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4 Monster Mistakes

Al Newell

Take a deep breath and slay those boogeyman issues in your recruiting closet

I cracked an egg to create an omelette. As if the yolk were trying to escape, it fled the shell much quicker than I'd anticipated. Splat!

A wet paper towel cleaned up the mess. I grabbed another egg and virtually erased the mistake from my memory. Some mistakes -- such as my dropped egg -- are easily remedied. Other errors, however, have a more lasting impact.

Take, for instance, the time I failed to heed the warning of the sulfur-like aroma that surrounded our car as we traveled across Nebraska. I surmised that the smell had emanated from the nearby stockyards. Entrenched in denial, I finally awakened when the car died, leaving us stranded miles from any town. We were forced to cram into a filthy tow truck. My wife, Wendy, waited in a near-deserted restaurant with our three whiny, hungry children while I visited the mechanic, who assured me that we wouldn't be leaving town anytime soon. The five of us stayed in "the" hotel. Did I mention that one of my children had a high fever and that they all were under 3? As I said, some mistakes are easily remedied and forgotten, while other mistakes become bloated and downright scary.

So it is with recruiting children's ministry volunteers. Some recruiting mistakes aren't too costly, while others become monstrous. We may innocently repeat errors, but like unchecked smoke, these monster mistakes create a nasty atmosphere in which recruiting becomes more difficult -- even next to impossible. Let's look at the four most common monster mistakes in volunteer recruiting for children's ministry.

MONSTER #1: The Painless Position

Research shows that most volunteers are willing to serve three hours per week. In Volunteer Management, Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch point to the trend of volunteers opting for short terms of service. With that understanding in mind, many well-intentioned leaders design positions accordingly. They make the children's volunteer position easier to attract more volunteers. Five short of the desired 30 volunteers, a children's ministry director reasons that because she has trouble recruiting the necessary volunteers to serve in the children's ministry each week, she makes the position less painful by requiring volunteers to serve only once every four weeks.

This solution and others like it are typically welcomed because they provide temporary relief; however, a closer look shows that making the position easier actually creates a monster of a recruiting environment for several reasons. First, by opting for the painless position, you quadruple your recruiting problem. Instead of 30 volunteers per month, you now need 120 from a recruitment pool that hasn't grown. Second, requiring less commitment cheapens the ministry position itself, making it difficult for volunteers to see their role as anything more than a once-every-four-weeks-baby-sitting-duty. This has the unintentional result of chasing away passionate volunteers who were hoping to change lives but who don't want to play with the junior varsity. Third, many volunteers will now interpret this once-a-month commitment as their entire service to the church, creating a drain on overall human resources. Last, by easing the requirement, you've placed a burden on your children, requiring them to adapt to a new teacher every week.

Slaying Monster #1

How do we solve the common recruitment problem of the painless position? To begin, realize that creating easy jobs is never the long-term solution. Can you imagine ministry positions in the New Testament being offered in such a way? "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men in less than three hours a week." If you ask for a noble commitment, you'll get a noble commitment; if you ask for a mediocre commitment, you'll get no commitment. Look for fewer volunteers with greater commitment. Strangely, setting the standards higher will eventually create greater interest.

Marine recruiters understand this perfectly. When they stand in front of high school classes, they say, "I'm not talking to everyone here, but to the one person who might have the makeup to be a Marine." A former Marine boasted that recruits would wait in line. This 1860 ad for pony express riders in a San Francisco newspaper similarly makes the point:

"WANTED: Young...fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred."

Despite the challenge, or maybe because of it, a lack of riders was never a problem. Today's Christians need a challenge, not an easy way out.

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