Here's a quick quiz for you as a children's ministry leader:
Think of the top 10 important tasks or responsibilities that are
part of your children's ministry. Volunteer recruitment is
somewhere on that list, right? Now think of your top 10 favorite
tasks or responsibilities involving children's ministry. Where does
volunteer recruitment rank there?
For many people, it doesn't even make that second list because
it's more a necessity than a joy. But with the right attitude and
approach, volunteer recruitment can not only be done successfully,
but it can also be done with passion and excitement-and it can even
be something you look forward to.
In this article, several children's ministers with a vision for
volunteer recruitment share their secrets to joyful success. Use
their advice to find and keep stellar team members that'll make
your children's ministry one to watch.
Keep Your Eyes Open
"Volunteer recruiting is a constant Process," says Sue Miller,
executive director of Promiseland, the children's ministry at
Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.
Although her recruitment involvement spikes at times, she recruits
nonstop because "one-to-one recruiting is the most successful
method and can be sustained throughout the year," she says. In
addition, children's ministers face the reality that "the need for
gifted, passionate volunteers is constant."
Nate Meiers, children's pastor at Berean Baptist Church in
Mansfield, Ohio, has certain times of intense recruitment focus
(specifically July and August) but also constantly publicizes the
need for volunteers. "We keep our mission purpose out there, which
is 'Healing Kids' Hearts,' " he says.
One advantage of always being in "seek mode," Meiers says, is
that you can avoid sounding desperate. "We never make a public call
for helpers without also mentioning the whole screening process,"
he says. "That way, people know we're not willing to sacrifice
Maintain A Positive Viewpoint
Your attitude toward recruitment-and toward your ministry as a
whole-affects whether other people can see themselves as one of
your volunteers. Volunteer recruiting experts emphasize that
children's ministry must be a priority, not an afterthought. While
recruiting volunteers, it's essential to communicate that
children's ministry is a desirable place to serve and that the job
comes with great responsibilities as well as great rewards.
Daniel Brown, senior pastor of Coastlands Church in Aptos,
California, and the author of What the Bible Reveals About
Heaven (Regal Books), says it's crucial to change people's
mentality. "Children's ministry isn't just baby-sitting," he says.
"You must take care of the lambs before you can do anything
Brown says senior pastors "must communicate that children's
ministry isn't a bothersome, lower-level responsibility. It's an
incredible opportunity to develop people." (See "Pastor in a
Starring Role" on page 97.)
Miller, author of the book Making Your Children's Ministry
the Best Hour of Every Kid's Week (Zondervan), says, "People
volunteer because of their willingness to invest their precious
time and talent in a cause with a compelling vision." Purposely
sharing your ministry's vision with the entire church on a regular
basis ensures that people will think of your program first when
deciding where to invest themselves.
Meiers agrees that excitement about a church's children's
ministry goes a long way toward bringing in new volunteers. Word of
mouth is very effective when people are enjoying what they're
doing, he says.
Watch For Potential Team Members
Volunteer recruitment is more an art than a science, with
nuances and people factors to consider. But there are some
tried-and-true ways to ensure success. H Focus on relationships.
One word comes up repeatedly when children's ministers speak about
their best volunteer recruitment methods: "relationships."
Anne Piros, children's ministry director at Coastlands Church in
Aptos, California, says her most dedicated and enthusiastic
volunteers come out of relationships. "People are usually most
willing to serve because their lives have been meaningfully
impacted in some way. So I place a high focus on how I can connect
with people personally," she says. "I want to know where they work,
what they like to do, how their parents are doing, and so on.
Because I see the same people each week, I can build relationships
with them over a long period of time."
Coastlands uses home-fellowship groups as teams of children's
ministry volunteers. To lead a home fellowship or cell group,
someone must commit to serving in one of the children's classrooms
and must inspire his or her cell-group members to get involved as
well. Piros says this system not only eliminates the need for
formal recruiting, but it also allows cell-group members to develop
meaningful relationships with each other and with the children, who
receive care from the same adults each week.
• Serve people. Piros says her most effective
recruiting tools are the values her church places on relationships
and serving. "One reason people serve at Coastlands is because
we've learned that serving others is the most effective way to grow
in our relationship with the Lord," she says.
In an effort to focus on relationships rather than roles,
Coastlands has a saying: "Use the job to get people done and not
people to get the job done." Piros says, "If people are committed
to serving and understand the true nature of it, it won't matter
where they serve-children's ministry, ushering, serving coffee, and
so on. They'll be committed, reliable, and excited because of how
much more they're getting from their willingness to give."
• Get personal. With church members hearing so
many requests for help, appeals for children's ministry volunteers
can get drowned out or ignored, according to Miller. She says,
"However, when one person deliberately describes the joy he or she
has in serving kids to a friend, and then asks that friend to give
it a try, the success rate is much higher."
"If a ministry has volunteers with passion to reach kids and
serve in a role that matches their giftedness," she says, "then
these people will recruit more effectively than any big program."
Miller adds that one-to-one, relationship-oriented recruiting isn't
only the most effective volunteer-recruitment method, but it's
"completely unrelated to church size, type, or any other
• Offer options. Willow Creek's Promiseland
team works on volunteer recruitment by making a variety of service
opportunities available. "Special-event volunteer" roles during
holidays and other heavy-attendance dates allow people to
test-drive volunteering. Parents also have the option to help out
once every six weeks.
