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Recruiting Secrets From a Veteran

Roger Mailand has the recruiting secrets from a veteran that we’ve all been looking for!

For over two decades, he has been the minister of education and youth at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Portage, Michigan. In those years, Roger has had very low volunteer turnover, with some teachers staying on for 20 years. Roger even has a waiting list for all the volunteers who want to get on board, but there aren’t enough open spaces. Sounds incredible? That’s what we thought!

So we called up Roger to mine his treasured secrets to success-secrets that could turn your program around. Here’s what he advises.

Work as a team. Present a united front to potential volunteers. “We are best of friends,” Roger says of his pastor Ken Allan. “We like each other. He was never threatened by the presence of another professional, and he didn’t have to be the boss. So we’ve shared a ministry…He’s very enthusiastic, energetic, and supportive of my ministry and the educational ministries.”

Who wouldn’t want to get involved with a team like that?

Value children. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, your heart is.” If church leadership doesn’t treasure children, why will church members?

“On Sunday morning,” Roger says, “it’s much more important for Ken to greet children by name than parents. He touches every one of them in addition to shaking hands….He has worked very hard to learn the first names of all 180 children we have right now from birth to eighth grade. And I do the same thing.”

Involve children in church life. Roger makes children visible and integral parts of all of church life. Beyond special services where children are the worship leaders, children participate in readers theater or drama during regular worship services.

Budget generously. Money issues can be an obstacle for volunteers. So there are no out-of-pocket expenses for volunteers at Roger’s church. “We budget very generously for resources, curriculum, and training,” Roger says.


“Call” people to teach. Roger doesn’t beg for teachers. Instead, church members complete talent sheets and express interest in ministries. Roger and Ken visit people in their homes to further discover hobbies and interests. Then Roger, Ken, and the board of education select people, based on their gifts, talents, and personalities.

There’s never any coercion, Roger says. “There’s always somebody else out there that the Lord will lead us to fill that position.”

Train volunteers. Tell teachers that training is part of their job. Then make training meaningful and short-preferably over a few weeks. “We usually do an in-service here in the fall of about four to six weeks or maybe four to six Saturday mornings in a row,” says Roger.

Capitalize on team members’ strengths. Your team will be strengthened as you value each person’s contribution. “I utilize some of the public [school] teachers in my area who have certain gifts and skills,” says Roger. “Our eighth-grade teacher is an ADD specialist. That’s a gift to us. My fifth- and sixth-grade teacher deals with a group of problem children in a neighboring school district…Teachers ask him questions about how to address behaviors.”

Stay in constant contact. Connect with volunteers weekly. You can do this personally as Roger does, or connect through ministry coordinators who have responsibility for the teachers in their area.

“I talk to teachers on Sundays, I call them on the phone and they call me,” says Roger. “We stay in constant contact. I’m here to solve their problems, answer their questions, or meet their needs-whatever the case might be.”

Design a quality learning environment. Your facilities tell people whether you take your program seriously or not. “We remodeled the building to accommodate children and teachers,” Roger says. “We have lots of additional space for free movement so children have the space to move and do things.”

Provide the best resources. The last-minute scramble for resources is enough to drive your volunteers into early retirement. Roger makes sure his volunteers have access to plenty of resources.

“In my office, I have an audio-visual library of about 600 videos,” Roger says. “We also have art supplies like you’d find in a school art room-anything teachers want.”

Create a clear job description. A typical job description at Roger’s church contains the goal of the position, who the person will be responsible to, a detailed list of responsibilities, the time frame of service, and time requirements that include preparation hours, qualifications or special skills, and benefits to the volunteers.

Be flexible. Just because you’ve found what you think is the greatest curriculum, worship music, or whatever, don’t force it on your volunteers. Be patient. Respect their gifts and backgrounds and gently pull them forward. Roger recalls one teacher “who had developed her own curriculum and could not make the transition to hands-on curriculum. She tried, but she said, ‘I can’t do this.’ And I didn’t want her to quit teaching. She had taught 19 years.” So Roger lets her teach in the way that’s most comfortable to her and encourages her to innovate.

Serve teachers. If Roger had a theme song, it would be “I’ll Do Anything for You!”

“I make sure the classrooms are set up so when teachers walk in, they’re ready to go,” Roger says. “I don’t want teachers running around getting ready to teach when kids are coming to Sunday school. If they call me during the week-and I want them to-and they say ‘I need this and this and this,’ I put it in their class space. I’ll prep the videotape. I’ll have it all ready to go.”

Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of CHILDREN’S MINISTRY Magazine.


We asked Roger Mailand what the four deadliest things were for a volunteer program. Here’s his hit list.

Recruit ’em and desert ’em. Church volunteers want to feel part of a team, to be equipped, and to have necessary resources.

Ignore their input. Volunteers who’ll teach a curriculum need to help choose the curriculum. Then their feedback regarding every aspect of your program should be highly valued.

Never say thank you. Go beyond listing names in the bulletin, and practice “holy gossip.” Whenever your leadership hears a compliment about a volunteer, spread the word. Call the volunteer to share the good news. Plus, tell others the “juicy” bit of good gossip you heard.

Don’t give them an “out.” If volunteers feel captive to your program with no way out but quitting, you’re fostering guilt and a sense of failure in people. And once they escape your clutches, they’ll never return. You’ll never have long-term volunteers without short-term commitments. Roger offers nine-month commitments with summers off.

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