One frequent cause of ministry burnout involves taking a scattershot approach. That is when you are doing too much with minimal results. This leads to spreading staff and volunteers too thin and burning them out over time. Instead, we need to prevent burnout by focusing on programs or events that consistently reach people with the Gospel and bear good fruit. This focused intensity can grow the church without burning out staff and volunteers.
It’s easy to see how a scattershot, or “try everything to see what works”, approach can happen. After all, we want to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel. We want to see lives changed and families restored, so we try many different methods to reach people:
- More services
- Small groups
- Sermon podcasts
- Marriage seminars
- Youth events
- Thanksgiving outreaches
- …and more
None of these efforts are bad or necessarily wrong. However, it’s important to consider whether it makes sense to pursue several of these all at once. In his book, How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, Jim Collins lays out five stages of decline in organizations. One of the stages is the “Undisciplined Pursuit of More.” He writes, “Companies in Stage 2 stray from the disciplined creativity that led them to greatness in the first place, making undisciplined leaps into areas where they cannot be great or growing faster than they can achieve with excellence, or both.”
How does this help prevent burnout in the church world?
Let’s say your church is running along well with two Sunday services, weekly small groups, and about one significant special event/program every couple of months. If you suddenly decide to add services on Saturday and Sunday nights, plus 1-2 special events each month, who will organize and make those additions successful? You’ll need to ask more from your staff, you’ll need additional volunteers, and will likely incur additional costs.
Instead of suddenly adding five new things, what if you added one or two? You’re still moving forward and opening up the possibility to reach more people. At the same time, you’re gradually adding to your volunteer teams and as the growth supports it, more staff members.
This method of slow, steady growth isn’t as cool or exciting as explosive growth. However, with this approach, your team will feel the energy that comes from new initiatives and growth without the overwhelm that comes from too much too fast. You’ll be better able to monitor progress and see what’s working, so you can put more energy and focus on what services or programs are truly reaching people with the Gospel and making disciples. You’re less likely to burn out your team and yourself with slower, more steady progress.
What is Your Current Approach?
Consider asking yourself these questions to evaluate your current approach:
- If you’re offering every flavor of event possible, how effective are those efforts?
- Are you consistently seeing people come to Christ?
- Can you point out specific stories of lives changed and families restored?
We’re afraid to cut an event or not launch a new campus because we think we’ll miss out on reaching people. That’s a real risk.
However, what is the cost of trying to do it all?
How long can staff members maintain that frantic pace?
How many late nights and missed family meals are spouses going to manage before they feel like they’ve lost their loved one to the church?
The temptation is that busyness feels like energy and doing good for God.
The reality is that busyness without focus and clear purpose wears out your team and your congregation.
What Should Church Leaders Do to Prevent Burnout?
#1 – Consider the events and services you currently offer
- Is this leading to people coming to Christ and growing in their relationship with God?
- How many people are consistently participating in this program?
- Are we seeing any growth in this program or is participation declining?
- Should we continue this? If not, decide whether to fade out or immediately eliminate it.
#2 – Determine what to offer next
- What have people asked for or asked if we offer?
- What does our community need (not just the congregation, but the community in which your church is located)?
- What could we accomplish that wouldn’t require us taking on debt or excessive overtime for our staff?
Ask God for His direction, seek out wise counsel, and then move forward. God wants to work through your church to reach people with the Good News more than you do. Trust Him to lead your team and help you know how to grow His church and prevent burnout.