You’ve scouted the best prospects for your volunteer positions,
you’ve made lists and organizational charts, you’ve created an
amazing recruiting campaign, and now you’re ready to pop the big
question: “Would you like to join our team?” All your hard work
boils down to that one question — and your potential volunteers’
You can dramatically increase your chances of hearing the golden
words: “Why yes, I’d be honored to serve in the children’s
ministry!” — if you implement these “deal-closing” ideas drawn
from the world of advertising sales.
• Communicate, communicate, commmunicate. Then
communicate more. Provide prospective volunteers with as much
information as possible concerning the responsibilities they’re
considering. (Job descriptions help.) Often people will say no
simply because they’re afraid of what they might be getting
themselves into. If you fill in the blanks for them and maintain
open communication, you’ll both be clear on the position’s
expectations. This way, you’ll also avoid the pitfall of having
your hard-won, new volunteers quit because they weren’t given full
disclosure of the position’s requirements. Everyone wins with
complete and concise information.
• Tout the benefits. People want to know
“What’s in it for me?” Before approaching someone about a volunteer
position, discern what possible benefits exist for the potential
team member. Whether it’s emotional fulfillment, greater exposure
to your church, or just a great way to make a difference, know
these upfront. The potential benefits help people catch hold of
your ministry’s vision.
• Welcome volunteers as friends. Building
relationships in any recruitment venture is key. If you haven’t
taken time to connect with your prospective volunteers on a
personal basis, they’re far less likely to commit to your team.
Take a potential volunteer out for coffee or share a meal together.
Work on building rapport, sharing your ministry vision, and
expressing your priorities. When people experience firsthand your
passion for ministering to children, they’re much more likely to
join ministry forces with you.
• Don’t waste time — yours or theirs. People
appreciate straightforwardness and forthrightness, even when the
news isn’t good. If you foresee problems with a background check,
mismatched goals, or any other stumbling block, it’s best to be
honest. Often potential problems can be worked through and
reassessed. By being succinct, direct, and kind in all your
communication, you not only show respect for others’ time, but also
you allow prospective volunteers to see that you handle situations
with efficiency and ease. Direct communication isn’t always easy;
but when an issue is skirted, everyone’s precious time is
• Value and treasure people. Never treat people
as a means to an end. People immediately sense if your recruitment
goals supersede your genuine interest in them. Always show respect
for people as individuals — not bodies on an organizational chart.
Let your behavior and courteousness toward prospective volunteers
speak for itself. Your most committed and loyal team members will
be those who truly believe you have genuine interest in and love
• Remember your higher purpose. Some-times it
takes away the apprehension and pressure of recruiting when we step
back and remember that popping the question really isn’t about us.
It’s about serving God and children. So focus on the outcome of
your efforts instead of the negative feelings you may have about
possible rejection. Rather than allowing anxiety to stall your
efforts, allow yourself to think of the children who’ll be
positively impacted and how this uniquely qualified person can make
that special difference in your children’s ministry program.
• Check back later. Remember that a no today
could be a yes tomorrow. People’s lives and responsibilities
change. The more people you connect with, the more possible
volunteers you’ll have later. If you show appreciation for people’s
situations, they’ll most likely be open to serving in the
• Affirm people’s qualities. Everyone likes to
be affirmed. And what better compliment is there than to suggest to
someone that he or she would be a welcome, vital part of your
children’s ministry team? When people feel you’ve noticed them and
their unique gifts and talents, it translates into a strong
affirmation — even if their answer is a no.
• Know when to say when. Recognize when a situation is a
“no-go.” Although you might’ve invested time and energy in
a potential volunteer, if you’re sensing red flags or the person
expresses serious doubts, walk away with good feelings on both
sides. Persuading someone to take a position who truly isn’t
equipped to do so is a huge mistake — and will lead to far more
work later. If a potential volunteer exhibits a large degree of
apprehension from the start, chances are the experience won’t be a
positive one long-term. Walk away.
