Ask children’s ministers what their top three ministry needs
are, and 99.9 percent will list volunteer recruitment as one of
those three needs. It’s painfully difficult to capture busy
people’s affections and time for service in the church these days.
So how can children’s ministers effectively enlist all the
volunteers they need?
The best method is to look to the Master Recruiter. Jesus
recruited a cadre of committed volunteers who in turn recruited
others who recruited others-and, well, here we are. Not to belittle
God’s grace or the miracle of his work in each of our callings, but
there are seven steps we can look at that Jesus used to recruit.
Christ’s approach can work for your ministry, too.
1. Jesus’ commitment was ultimate. Not only was
his commitment incredible, but it also cost him his life. Most of
us are not literally called upon to sacrifice our lives to fulfill
our church’s efforts. We are called, however, to do our best to
achieve our church’s mission. And what better way to do this than
by creating opportunities for others to give of themselves in
pursuit of that mission?
But before we create ways for others to get involved, we need to
carefully examine our commitment. How life-changing is it-for us?
How will it hold up when tested?
In Matthew 3 and 4, before Jesus chose any
disciples, he was first baptized and then went through the three
temptations that tested his commitment. He was committed before he
asked others to commit. Too often we plow forward in search of
volunteers without taking the time to first commit ourselves to the
ministry God has given us.
2. Jesus communicated his vision well. Jesus’
ability to communicate his vision of God and heaven was
spectacular. His use of metaphors and parables is unequaled. When
Jesus spoke, people listened.
One thing about great leaders is their ability to simplify their
organization’s vision and mission into brief, understandable terms.
They’ve obviously thought long and hard about how to explain, in
the simplest terms possible, what business they’re in.
They communicate what they do and what they stand for whenever
they get the chance. They also tell stories-marvelous stories of
changes that have occurred in peoples’ lives because of their
organizations’ efforts. To communicate well, you need to deeply
believe in what you’re doing-just as Jesus did. Jesus’ enthusiasm
and commitment showed. He knew his ultimate vision, and everything
he did was directed toward its accomplishment. If people see that
you’re enthusiastic, visionary, focused- that you know what you
want and how to ask for it-they’ll want to join you. Good
communication is key, but you also need to know what you’re
3. Jesus needed disciples. The purpose of a
disciple is to be a student. “A student is not better than his
teacher. But when the student has fully learned all that he has
been taught, then he will be like his teacher,” Jesus said in Luke 6:40. Jesus needed his disciples to help
him, to learn from him, and to eventually become the leaders after
he had gone away.
How often do we operate this way? We may think we’ll stay with
our current church forever, but we need to constantly teach and
equip laypeople to be able to run our ministry-even if we never
leave. Like Jesus, we need volunteers.
Let people know specifically how they can help. If children are
being turned away because of a lack of volunteers, let people know.
If potential volunteers can do something that no one else can, tell
them.If they lack certain skills, teach them.
4. Jesus clearly set forth qualifications. In
Matthew 19, a young man asked what it took to
be a disciple. Jesus answered, “Go and sell all the things you own.
Give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have a
treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me!”.
That was a tall order, but it was also honest, demanding, and
clear. When the disciples decided to follow Jesus, they knew they
had to completely leave life as they knew it and give away
everything they owned. Mark 1 tells us that James and John
literally left their father and their friends sitting in the boat
when Jesus called them to follow him.
Don’t be afraid of clearly setting forth your requirements. Tell
people precisely what’s needed to be an effective volunteer.
Identify the talents required to be successful. Does a person have
to read well and be oblivious to the noise of enthusiastic
children? Is there a second language requirement? Are specific time
frames of availability an absolute must? Is consistency important?
What can they expect from the children they’ll work with? Do they
need to own any special tools, equipment, or clothing? Are they
expected to buy anything?
You’ll still have some volunteer turnover, but you’ll have much
less turnover if volunteers are encouraged to “count the cost”
ahead of time.
5. Jesus pointed out the ups and downs. Jesus
warned his disciples of how the world would react to them, but he
also assured them that he would always be with them. Without overly
dramatizing what can go wrong, paint a realistic picture for your
potential volunteers of any dangers or awkward situations they’re
likely to face. Be honest and open. Potential hurdles might
actually be positive motivators for some of your volunteers who
like to learn new responses to challenging situations.
Then explain how your church supports its volunteers and
prepares them to meet all of these possible challenges. People will
want to know that they’ll never be left solely to their own devices
and that help will always be quickly available.
Potential volunteers will want to know what they’re likely to
receive for their efforts. What can you tell them? a sense of
satisfaction? seeing children’s changed lives? gratitude for their
contribution? a sense of worth or accomplishment? stimulation and
excitement? friendships? learning? closeness to God? respect from
others? knowledge of the community? fun and laughter? relief from
|If you like this article, then be sure to check out The New
Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer.
Ask current volunteers to tell potential volunteers what
volunteering does for them and why they recommend it.
6. Jesus was encouraging. He constantly
encouraged his followers through word and example about what lay
ahead if they followed him. He didn’t just tell them about the
life-threatening stuff. Jesus also focused on the rewards of
closeness with him and eternity in heaven.
Encourage your volunteers. Send notes. Have a volunteer
recognition breakfast each year. Periodically pull each volunteer
aside, and ask how it’s going. Be your volunteers’ biggest
cheerleader. Believe in them, and they’ll believe in
7. Jesus called people to action. Finally,
Jesus asked people to commit, to decide. “Come follow me,” he
If you’ve done a good job on the first six steps, most people
will be willing to give volunteering a try. Give them something
immediately that allows them to indicate their willingness to help.
Have a sign-up list or a card to fill out. Let them know when they
can expect to hear from you. Then follow up as promised.
Remember, when it comes to recruiting, recruit as Jesus did. And
you’ll be amazed at how your ministry is transformed.
Joe Murphy, a former youth worker, is a management
consultant in California.