Looking to add more men to the team? Follow these 6 rules to effectively recruit (and retain) those elusive male volunteers into your children’s ministry.
In my first years of ministry almost two decades ago, I attended a conference for early childhood ministry leaders with around a thousand others. The main sessions were inspiring. The breakouts were informative. But actually, the most memorable experience I had was trying to find a restroom.
I’d noticed that I was one of only a few male leaders attending the conference, but I honestly didn’t think much of it. During a break on the first day, I followed the signs that pointed toward the closest restrooms—only to find that the men’s restroom had been converted to a women’s restroom to accommodate the predominantly female crowd. A few conversations later, I finally found the only men’s restroom in a distant hallway that felt as if it were two miles away.
The episode struck me as humorous and odd, but I didn’t think much more about it…until this year when I encountered the exact same experience. As I once again passed by multiple converted restrooms to find the only remaining men’s restroom, I realized we have a major issue facing the ministry to children and families:
The men are missing!
The sample of children’s ministry leaders attending these conferences most likely reflects the gender gap in your ministry. The hallways of churches are filled with incredible women who give their time, energy, and resources to share Jesus with the next generation. It’s difficult to fully acknowledge the tremendous value and importance these women bring to children’s ministry—but it still begs the question, “Where are all the men?” We see this same gender gap outside the church as well. According to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 97.6 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers are female and 79.8 percent of elementary teachers are female.
This trend actually began in the late 1880s when female teachers made up the majority at 63 percent. By the turn of the 20th century, the role of teaching young children was firmly established in the minds of Americans to be a “feminine” job. This categorization seeped into the culture of the American church and has led to a significant absence of men in children’s ministry.
Simply put, there are more women serving in children’s ministry than men, but both are key to the discipleship of the next generation. So how do we involve more men in children’s ministry? First, we have to identify the reasons men aren’t currently serving. Then we can create a plan to reach men and get them involved in the discipleship of children.
Why Aren’t Men Serving?
There seem to be a few systemic hindrances to men serving in children’s ministry. These hindrances represent a reality we must address and correct.
#1: Serving in children’s ministry has been stereotyped as a “feminine” role.
As I mentioned, the greatest hindrance to men serving is the stereotype of children’s ministry volunteer being a feminine role. Too many men view working with kids to be “women’s work.” Conversely, the lack of male involvement has led some women to believe men aren’t fit or capable to serve in children’s ministry. Our ministries must consistently communicate to men the great value they bring to a child’s faith formation.
#2: Men really don’t want to go where no man’s gone before.
The lack of male volunteers in children’s ministry is a vicious cycle. Many churches can’t get men to serve simply because they don’t have men currently serving. It may seem like a silly hindrance, but the previously mentioned stereotypes make men fearful of stepping into ministry roles where they’ll be the only male.
#3: Men are apprehensive about stepping into roles that may lead to judgment or questions about their motives.
Bluntly speaking, sociocultural factors often lead to a questioning attitude toward men who show an interest in working with children. Men may refrain from serving in children’s ministry to avoid having to justify their motives. While our ministries must be very protective of children, including background screening and interviews for all volunteers, we must not make it harder for men to serve.
As leaders, we cringe at these hindrances. They stand between our current ministry and our desired ministry that’s balanced with male and female volunteers. In that spirit, here are six secrets to getting more men involved in your ministry.
#1: Ensure your message targets men.
Take a moment to assess the marketing of your ministry. You may be thinking, Marketing? Intentionally or unintentionally, we’re all marketing our ministry by the stories and pictures we share. What we say or show in those stories can either attract or deter men from serving.
Do the pictures you share within the church or on social media all depict female volunteers? Does every story about a volunteer refer to “she” and “her”? If so, you may be unintentionally saying that children’s ministry is for women only. Remember, the greatest hindrance to male involvement in ministry is the stereotype that it’s a feminine role, so the secret is to be intentional about debunking that myth.
To show that children’s ministry is a place for men and women, include pictures and stories of both. Ask male volunteers to share their stories in an adult worship service to break the stereotypes other men may believe. If you don’t currently have male volunteers, use stock photos that include men working with children.
#2: Recruit men in groups.
There really is safety in numbers. This phrase most definitely applies to men who don’t want to be the only one serving in children’s ministry. If you have only a few male volunteers, a secret worth knowing is that men can be recruited in groups.
