resources, the Church must define itself and pour resources into productive efforts and ministries. So how do we find the workers to carry out these ministries? The answer if not as hard as we try to make it. Business has known for a long time your best employees are those that believe in the product or service they make or sell and have a passion for what they build, sell or produce. Employees that are informed of the goals of the company and the benefit for reaching that goal are also the best producing employees and finally, employees that are trained or have a history in the area of work are also the best employees.

    So the question is, why don’t we learn these lessons and apply them to the work of ministry?

    Some churches have tried to use Spiritual Gifts Inventories to give members a look into their spiritual makeup and help them as they seek out ministry opportunities. Many churches find these frustrating because after the assessment there is no means of guiding a person to a ministry that matches their gifts.

    Passions inventories are much the same. Either the passions are too limited and do not truly reflect the person and the life issues about which they are truly passionate.

    Can you name the people in your church that are passionate about Facebook, Twitter or Linked in? How would you use these passions in performing ministry and missions? Who is passionate about cooking, writing, singing, sewing or any other activity that are people engage themselves? Again, the traditional assessments do not measure these passions or assist the Pastor or Church in guiding people to a real ministry opportunity.

    New software can now be utilized by the church organization that provides insight and guidance for church ministers to help members find an appropriate area of service.

    AIM can identify a person’s Passions from a list of 202 unique activities

    Spiritual Gifts Inventories based on 7, 9, 16, 20 or 23 gifts (your choice)

    156 Skills in 9 categories clearly identify what your church member know and how they work in your organization.

    291 Vocations and job history complete the assessments.

    The most exciting feature of this software is the ability to generate a Ministry Profile that actually searched a database of 275 ministry opportunities and determines the best matches for an individual.

    Now, does this mean you have to have all these ministries? NO! but, you now have a tool that gives you tremendous insight into your members and what they are Equipped for, Skilled in, Passionate about and Gifted. This has never been available before but churches that can define their mission and equip their opportunities with members that are Skilled, Passionate, Gifted and prepared through past vocations, will see volunteers that will have fewer people dropping out due to burn out.

    For more information visit or email [email protected]

  • I was involved for 17 years with a legalistic church which did not encourage the body to discover it’s gifts but instead picked those who the leadership thought had gifts. Then I was involved for 13 years with a church that encouraged the body to discover their gifts, trained them to use their gifts and then released them to ministry in a balanced way. Which of these do you think I flourished in? The latter and by using my gifts in ministry I never burned out but became even more energized because in a balanced way I was serving the Lord not the leadership.

  • I have experienced both burnout and guilt. I am a teacher in a public school, and have always been asked to do many kinds of ministry with children. I’m frequently asked to teach a children’s Sunday School class. After all, I’m with kids all week so I must love children and want to be with them on Sunday mornings also. Right?
    Try explaining to a children’s ministry leader that you don’t want to teach on Sundays when you teach all week. They don’t understand, and seem to do their best to lay on the guilt. (“What would Jesus do? He gathered the little ones near him. I can’t believe you don’t want to train up these children in the way they should go.” Yep, I’ve actually had all of that said to me.) I’ve tried to explain that you don’t want to do your job on Sunday, and teaching kids at church is asking me to do my job. I understand the reasoning behind asking teachers, but that’s the quickest way to get us to burnout in our jobs and ministry. Put yourself in my shoes. If you weld all week, would you want to weld at church every Sunday? Probably not.
    Don’t get me wrong. I love kids. I love teaching them, but even those of us who love teaching kids need a break. I will gladly bake all of the cookies you need, put together treat bags, help with costumes, etc. I will also gladly teach when someone’s in a bind, but asking me to teach six days a week is a good way to get me to burn out.
    Please be considerate of what people do for a living, and tread lightly when asking them to do that at church every Sunday.

