Question Box columnist Christopher White says that to deal with burnout, churches should pare their ministry down to the essentials and stop offering things whose time has passed. (Stock photo: Zoë Gayah Jonker/Unsplash)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Opinion

How to cope with volunteer burnout at your church

Question Box columnist Christopher White advises a reader worried about the lack of energy in their congregation

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Q: There seems to be a general lack of energy around our church. People are getting angry about the smallest of things. Is it just us? And what can we do about it?

A: No, it isn’t just you. The church that is emerging from COVID-19 is reflecting the anger present in much of society. There is a reason that there are so many signs in secular spaces saying that staff will not tolerate abusive behaviour. Mental fatigue and political polarization from the pandemic, along with financial stress, have a lot of people feeling persistent anger.

Then there is the fact that many United Church congregations are experiencing a time of existential crisis in meaning and purpose. People are energized when they have a clear sense of mission and direction. But now, too many of our key volunteers are simply tired out and don’t see the point of restarting a failing machine. 

Clergy are also tired and feeling isolated. I believe that’s connected to the loss of Presbytery. The decision to get rid of Presbytery has been an absolute disaster for the church. There is the law of unintended consequences, and the United Church’s restructuring has been stuffed with them.

Combine that with the fact that in-person attendance numbers haven’t returned to their pre-pandemic levels, and you can understand where we are.


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What to do? Stop trying to offer things whose time has passed. Instead, ask your congregation this: What gives people energy? What gives them life?  

Shape your ministry around that and cut out everything else. We all need to pare down to essentials. It’s the only way forward. 

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Rev. Christopher White is in ministry at Kedron United in Oshawa, Ont. 

This column first appeared in Broadview’s January/February 2023 issue with the title “Question Box.”


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  • says:

    As usual, Rev Christopher blends his ability size up the moment with a pastoral sensitivity helps people not only hear, but accept the reality.

    We should put this on a T-Shirt - "Stop trying to offer things whose time has passed. Instead, ask your congregation this: What gives people energy? What gives them life? Shape your ministry around that and cut out everything else. We all need to pare down to essentials. It’s the only way forward. "

  • says:

    As usual, Christopher White combines his ability to read the reality of a situation and speak in a pastoral voice that helps people not only hear, but accept what is.

    We should put this on a T-Shirt

    "Stop trying to offer things whose time has passed. Instead, ask your congregation this: What gives people energy? What gives them life?

    Shape your ministry around that and cut out everything else. We all need to pare down to essentials. It’s the only way forward."