Look around the church to see how and where men gather. It could be in the men’s ministry, a group of men in the choir, or just men who stay and talk to one another when service is over. Approach them and ask them about serving in children’s ministry as a team. Men will often agree to serve together for the value of community and as a commitment to one another.
While it’s typically best to invite people to serve on a one-to-one basis, many men are reluctant to sign up unless they know other men are on board. You can surmount this challenge by taking the bold step of approaching groups that are already formed in your church and inviting them to serve together.
#3: Ensure policies that help men feel safe while serving.
Every children’s ministry needs a written set of policies and procedures in place to protect children. This is an unfortunate necessity in the fallen world in which we live. The secret to getting men involved in children’s ministry is to show them that you care enough to have policies in place to protect kids from harm and also keep volunteers above reproach.
For men who feel called to serve but worry about facing scrutiny or questions about their motives, these policies serve as a protection for their desire to serve and teach kids. There are myths that all sexual predators are men and that all men who want to work with children are sexual predators. To be clear, this is simply not true. Having honest and upfront conversations about how your ministry screens volunteers and protects children will help those called by God to serve to feel more confident in their role.
Policies that safeguard your ministry and volunteers include clear instructions for diapering and bathroom procedures; the “two-volunteer rule,” which states two volunteers are always present with children; and having all volunteers submit to a background screening and interview. When everyone— male and female—submits to the same standard for serving, it builds trust in and for those who are serving. This trust is key to helping men get over concerns about serving with kids.
#4: Create training tailored to men’s wiring.
Men and women are different. That’s not just an observation, it’s a fact. For instance, it’s been commonly accepted that the female corpus callosum— a bundle of nerves connecting the left and right sides of the brain—is larger than in males. As a result, women may have the ability to shift between facts and feelings more efficiently than men.
The secret to keeping men involved in children’s ministry is to provide training that fits the way they’re wired. Serving in children’s ministry requires a volunteer’s mind to perform many distinct tasks at the same time, which may not be as easy for men as it is for women. Consider including training sessions that walk through a Sunday morning schedule in steps. Focus on helping men see how each segment of the schedule connects to one another and how they might make smooth transitions between the segments.
Men’s linear thinking may also cause them to respond differently to behavior issues in children’s ministry. Women’s brains can simultaneously analyze facts and feelings, which helps them see how a child’s feelings are leading to behaviors. A man’s brain is wired to react to the child’s exhibited behavior with appropriate correction. Male volunteers can benefit from training that shows how certain emotions may manifest in specific age groups and how they can connect with children emotionally to pause disruptive behavior.
#5: Consider men when you schedule.
Men often respond to the request to serve in children’s ministry by saying they’re just too busy. But most men have seasons of busyness, but they’re available to serve at least sparingly throughout the year. The secret to getting more men involved is to include scheduling options that allow men to serve when they’re available.
Try scheduling men for regular volunteer roles on a short-term basis, such as a month at a time. Another option would be to create new roles for men that allow them to serve long-term but less frequently. When men serve on our children’s security team, we created a rotational schedule so men to serve once a month. Be flexible, and work to find the right schedule that involves more men. Over time, those men may become more available and committed once they’re a part of your volunteer team.
#6: Make serving about leadership development.
Cultural pressures have conditioned men to work for success. Whatever they’re doing, men want to know that it’s making a difference and that they’re good at it. Get men to buy into children’s ministry by showing them how serving will also make them better leaders.
Men serving in ministry need to understand the valuable impact they’re making on a child’s faith formation. They also need to see how their current commitment to serve results in more opportunities to lead. A key leader in our elementary ministry began serving as a once-per-month security team member. After a few months, he saw a greater need in the ministry, and we saw a great leadership in him. It was a natural move to place him in elementary leadership.
A leadership development plan shows volunteers—men and women—how you intend to invest in their growth as a leader and a follower of Jesus so they can invest in and lead others. This type of development draws men in. Build a leadership development plan for your children’s ministry, and it will draw men in.
Matt Morgan is the kids pastor for Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has served more than 15 years in children’s ministry and is passionate about seeing kids of all ages understand the richness of the gospel. He shares from his personal and ministry experiences at mattmo.org.