These 10 recruiting mistakes can cost you new volunteers. Here’s how to avoid them.
Remember that person you had such a crush on in high school? Maybe you flirted and worked overtime to impress your crush, delighted when your efforts resulted in a first date. And things went beautifully on that magical evening; the two of you set a second date and leaned in to say good night. Then it happened: You said or did something that sent your date running to the next county, never to be seen again. Maybe you mentioned something about kids, or perhaps you revealed a personal idiosyncrasy even your mother would cringe at. Whatever happened, you closed your front door that night with the gut feeling that you’d blown any opportunity for a relationship with your crush.
So it goes with potential volunteers who are hesitant about whether to commit to your ministry. As a volunteer recruiter, you think you’ve done what’s necessary to win and impress, only to discover that your words or actions sent the potential volunteer running for the exit — never to step forward or show interest in your ministry again.
Here are 10 ways not to lose a new volunteer — and tips to transform those flirting with ministry into dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.
Mistake #1: Failing to Recognize the Person in a Crowd
So often children’s ministers make this plea from the pulpit: “Just drop your name in the offering and we’ll contact you to help.” So Mary drops her name in the plate, she likes kids and would like more information — maybe children’s ministry is where she can finally plug in. But a week goes by, then two, and still no one’s contacted her. Then, there’s hope. Her email inbox has a message from you, but when Mary reads it, she realizes it’s a mass email to everyone who responded to the plea. Yes, position openings are listed with a contact number, but Mary hits delete and decides to pass on volunteering if this is the experience she can expect.
Solution #1: Always follow up within 48 hours of an announcement from the pulpit or in the church bulletin — and make the contact personal. Call potential volunteers personally or meet with them face-to-face to go over your needs, their interests, and to answer any questions they have about the ministry. People appreciate the personal attention from someone who’s currently a leader in the ministry.
Mistake #2: Asking People to Help As a Favor
Nothing can ruin a relationship, new or seasoned, faster than asking someone to help in your ministry as a favor to you. Of course it’s difficult for a person to turn you down if you’re positioning your volunteer need as a personal one. Friends may fill your volunteer needs out of obligation to you, but their volunteer experience will be unsatisfactory and unfulfilling if they’re serving in an area that’s not a good fit for them and is done out of guilt.
Solution #2: If you have friends or acquaintances who want to serve in children’s ministry, you already have a recruiting advantage because you’ve got an established relationship with them. But don’t assume that children’s ministry is a good fit for your friends. Have all potential volunteers — regardless of your relationship with them — fill out an interest inventory or spiritual gift assessment to make sure the volunteer opportunities available are a good fit on both ends.
Mistake #3: Throwing Newbies to the Lions
A potential volunteer has filled out all the paperwork and passed the background check — and you desperately need someone in the preteen class, which hasn’t had a consistent volunteer leader in weeks. So you hand over the materials and send your new recruit into the trenches, only to get the materials back at the end of the service with a polite, “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass,” as your new recruit exits the building — and your ministry.
Solution #3: Make sure potential volunteers can observe different areas of service under a seasoned volunteer’s leadership. People considering volunteering in children’s ministry may want to shadow a current volunteer for a time, or maybe they’d prefer to volunteer with classroom prep or in the kitchen rather than in the classroom. Provide new volunteers with entry point opportunities — or “ministry in small bites” opportunities — especially if they’re inexperienced. Serving pizza at a preteen event may result in a person realizing that he or she likes kids that age and wants to be more involved in that ministry — or it may be an eye-opener and solidify that the nursery is a better fit.
Mistake #4: Giving Potential Recruits a False Impression
A cardinal rule of dating is to be yourself because the truth will eventually come out. The same can be said about courting someone for a volunteer position in your ministry. If you paint a picture of the ministry or volunteer position that isn’t accurate, your new volunteers will feel they were recruited under false pretenses and won’t be in it for the long haul.
Solution #4: Describe your ministry accurately. Don’t say you have classroom ratios of six kids for every one leader and then stick a new volunteer in a room alone with 15 kids. Develop a volunteer manual for potential volunteers to read that includes your ministry values and mission. Let recruits know what each job’s time commitment is each week and what their role would be on the team, including who they’d report to and what team they’d serve on. Have ministry descriptions available for every service opportunity, from small group leaders to clean-up crew.
