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Recruiting volunteers is really hard. Most of us don’t get much training on how to do this well, much less any resources to accomplish it properly. I hope this blog series will help you get better at recruiting. Additionally, my husband and I have put together some of the tools I have used over the years that have really helped me, and we’ve tailored them to youth ministry. You can download them from the YouthMin.org store here.
I can almost guarantee you did not go into ministry to recruit volunteers. Who knew a large part of what you do would be recruiting, organizing, and training volunteers? Chances are, you got into ministry because at some point, you experienced the transforming love and grace of Jesus Christ and you wanted to help people experience that in their own lives. In short, we all got into ministry to be a part of the life-changing process that happens in the lives of Christians. So we started volunteering at our church, or participated in internships, and leadership development programs. Maybe we even went to bible college! And we did all this to be better equipped for ministry. Then we get our first ministry job. It’s awesome. Preaching, teaching, creating discipleship curriculum or programs. We think we are on track, and then it happens. We find out that a big part of our job isn’t actually about us doing those things. We discover a big part of our job is actually about recruiting and training volunteers. It can be discouraging. There are a lot of moments in ministry that are disenchanting. Some of them are short lived, but the area of recruiting is one that stays with you. It can be discouraging, but it’s part of your job… So what can you do?
I have been there. When I had my first ministry role, I was so excited to serve in the church. I was the Elementary Director (over 1st-5th grades) and we had an average of 80 kids each week. I don’t remember how many volunteers we started with, just that it never felt like we had enough. People were always calling off at the last minute, and I was always scrambling to fill spots. I spent Saturdays fielding phone calls from volunteers who weren’t going to make it the next day and making calls to subs. I never had a day off. I taught the large group time and sometimes I also taught a small group. I was stretched thin and became discouraged. Then when I asked if we could make an announcement in church to share the need for volunteers, I was told, “that isn’t the way we do that.” It made me feel like the church didn’t care, and I began to feel bitter toward the church and resentful toward my leadership. It didn’t help when I was told that it was everyone’s job to recruit, and more specifically, I needed to make it a bigger part of what I was doing. I hated that feeling. I felt like a salesperson trying to convince people that it would be fun to serve, or that they would enjoy it. Anyone relate?
Every church expects its staff to recruit. Take a look at any job description posted for any pastoral role today. They always include something like, “responsible for recruiting, training and equipping leaders/volunteers.” Every church expects this, but very few churches train or equip their staff and ministry leaders to do it. Even fewer bible colleges talk about it. I hear the need for training in almost every forum I am a part of and every conference I attend. The last-ditch effort of a perplexed pastor asking, “How do you guys get people to serve in your ministry?” Or it comes out too late, and sounds more like, “I am the only one at our church who cares about students, or discipleship, or kids, or…” and “I do everything at our church and people are always complaining.” I hear these statements all the time, and my heart breaks for them. I have been there. Maybe you have too. Maybe, just maybe, you are there now. I get it. I used to hate this part of the job, but now it’s one of my favorite things.
I have a Master’s Degree in Christian Education & Youth Ministry. In my program, I studied a wide variety of things, but there was never a class offered about recruiting volunteers. However, I was fortunate. That first church staff I served on trained us.
That first church took the time to teach us healthy recruiting techniques like how to identify the needs in our ministry, and how to bring new volunteers on board well. Over the next few weeks, I will unpack each of those techniques. It was the first piece of a puzzle that I needed to understand recruiting better. I was the children’s elementary director at the time, and with the training they provided, we saw our elementary ministry change. We saw a lot of ministries change. That’s a nod toward a senior pastor, who took time to pour into and develop his entire staff—you know who you are. Eventually, I served as the children’s pastor at the church. It was an incredible honor and an awesome team. Are you in a place where you can say that about your church? I wasn’t always, but that’s a different blog.
The tools to recruit and onboard people helped tremendously. In learning how to do those things, I had been given a bigger picture of what it could look like to bring people in. I leaned into them and did what I was told, but honestly I didn’t own it. I still felt a bit like a salesperson. There is nothing wrong with sales, I just didn’t sign up for that. I didn’t get into ministry to convince people to help make services happen. I had to develop a better understanding of why it was important and why I shouldn’t be doing it alone. Recruiting is important. Asking people to join you in the work of the ministry expands the kingdom of God. But I had to figure that out and until I did, none of the other things were nearly as effective as they could (and should) be.
Too often we make the mistake of assuming that it is our job to make ministry happen. But that isn’t our role. Our role is to move the ministry forward. If we are doing everything all by ourselves, chances are we are barely maintaining. The last church I was on staff at gave me the final piece of the puzzle. One of the core values of the church was a simple phrase, “We don’t use people to get the work done, we use the work to get the people done.” What does that mean? In short, the goal is people becoming who God made them to be, not getting all the tasks accomplished. I was the first impressions director at that church. This perspective helped me realize a few things. I realized it wasn’t about filling spots on my team, my job performance, meeting the expectations of others, recruiting numbers, making sure everything happened perfectly, or making sure I was fulfilling commitments; it was about helping others again. With this final piece of the puzzle—and my willingness to explore the idea that there is more to this than people just filling spots on the roster—we saw God bring in over 25 volunteer greeters my first year on staff. We went from a ministry of hurt and disheartened volunteers to a ministry with volunteer coaches excited to train and encourage others and a committed team of volunteers.
Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging about the process I went through and the truths I learned along the way. I hope it encourages you and challenges you in the way you think about recruiting. If I told you the key to good recruiting is not about the willingness of others or the size of your church, but it is about you, would you believe me? Would you roll your eyes? Would you say, “Yes, I know,” because you have heard it before but still don’t believe it? Well, like it or not, it is. It isn’t about the people in your church or how many there are. It is about your view of why you are asking people to be a part of the ministry. It’s about your attitude, your heart, your willingness to be a team player (even if that means helping people serve somewhere else if they don’t fit well in your ministry), and your willingness to see people grow in their gifts. The tools help, and I will share about how to use them too. However, It all starts with you.
In the meantime, I’m praying for you. And I have one last thing to share: when things look bleak in ministry, I try to remember the grumbling of the Israelites in the desert when faced with the uncertainty of their future, and I remind myself, “God did not bring you out into this desert to die.” He is with you, He has a plan. I pray for you who feel alone and are disheartened and discouraged in the ministry you have been called to. I pray that God brings people alongside you to encourage you and run the race with you.
Did your church train its staff on how to recruit volunteers?
Where are you at in this process? Are things going great and thriving? Are you just looking to streamline what you already do? Are you feeling stuck? Are you discouraged? Not sure? An easy test is to pay attention to the things you say about volunteers this week.
What have you tried to increase your volunteer numbers?