• Give people amazing opportunities. Remember,
if the opportunity to serve is never offered to someone, that
person never gets to experience the joy of putting abilities and
spir-itual gifts into action. Many times we make assumptions —
about people’s lives, their circumstances, and their desires —
that are plain wrong. Some of your most dedicated and effective
volunteers may be people you least expected to show any interest in
children’s ministry. It pays to get to know your church members,
make personal contact, and — of course — ask! When you pop the
question, it could start an amazingly memorable experience — for
you, your volunteers, and the children.
We asked several experts and, well, nonexperts to share their
experiences when it came to successfully “popping the question” in
their field of expertise. Their responses offer interesting
insights into how we can approach the business of getting to
“I’m constantly amazed at how many people stumble their way into
marriage — and then wonder why their relationship grows miserable,
stagnant, or chronically contentious. They simply didn’t approach
this monumental decision objectively and proactively,” says
eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren.
Effective volunteer experiences don’t just fall out of the sky.
The very best experiences effectively use a person’s spiritual
gifts in the proper place. Connecting personally with a prospect
will help you match the suitability of the position with the
Craig DeMartino was extremely nervous before he asked his
girlfriend to marry him. So rather than going the conventional,
down-on-one-knee route, Craig photographed the engagement ring and
hid the photo with the message, “Will you marry me?” in the car
glove box. His wife-to-be found the photograph and message, felt
guilty because she thought she wasn’t supposed to see it, and said
We’re not suggesting you guilt-trip your volunteers into
serving. We are, however, suggesting that you think out-of-the-box
when it comes to making your proposal. That doesn’t mean you have
to rent a singing telegram, but you might consider “giftwrapping”
your question with a list of the person’s unique gifts for the open
“Part of offering someone a position is to make sure you’ve
covered everything before you get to the point of the offer so the
offer itself is nice and easy,” says Laura Huntley, a human
resources specialist. “Don’t settle. Don’t hire in a panic just
because you need someone right away. Hiring the wrong person will
cost you hours and hours of additional work later on. And always do
reference checks — you’d be amazed at what people are willing to
Keep a cool head, even when disaster strikes. If you find
yourself short on volunteers and even shorter on time to recruit,
you may want to limit positions or make them temporary. That way
you can ease up on your commitment requirement.
“We look at people’s skill level, motivation, and interest, and
whether they’re driven by high-quality results and will work well
in our culture,” says Tiffany Rogers, a human resources specialist.
“Be honest about what the job entails. Tell people the good and the
bad aspects so they can make an educated decision.”
Being honest about the not-so-terrific parts of a particular
role is important. It establishes open communication and a standard
of expectation — every position has its down points; if you’re not
honest about it, how can people trust you?
A Match Made in Heaven
Whether you’re an old pro or you’ve just stepped into your
recruiter’s shoes, asking a potential volunteer to commit — and
stay committed — can be a nerve-wracking assignment. After all,
suiting a volunteer with a position is a lot like matchmaking —
you’re looking for compatibility, comfort, and productivity. Neil
Clark Warren, psychologist, author, and founder of the eHarmony.com
matchmaking Web site, offers marriage guidelines for compatibility
that can be applied to volunteer matchmaking.
- Be choosey. Just because people are available, doesn’t mean you
should plug them into vacant positions.
- Get to know each other…well. Spend time forming a personal
relationship so you know what you’re getting.
- Choose the best person for the job. If you try to please others
with your hiring choice rather than going for the best match,
chances are good you’ll be disappointed in the end.
- Have realistic expectations. This means having grace for human
frailty, but also standing by your expectations. Understand that
even in the very best of circumstances, people will still have
different opinions, problems, and needs.
- Understand people’s flaws. Know that just because someone signs
on to become a volunteer, that person’s personal issues won’t
disappear. For example, if you constantly catch a prospective
volunteer telling “white lies,” don’t expect that tendency to go
away once the person commits to your ministry. Ask yourself before
you make an offer if you can live with behavioral problems, because
they won’t go away.
Sophia Winter (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the advertising
director for Children’s Ministry Magazine. Please keep in mind that
phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to