  • Ray Killorn says on

    Dr. Thom,
    As a layman in church I have struggled with this problem that you are addressing here for more than a few years. I loved your very incisive conclusion: “It does not have to be.” In my mind I am proposing to limit my response to your first point, which I believe should far over shadow your other points.
    The point: “The church does not have clear purposes or vision.”
    Does my involvement in Church grow out of my understanding of God’s grace or in spite of it?
    Does doctrinal emphasis on: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy—” create a philosophical tension which counters ‘good works’ for God?
    Is not this passive approach to Christian living simply a perverse way of ‘continuing in sin that grace may abound?’
    Of course we should “Tell the old, old story.” Is it possible that we have overlooked something ELSE that is included in our wonderful BOOK that can set our hair on fire and make us all bright eyed and bushy tailed?
    It all comes down to emphasis. It is not like what I am going to say next is obscure or difficult. Something like the place in Hebrews that tells us that Jesus ‘learned obedience.’ I don’t even think Bible believers will find what I have to say as controversial. Many scholars treat ‘my most important verses’ like they are the last offer by Christ to the Jewish people to turn away from their rejection of Him as their God or a welcome respite from the hurly burly of our hectic lives.
    And so it is with the things that are disputes between the various sects of Christianity. We find it emotionally unsettling to give up what we consider most important in our understanding of scripture when we are faced with other Christian’s emphases on the Christian life.
    I would like to suggest yet another different emphasis in our treatment of what God has given us in the Bible.
    That emphasis is focus on how an individual’s revelation of Jesus from the Holy Spirit happens.
    The answer to that, in a word, is obedience, but that word needs to be unpacked.
    There IS a link between the words of scripture and my acquisition of the longing displayed by the apostle that gave us the gospel of: “Not by works * *.” In Philippians 3 he testified: “This one thing I do,” He then continued on describing his focus in one of the most loved portions of the New Testament and then finished off the ‘one thing’ with the WHY. His vision, his reason for not wanting to depart and be with the Lord. In this portion Paul’s hair is on fire, he is very far from being weary in well doing. He can’t wait for the next interaction between him and the Holy Spirit when he takes the next step in the journey laid out before him.
    THAT I MAY KNOW HIM! (Can anyone say hallelujah?)
    Probably the most important place in gospels for us to focus in order to heal all the many misplaced emphases in our lives (Please try to agree with me on this!!) is Matthew 11:28-30 “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
    Sorry but I don’t see ‘searching the scriptures’ directly implied at all here. I do see work though. Lots of it. It goes something like this: First you ask God: “Lord, what will you have me to do?” Then you listen. This next is where it gets right down to earth. We know that there is reference in our Book of reward being granted for giving glasses of water, visits to prison, providing clothes and feeding the hungry just to name a few. Sometimes we get it wrong, we are sure, because there is such a pressing need that we are supposed to step in and fill it. All the while we have not acquired the spiritual skill of ‘vetting’ our urges to cull out the ones that are not from God. With time it becomes a skill, an acquired discipline or to borrow a word that I promised to talk about, this discipline is obedience.
    I have taken the liberty of restating the first words of Matthew 11:29 as: “If you will do what I ask of you, you will receive revelation of me.”
    He is our reward. As Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”

  • May I add one? The church doesn’t have the right ministries that meet one’s spiritual gift(s). One will quickly burn out if he/she is in a wrong ministry. On another note, churches must have enough ministry opportunities available for members to serve.

  • My wife and I belong to a church of a little less than 150 attending each Sunday.
    Ours is one of those churches where everything that is done in the church is done by the same 30 people that have done it for years, and not because they necessarily want to, but because no one else will. We literally cannot dynamite folks out of their laziness and into church ministry positions.
    As a result, people are getting burned out and some end up leaving because of it. This only leaves more slots that need to be filled and guess who it is that fill them….but the same folks that are already up to their eyeballs in ministry.
    I have actually been told by people that “they will not visit or attend our church because it is too small and probably “too needy” for workers and that bigger churches are much easier to hide in”.
    This lack of volunteerism seems to be getting a bigger and bigger problem in churches everywhere. I seem to hear the same complaints from most all of my church going friends.
    It’s reached critical stage where trying to fit people into ministry that matches their talents is not even an option since those with the talents are not exactly standing in lines to serve. In our particular church the only requirement is that you are warm, breathing, vertical and willing.