In a recruiting rut? Join our
conversation with veteran recruiters to discover their secrets for
effective recruiting that stands the test of
It's crunch time, folks. Will kids find rooms full
of eagar volunteers -- or are you still looking for supply
gatherers and registrars? What will you do? (Other than pull out
Children's Ministry Magazine recently sat down with three
recruiting veterans to find out what they do to get volunteers --
and keep them -- when the harvest is plenty and the workers are
Tom McKee, founder of Volunteer Power (VolunteerPower.com), is
co-author of The New Breed: Understanding & Equipping the
21st Century Volunteer.
Susan Grover, director of kids ministry at Compass Bible Church in
Aliso Viejo, California, serves on the executive board of the
premier children's ministry network in Southern California.
Christi Hendrickson, early childhood pastor at Open Bible Christian
Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, oversees ministry to kids from
birth through kindergarten, and has been actively recruiting for
So, sit down with us. Grab a cup of coffee and a highlighter, and
let's see what the experts have to say about transforming empty
rooms into fully staffed kid-magnets!
cm: Let's start with the "don'ts." What recruiting methods have you
tried that really flopped?
Tom: Making announcements. In fact, in The New
Breed, I call the very first sin, "Expect Announcements to Get
Volunteers." It doesn't work. Never has, never will.
Christi: These past tactics of mine were really
ineffective: I felt guilty asking busy people, so I did a lot of
procrastinating…which led to a lot of empty spots. That meant that
in my first few months as a children's pastor, I did a whole lot of
subbing myself. Also, when I called people, I had no plan. If they
said yes, it took another 10 minutes on the phone just to figure
out where they should serve. I realized I have to be specific in
what I'm asking potential volunteers to commit to.
Susan: When I first started working with
volunteers, I didn't have a clear vision for ministry with kids or
a specific philosophy of how the ministry would be carried out. I
thought it was up to me, not God, to recruit people. So I also took
it personally when people said, "No." Now I'm clear on why the
ministry exists, the philosophy of ministry, and that people come
into ministry through the power of God -- not me.
cm: What's been your biggest obstacle to finding good
people to do great things in your ministry?
Tom: Mine was being afraid to ask because I always thought
people were too busy. It took me years to get over this obstacle.
Now I'm never afraid to ask busy people to volunteer.
Christi: Time. I want more time to build
relationships with people and to train them to be great
Susan: For me, it's communicating serving not as a
"have to" but rather as a "get to." Serving God through the local
church is a gift. It allows people to obey God and store up
treasures in heaven, grow in their faith, deepen their connections
with others, and more! My biggest obstacle now is creating new
positions for people who have a strong desire to serve and
launching new ministry efforts to keep up with needs.
cm: Do you think it's more difficult in today's world to
Tom: It's always been difficult, but today's volunteers
want to be empowered and want to be in charge. They don't want to
Christi: People have always been busy, but there
are more distractions.
Susan: I don't think it's hard. It may sound hard
to believe but in 21 years, I've never needed a volunteer.
Ministering to kids is an opportunity. That's the critical
distinction. I have never begged, given a guilt trip, or
"recruited" one single person. But, I have invited many to
participate in what God is doing. Right now, in a church of
thousands and with 700 kids, I have a waiting list of people who
are begging me to let them teach kids God's Word.
cm: How do you overcome hesitation or excuses?
Christi: It's important to build relationships all the
time. I also try to ease people into ministry and let them know
they won't be alone. I let them serve as an assistant alongside a
really strong lead teacher initially, check in with them myself
after their first time, and be available to answer questions. They
need feedback, encouragement, and ongoing training. Nothing
Tom: I often find that if I listen, that "no"
actually means one of several things: "Not now -- I've got too much
on my plate;" "Not this position -- I have other gifts I'd like to
use;" "Not with this present leadership;" or "Not in your
lifetime." Listen carefully to the excuses.
Susan: I want people's first response to be "Yes!
I'd love to serve and teach kids God's Word. Thank you so much for
inviting me." That might seem laughable, but that's how I operate.
I talk through what our vision and purpose is and what I'm inviting
them to do, and I trust God for the rest. I also have no problem
asking big. I let people know serving kids must be a priority for
them and that may mean restructuring their time to serve every week
until God calls them out or home -- no terms, no once-a-month, no
way! If that's all they can do, I redirect them to the doughnut
ministry where it doesn't matter if they're serving every week
since they aren't teaching biblical truths and laying a solid
foundation in the lives of kids. Does that sound too harsh? We're
the ones who have to elevate this ministry in the church because,
quite frankly, that's why God called you and me to these positions.
It's our job to advocate, protect, and provide for the
cm: What's one of the most common excuses you hear for why
people can't serve?
Christi: My favorite is, "Oh, we did that last year, so
we're done." We also hear that parents are scared of children --
how funny is that?
Susan: I don't hear excuses, mostly I think
because I don't view children's ministry like some churches do -- I
can barely say the word: childcare. I think it's egregious
for any church to offer anything that resembles childcare or even
refers to the ministry with kids by that name. Who would ever want
to join a ministry that devalues the work of God with children so
much that it's merely a holding place for kids while adults are
being taught? I'd make an excuse, too!
cm: Children's ministers need effective ideas that are
simple and doable. What do you suggest?
Tom: We suggest the "Dating Method of Recruiting." We say,
"Don't ask for marriage -- but ask for a date." Recruiting from the
pulpit is like a woman standing up in church and saying, "I'm
looking for a husband. Anyone interested, see me in the foyer."
