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 be more effective in recruiting 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 to those he was recruiting.
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 communicating.
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 recruit, 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. When 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 for recruitment.
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 those he recruited 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 selfishness?
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 themselves.
7. Jesus recruited people to action.
Finally, Jesus asked people to commit, to decide. “Come follow me,” he said.
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.
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