Volunteer Vampires | How To Avoid Burnout & Leave the Life in Your Group
Halloween is less than a week away. I hate this time of year when all the scary movies come out and even show up on TV.
The faces of creepy monsters, ax murderers, ghosts and goblins invade my home through the screen, and may very well show up at my door soon. It's all sort of frightening, really.
But there is another frightening phenomenon I want to talk about today...and it may be happening in your church! I'm talking about a volunteer program or culture that drains the lifeblood out of good-hearted, well-meaning people. We don't mean for it to happen, but sometimes, when the fall festival is looming large or it's time to plan the Christmas play, the volunteer vampires come out of hiding.
I'm sure most of us have experienced this. I know of one church that unfortunately had this reputation. For whatever reason, talented and willing people were called upon, utilized, and used up until they literally had nothing left to give. We saw it happen time and time again. Someone new came in, they began to serve enthusiastically in many areas, and with time, more and more requests were made of them. Soon, their eyes glazed over. Their souls became dry. Eventually, they either left the church or continued serving with no heart. The vampires had struck again!
Now, before you throw a head of garlic at me, I really think there is something to be learned from this! In fact, I am going to bare my soul and tell you how I felt as a volunteer vampire victim...
I felt like a target.
When recruiting time came around, people I didn't even recognize suddenly became chummy and interested in me (similar to the negligent waiter at tip time). Their questions all seemed to lead me to one answer, serving in their ministry area. Discussions focused more on their needs than my possible match.
I felt like a donor.
My ideas were not accepted or welcomed. Those in leadership simply wanted bodies to delegate tasks to. There was no emotional engagement with the vision or even the people we were serving.
I felt drained.
Expectations were often unrealistic and did not take into account that I had other obligations (such as a full time job and a family).
I felt used.
I was asked to "fill in" at the last minute, but not given the same opportunity to lead when regular leaders were present.
I'm sure by now you are thinking, how do we make sure this doesn't happen in our church? Here are some ways to keep the volunteer vampires at bay, with or without the garlic.
- Get rid of guilt-based recruiting techniques. Instead, build authentic relationships and genuinely love people whether they are ready to serve or not. Allow people to discover their own passion for serving and help them connect based on their own gifts.
- Have an open mind and open door when it comes to new volunteers. Allow them to serve on committees, be part of planning meetings, and contribute ideas. The more ownership they feel, the more engaged and excited they will be.
- Create flexible serving opportunities. In other words, make room for each person to serve in their own capacity. If they can serve once a month, try to accommodate. Perhaps two people could "job-share" a position normally filled by one person. Be creative and flexible whenever possible.
- Give them a break. Allow time off on a regular basis. You may need to make this happen by providing a substitute or filling in yourself. (Just be sure you take time off for yourself, too.) Some churches put term-limits on positions to ensure that people are not burned out (or drained dry!)
- Recognize and nurture God's gifts in each person. Often people serve out of obligation. It's up to the leaders in the church to reinforce the belief that every member is a minister. The Bible tells us every person has a part in the Body of Christ. As each team member grows in this awareness, their attitude and perspective will change toward serving.
These steps will help your church ward off volunteer vampires and become a safe, welcoming place for people to serve, grow, and delight in the gifts God has given them. And you can save the garlic for the next spaghetti dinner...
Sue Brage worked in nonprofit marketing and communications for more than nine years before joining Group Publishing as Online Publisher and Editor for Church Volunteer Daily.com. Her experience as a writer, editor, and volunteer coordinator (not to mention wife and mother) gives her a unique perspective and ability to encourage and help leaders. She has a big heart for people and great passion for helping others serve their churches and communities better. Follow Sue on Twitter at @SueB rage and @CVCDaily
photo courtesy of cascott362 at photobucket