Church recruitment usually sounds like we're asking for lifetime
commitment. Instead, ask for a date. Give them a taste with a small
job with the goal of a second date, if the person seems
Susan: First is faithful prayer. Second, simply
ask. Go to people you see at church and ask them to be part of what
God is doing with children. Third, be sure you have a ministry that
is attractive and attracting to others. Vision, purpose, planning,
organization, and training are critical aspects to having a
ministry that attracts and keeps volunteers. Fourth,
always be enthusiastic and energetic, utilizing every
opportunity to broadcast what God is doing with kids, your ministry
team, kids events, and so on. Fifth, nurture your volunteers.
Finally, remember the words of the Apostle Peter: "If anyone
serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in
all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the
glory and the power forever and ever. Amen." A good reminder for
all of us called by God and committed to the work he has called us
Christi: We love on and know our teams -- their
birthdays, end of a quarter, any reason to celebrate. I go to every
room and touch base with my teachers at service time, even though I
have great leaders. I put a personal touch on team-building. I host
gatherings at my home, send cards and emails, and stay connected as
much as possible. I greatly value my team, and I do my best to make
sure they know what a blessing they are! Don't be afraid to recruit
youth and train them to be lead teachers. Some of them are gifted.
We have also made it okay for people to take a break. Most of our
teachers take the summer quarter off, and we encourage it. They
typically return in the fall refreshed and ready to go!
cm: What's your best tip for finding the right people to
Christi: Know who you want: "Must love God, have a
servant's spirit, be ready to learn, and love kids." Show them how
much fun you have ministering to children and do a good job of
explaining expectations. We've found that discussing frequency,
duration, and expectations of the position up front is a must.
Later in the training process, we cover classroom expectations and
other details. If they know that they'll get adequate training, and
they have a realistic picture of what they'll be doing, it seems to
be less overwhelming for a new person.
Tom: We must define the position we want and then
look for that person. Too often we get a crew of people and then
try to find jobs for them. A "first date" might be serving ice
cream at an event. I'll spend time with people, talking about our
ministry and the impact on children. If it goes well, I'll try for
a "second date" at Starbucks to get to know them and talk about a
Susan: Most important is prayer. Pray for God to
give you the eyes to see who he wants you to place in ministry.
Look around and see those who are faithful, those who speak highly
and enthusiastically of the ministry, those who have personally
benefited from serving, those who share stories with you about how
their child learned this or that from the lesson. That's who you
want to partner with you in ministry with kids. Colossians 4:2
instructs us to "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and
thankful." We would do well to make this our gold standard in
ministry. Never try to convince anyone to do anything. What a joy
and privilege it is to participate in the work of God and that God
would count us worthy to allow us to serve him!
cm: What last words of advice do you have?
Christi: Always be on the lookout for new team members.
Plug in families soon after you've gotten to know them. It makes
them feel "part of the family," and they are more likely to stay
with your church and keep growing in their relationship with
Tom: My pet peeve is announcing, "If you don't
volunteer, we'll cancel this ministry." Do you want guilt
volunteers or those with a passion to impact the lives of children?
And don't forget screening. We live in a crazy world. Be
Susan: Charles Spurgeon talks about teaching
children God's truth: "Whether we teach them truth or not, the
devil will be sure to teach them error." No matter what it takes to
get the right people in the right positions to teach God's Word the
right way, do it! cm
Jennifer Buell is a former children's
minister, mom, and freelance writer in South Dakota.
If you're staring at empty rooms and you can hear the impending
approach of small feet heading for your ministry, don't panic!
We've got a few handy, in-a-pinch solutions that'll get you and
your ministry through a volunteer shortage.
• Combine classrooms. This solution works well for
short-term or long-term volunteer shortages. Your best bet is to
combine classes that are close in age. It's also better to combine
"up" -- or combine the class with an older rather than younger age
group. That allows older kids to help younger ones and works well
for relationship building and mentoring. Plus, the teacher
absorbing the class will have an entire room of "instant
• Move to a large group/small group setup.
Creating a system where everyone meets in a large group area and
then moves to a smaller group means you only need one prepared
teacher. You'll need several small group leaders, too, but they
don't need teaching skills like your up-front person.
• Implement a rotation model. Set up a rotation
model where kids move from one learning station to another
throughout their time. You can also rotate teachers from class to
class or group to group. This system requires assistants but will
cut your need for trained teachers.
• Recruit teenagers. One of the most-overlooked
resources in the church may be sitting in your youth ministry.
Teenagers can be great with kids. Plus, many of them are natural
teachers. Beef up your volunteer base and get these students on a
training track to become teachers!
• Close classrooms. This is something that makes
many children's ministers shudder, but in some cases it may be your
best option. First, determine what your room or class capacity is
and what your procedure for closing a class will be. Your
adult-to-child ratio should follow your state's health and human
• Use a come-to-one/serve-the-other philosophy.
This strategy works in churches that have multiple services.
Basically it means that people who attend a worship service are
encouraged to sign on to serve in a Sunday school room. This also
works best if it's articulated and supported by your senior
• Recruit standing substitutes. Part of your
recruiting plan should be to create a list of on-call substitutes.
A reliable, well-stocked list of subs will get you through several
weeks of volunteer shortage. Communicate to your subs how you're
actively recruiting long-term team members so they're not afraid to
plug in for the short term.