Tried & True Recruiting Secrets


Veteran children’s
ministers share what really works when it comes to recruiting a
great volunteer team…

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What if recruiting enough capable, eager volunteers for your
children’s ministry was as simple as getting some friends together
for a barbecue? Sound impossible? Children’s ministers from all
over the country think it can be that simple. Now…don’t
read simple as easy. It may take some work. But
it’ll also mean not scrambling every fall to “fill the holes” in
your children’s ministry.

The most effective recruiters are people who know that recruiting
“isn’t just filling holes.” In fact, every children’s ministry
expert we talked to for this article mentioned some form of that
phrase. To be truly effective, the first thing to do is to forget
about focusing on a certain number of volunteers you need to plug
in. To help you shake the mindset of what recruiting isn’t, here’s
a walkthrough of what recruiting is.

An Invitation

Jim Wideman, veteran children’s minister and author of
Volunteers That Stick
says, “The greatest thing that all
recruiting is, is an invitation to help people.” Wideman says that
smart recruiters never apologize for giving people the opportunity
to serve, because you’re presenting them with the greatest
opportunity they’ll ever have aside from following Christ. By
giving them the opportunity to serve, you’re presenting them with
an opportunity to move forward and grow closer to God.

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The spirit in which you approach recruiting is very important,
according to Shelley Nelson, Early Childhood Director at Wooddale
Church in Minnesota. If you seem desperate, you’re going to push
away the people you’re trying to recruit. Instead, think
strategically about an exciting way to invite people to join your

Take, for example, Sue Stuedemann of Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin.
Under Stuedemann’s creative leadership, Elmbrook leads theme-based
recruiting campaigns such as “Jump on Board” and “Planting Faith.”
These themes spread the word about children’s ministry in an
exciting, wanna-be-a-part-of-it kind of way.

Of course, if you were inviting people to a party, you wouldn’t
just put out an ad in the paper. You’d personally invite the people
you wanted to come to your party. As helpful as bulletin and pulpit
announcements can be, the best way to recruit people is to ask them

“People want to be asked,” says Wideman. Sometimes people who
thought they weren’t qualified to serve in children’s ministry and
would never have responded to an ad in the bulletin jump in with
both feet-when you personally invite them.

Ask yourself, along with Helen Ergen of Harvest Community Church
in Wisconsin, “How many people out there that I haven’t asked are
just waiting for a personal invitation?” Then get out among the
people (yes, that means taking the time to go to church) and draft
them the way Jesus drafted disciples.

Focus on the Big Picture

When you accurately communicate your church’s big picture of a
thriving children’s ministry, people want to be part of it.
Stuedemann recommends summarizing the vision of your ministry in 30
seconds or less. If you can do that, you can portray the energy of
your ministry to someone as you walk down a short hallway.

If you can cast vision well, says Bill Burke, executive pastor at
Grace Chapel in Massachusetts, you’ll avoid the error of recruiting
by duty or guilt. When people say yes because they feel obliged or
guilty, they’re less likely to be invested in ministry and more
likely to quit. Never stop casting the vision of
your ministry. Few things encourage prospective volunteers
more than helping them see how their service will have an eternal

Redefine Your Church Culture

Many churches have ministries that unintentionally compete with
each other for volunteers, rather than working to define the entire
church culture as a place where people are encouraged to

“The role of the church is to equip the people to serve and use
their gifts,” says Burke. If your church is constantly struggling
to find enough volunteers, work with other ministry leaders to see
how your church can do a better job of equipping, assigning,
maximizing, and encouraging people.

This process may begin with a sermon on service, but don’t rely on
that when you’re desperately seeking volunteers. If people expect
to hear the same sermon every August, they’ll tune it out, warns
Ergen. Keep your message — wherever it comes from — new and fresh
so people will hear it and respond. And make sure it truly is a
part of your church culture, not just a plea when you feel

Plan Ahead

Recruiting isn’t something you do once a year. It’s an ongoing
process of regularly assessing how you can help people use their
gifts and continue on their journey with God. If it’s the start of
your ministry season and you’re struggling to find enough
volunteers, focus more on the start of next ministry season than on
fixing the boat you’re in. “I don’t work on the church that I
have,” says Wideman. “I work on the church that I want to

• Measure your approach. If you have a
“just-in-time, jam-people-in” approach to recruiting, you’ll never
have a waiting list of volunteers, says Burke. But if you
constantly seek ways — even if those ways are small — to draw
people into your ministry, they’ll come. Continually look ahead at
your recruiting needs so you know where your ministry’s going and
how people can play a role in that.

If you’ve been applying the “just-in-time” technique and you’re
short of volunteers, Amy Dolan of Lemon Lime Kids recommends taking
a step back and doing an assessment. Ask your current volunteers
why they’re there, and ask people you know in the congregation who
aren’t serving why they’ve made that choice. If you find a
recurring pattern that relates to your ministry, it may be time for
changes. If not, maybe you’re not casting your vision broadly
enough. This step back can help you determine if the problem lies
within your ministry or in your recruiting techniques.

• Recruit all the time. Take a year-round
approach and consider ways you can draw new people in all the time.
This will help you avoid the last-minute scramble and let potential
volunteers try out a role before committing. And when they do
commit, you’ll have the ability to give them the best training
available as they work side by side with an experienced


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