Mistake #5: Talking the Talk, But Not Walking the Walk
As a leader you may give a great first impression, presenting your ministry with enthusiasm and passion. But after chatting with current volunteers and observing you in action, a potential volunteer sadly realizes that you’re not that excited about the ministry — and actually feels sorry for you because you’re obviously in a job you dread.
Solution #5: If you love what you’re doing, it shows. Your enthusiasm about the ministry is contagious. Your attitude goes a long way in converting interested people into committed volunteers, so check it when you’re having a tough time getting volunteers to commit. People may be hesitant because you are, too.
Mistake #6: Making Assumptions
Isn’t it obvious? We have a need in children’s ministry for volunteers — everyone knows that. But maybe not. You may assume that parents see the lack of help in your ministry (which is obvious to you). In reality, though, parents may be willing to help, but they assume you have it all covered. After all, you’d ask if you needed help, right?
Solution #6: Clearly communicate your needs with everyone — not only potential volunteers, but also other ministry leaders, current volunteers, and individuals at the church who work with new members or gift assessments. Keep up-to-date volunteer needs posted on your church Web site and in your bulletin or newsletter. If a position becomes available and you know someone who’d potentially be a good fit, personally make a call and explain why you feel he’d be perfect for the job. And don’t be afraid to ask for help — people can’t respond to a need they don’t even know exists.
Mistake #7: Failing to Share the Mission
People want to feel they’re part of something important; they want to know they’re making a difference. If you talk to potential volunteers and fail to communicate the mission of your ministry, you’ve probably failed to win them over or convince them of the vital role of your ministry.
Solution #7: Share your ministry’s mission with everyone you speak to because often the person you’re talking to may be a potential volunteer. When people realize that changing a diaper isn’t just ridding the room of a stinky substance, that it’s actually an act of caring for a little one as Jesus would, it suddenly becomes a job that matters. Or playing a guitar as kids worship is modeling that it’s cool to love and worship God. Potential volunteers need to know there’s a reason behind the job you ask them to do — so share it, and share it often.
Mistake #8: Offering No Options
“We only have one opening right now, so if you can’t help in the 4-year-old room then I’m sorry, we can’t use you.” Or maybe you shut the door on a 15-year-old because you think teenagers are too young to volunteer in your ministry. Inflexibility will definitely result in a potential volunteer’s quick exit.
Solution #8: Create many entry points into your ministry for potential volunteers. Even if every teaching position is filled (Hallelujah!), find an opportunity for potential volunteers and grow them into other positions as they become available. You can often hook a volunteer with a clearly defined, short-term task. Never turn people away who are willing to give their time and talent to your ministry. Have opportunities for people to serve in some capacity so they feel connected with you and the team.
Mistake #9: Not Equipping People for the Job
Volunteers won’t last long if they don’t feel they’ve been trained or equipped to do the job. And volunteers who’ve been around awhile will quickly become bored if they don’t feel they’re growing in skill and expertise.
Solution #9: Be clear with potential volunteers about how you’ll equip them for the job. If they’re leading a small group, provide training on the curriculum and group facilitation techniques. If you want someone to supervise a craft station, make sure they have all the supplies and instructions to do the craft. Offer ongoing training for all volunteers to help them stay fresh and equipped to minister to children.
Mistake #10: Being Void of Gratitude
If your current volunteers are invisible to you, chances are new volunteers will notice the lack of appreciation for those who serve in your ministry. If potential volunteers feel that you expect participation rather than welcome it, they’ll likely pass on the opportunity.
Solution #10: Be generous with gratitude, thanking volunteers often. Always speak positively about current volunteers and demonstrate how important they are by showering them with praise and appreciation. Remember that happy volunteers often serve as your best recruiters.
The next time you make a big push to fill volunteer needs, keep in mind the things you say and do that could turn off potential volunteers. Remember, those flirting with your ministry might just be a match made in heaven when it comes to impacting kids for Jesus. Don’t lose them!
Carmen Kamrath is a former associate editor for Children’s Ministry Magazine.