Miller says both groups of volunteers provide essential
assistance to the ministry even though they're not ready to commit
to a regular serving schedule. And, she adds, "The retention rate
for people who start out as special-event volunteers or parent
helpers is high."
Beware Of These Methods
Some approaches are likely to result in more frustration than
volunteers. They're like shooting stars that seem to glimmer
brightly, but quickly fizzle out. Because of the messages these
approaches can send, they're often counterproductive.
• Cold Calls-Our experts agree that picking up
the phone when you're in a jam is the least effective way to find
volunteers. Meiers uses cold calls only as a last resort. "You've
got to have some reason you think that person should be matched
with your ministry," he says. For example, you could remind people
of their previous involvement with vacation Bible school and say
why you think they'd be great in a particular volunteer role. "They
must be connected to your mission," Meiers reminds.
• Public Announcements-Brown says personal
invitations are much more effective than appeals from the pulpit.
"Avoid guilt or pressure," he advises. "That makes children's
ministry sound like a less-than-desirable job."
• Filling Spots-Another ineffective volunteer
recruitment tactic is filling a spot just to fill a spot. "Then you
end up having to fill it again in a few months," Meiers says. "I'd
much rather ask a person what they'd want to do and say, 'I'll make
a spot for you.' "
It's essential to match an available spot with someone's unique
gifts and passion, Meiers says. That's not always easy when an
urgent need must be met. But he adds, "My attitude is that the Lord
will provide [volunteers], and I must be faithful and trust
Look In The Right Place
Finding volunteers is easier once you know some ideal places to
search and some of the traits to look for. The best volunteers,
Meiers says, have a vision for what you're doing in your children's
ministry and not just a sense of responsibility. Look for the
following types of people.
• Problem-Solvers-Meiers recommends seeking out
people who notice problems, suggest answers, and are willing to fix
what needs fixing. "When you put problem-solvers into leadership,"
he says, "they'll begin surrounding themselves with volunteers and
potential volunteers." This takes the pressure off the children's
minister to be the sole recruiting source.
At Berean Baptist Church, Meiers has a Children's Leadership
Team (CLEAT) of six to 12 people who always have their antennae up
for problem-solving volunteers.
• Parents-Another great volunteer pool is
parents, especially parents of older kids. Meiers says, "Parents
will tell me, 'When I was a kid, there wasn't anything for me. And
when I was a [parent] of young children, I didn't do what I should
have for them. And now I realize the benefit of that and want to
make sure other kids get it.' " H Anyone With a Heart for
Kids-Although some groups of people may tend to yield more
volunteers, don't limit your search to specific demographics. "The
reasons that draw one group of people to a ministry might be very
different from what motivates another group," Miller says. "So when
considering the different audiences that a children's ministry can
vision-cast to, make sure the vision fits each of them just
Meiers says it's important to remember and accept that there are
different levels of volunteers. "Some are just helpers and will be
gone in a few years, so there's a continual need for recruitment,"
he says. "Others stay, and you can put them in leadership."
Watch Out For Your Volunteers
Recruiting volunteers is just the beginning. How you treat
people and whether they feel appreciated will determine if they
stay on your team. H Start them out right. Take time to discover
where new volunteers will be most useful as well as most fulfilled.
At Willow Creek, potential volunteers meet with Promiseland leaders
to discuss their spiritual gifts. Then they fill out an application
that inquires about previous experiences so they can be
appropriately placed in the children's ministry.
"People also receive clear expectations for skill and
reliability requirements before starting in a new position," Miller
says. "A key to all this working well is to truly understand all of
the specific volunteer positions the ministry needs to fill."
• Appreciate and support them. Meiers says his
#1 recruitment method is making his current volunteers happy so he
keeps the retention rate high from year to year. When he asks
current volunteers if they'll continue serving, about 80 percent
It's crucial to specifically thank your volunteers, both
personally and publicly, Meiers says. He gives gifts, has
occasional banquets, and makes sure the senior pastor shows
appreciation to children's ministry volunteers from the pulpit. "We
have lots of celebration-of and with our volunteers," he says. "We
work on creating a positive feeling, which can take awhile."
• Respect them and their time. Piros says she
tries to make Coastlands' children's classes as user-friendly as
possible to "be a good steward of the time volunteers give." Office
volunteers do most of the classroom preparation (sign-up sheets,
name tags, craft preparation and instructions, errands, and so on)
ahead of time for teachers.
"Because most people serve in children's ministry for long
periods of time with no break, we try our best to have the
atmosphere be fun, safe, and positive-both for the kids and the
adults," Piros says. Other important considerations she recommends
are being mindful of potentially stressful room dynamics, avoiding
super-messy crafts and activities, and planning well in advance
rather than functioning week to week.
• Help them avoid burnout. Tired or uninspired
volunteers not only can't serve with joy but won't be around for
long. Avoiding burnout is a "dual responsibility," Miller says,
shared by volunteers and their immediate leader. "Honest
conversations must regularly take place about workload and how much
joy is gleaned from serving-especially when new initiatives or
other ministry changes take place," she says. "Experience has
taught me that the ministry director must consistently model all
Meiers tells all his volunteers, "If you're not enjoying your
ministry, let me know." He says sometimes volunteers are better
suited to serving elsewhere within the church, and children's
ministers must learn to be okay with that.
By refocusing your volunteer search and working to spread your
program's vision, volunteer recruitment will not only be easier but
it might even crack that list of your favorite responsibilities.
And as a result, your children's ministry will be quite a sight to
Stephanie Martin is a freelance writer and editor in
Colorado. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and
prices are subject to change.