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Woman talking to a man. They are drinking coffee at a table by the fireplace. She is recruiting him to be a volunteer.
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Tips for Effective Volunteer Recruiting

In a volunteer recruiting rut? Join our conversation with veteran recruiters to discover their secrets for effective recruiting that stands the test of time!


Will the kids in your ministry find rooms full of eager volunteers—or are you still looking for supply gatherers and registrars? What will you do? (Other than pull out your hair?)

Children’s Ministry Magazine recently sat down with three recruiting veterans to find out what they do to get volunteers—and keep them—when the harvest is plenty and the workers are few.

Tom McKee, the founder of Volunteer Power, is co-author of The New Breed: Understanding & Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer.

Susan Grover, director of kids ministry at Compass Bible Church in Aliso Viejo, California, serves on the executive board of the premier children’s ministry network in Southern California.

Christi Hendrickson, an early childhood pastor at Open Bible Christian Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, oversees ministry to kids from birth through kindergarten and has been actively recruiting for four years.

So, sit down with us. Grab a cup of coffee, and let’s see what the experts have to say about transforming empty rooms into fully staffed kid-magnets!

cm: Let’s start with the “don’ts.” What recruiting methods have you tried that really flopped?

Tom:

Making announcements. In fact, in The New Breed, I call the very first sin, “Expect Announcements to Get Volunteers.” It doesn’t work. Never has, never will.

Christi:

These past tactics of mine were really ineffective: I felt guilty asking busy people, so I did a lot of procrastinating…which led to a lot of empty spots. That meant that in my first few months as a children’s pastor, I did a whole lot of subbing myself. Also, when I called people, I had no plan. If they said yes, it took another 10 minutes on the phone just to figure out where they should serve. I realized I have to be specific in what I’m asking potential volunteers to commit to.

Susan:

When I first started working with volunteers, I didn’t have a clear vision for ministry with kids or a specific philosophy of how the ministry would be carried out. I thought it was up to me, not God, to recruit people. So I also took it personally when people said, “No.” Now I’m clear on why the ministry exists, the philosophy of ministry, and that people come into ministry through the power of God—not me.

cm: What’s been your biggest obstacle to finding good people to do great things in your ministry?

Tom:

Mine was being afraid to ask because I always thought people were too busy. It took me years to get over this obstacle. Now I’m never afraid to ask busy people to volunteer.

Christi:

Time. I want more time to build relationships with people and to train them to be great teachers.

Susan:

For me, it’s communicating serving not as a “have to” but rather as a “get to.” Serving God through the local church is a gift. It allows people to obey God and store up treasures in heaven, grow in their faith, deepen their connections with others, and more! My biggest obstacle now is creating new positions for people who have a strong desire to serve and launching new ministry efforts to keep up with needs.

cm: Do you think it’s more difficult in today’s world to find volunteers?

Tom:

It’s always been difficult, but today’s volunteers want to be empowered and want to be in charge. They don’t want to stuff envelopes.

Christi:

People have always been busy, but there are more distractions.

Susan:

I don’t think it’s hard. It may sound hard to believe but in 21 years, I’ve never needed a volunteer. Ministering to kids is an opportunity. That’s the critical distinction. I have never begged, given a guilt trip, or “recruited” one single person. But, I have invited many to participate in what God is doing. Right now, in a church of thousands and with 700 kids, I have a waiting list of people who are begging me to let them teach kids God’s Word.

cm: How do you overcome hesitation or excuses?

Christi:

It’s important to build relationships all the time. I also try to ease people into ministry and let them know they won’t be alone. I let them serve as an assistant alongside a really strong lead teacher initially, check in with them myself after their first time, and be available to answer questions. They need feedback, encouragement, and ongoing training. Nothing replaces mentoring!

Tom:

I often find that if I listen, that “no” actually means one of several things: “Not now—I’ve got too much on my plate;” “Not this position—I have other gifts I’d like to use;” “Not with this present leadership;” or “Not in your lifetime.” Listen carefully to the excuses.

Susan:

I want people’s first response to be “Yes! I’d love to serve and teach kids God’s Word. Thank you so much for inviting me.” That might seem laughable, but that’s how I operate. I talk through what our vision and purpose are and what I’m inviting them to do, and I trust God for the rest. Also, I have no problem asking big. I let people know serving kids must be a priority for them and that may mean restructuring their time to serve every week until God calls them out or home—no terms, no once-a-month, no way! If that’s all they can do, I redirect them to the doughnut ministry where it doesn’t matter if they’re serving every week since they aren’t teaching biblical truths and laying a solid foundation in the lives of kids. Does that sound too harsh? We’re the ones who have to elevate this ministry in the church because, quite frankly, that’s why God called you and me to these positions. It’s our job to advocate, protect, and provide for the children.

cm: What’s one of the most common excuses you hear for why people can’t serve?

Christi:

My favorite is, “Oh, we did that last year, so we’re done.” We also hear that parents are scared of children—how funny is that?

Susan:

I don’t hear excuses, mostly I think because I don’t view children’s ministry like some churches do—I can barely say the word: childcare. I think it’s egregious for any church to offer anything that resembles childcare or even refers to the ministry with kids by that name. Who would ever want to join a ministry that devalues the work of God with children so much that it’s merely a holding place for kids while adults are being taught? I’d make an excuse, too!

cm: Children’s ministers need effective ideas that are simple and doable. What do you suggest?

Tom:

We suggest the “Dating Method of Recruiting.” We say, “Don’t ask for marriage—but ask for a date.” Recruiting from the pulpit is like a woman standing up in church and saying, “I’m looking for a husband. Anyone interested, see me in the foyer.” Church recruitment usually sounds like we’re asking for a lifetime commitment. Instead, ask for a date. Give them a taste with a small job with the goal of a second date, if the person seems promising.

Susan:

First is faithful prayer. Second, simply ask. Go to people you see at church and ask them to be part of what God is doing with children. Third, be sure you have a ministry that is attractive and attracting to others. Vision, purpose, planning, organization, and training are critical aspects of having a ministry that attracts and keeps volunteers. Fourth, always be enthusiastic and energetic, utilizing every opportunity to broadcast what God is doing with kids, your ministry team, kids events, and so on. Fifth, nurture your volunteers. Finally, remember the words of the Apostle Peter: “If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” A good reminder for all of us called by God and committed to the work he has called us to.

Christi:

We love on and know our teams— their birthdays, end of a quarter, any reason to celebrate. I go to every room and touch base with my teachers at service time, even though I have great leaders. Team building events always have personal touches. I host gatherings at my home, send cards and emails, and stay connected as much as possible. I greatly value my team, and I do my best to make sure they know what a blessing they are! Don’t be afraid to recruit youth and train them to be lead teachers. Some of them are gifted. We have also made it okay for people to take a break. Most of our teachers take the summer quarter off, and we encourage it. They typically return in the fall refreshed and ready to go!

cm: What’s your best tip for finding the right people to volunteer?

Christi:

Know who you want: “Must love God, have a servant’s spirit, be ready to learn, and love kids.” Show them how much fun you have ministering to children and do a good job of explaining expectations. We’ve found that discussing frequency, duration, and expectations of the position up front is a must. Later in the training process, we cover classroom expectations and other details. If they know that they’ll get adequate training, and they have a realistic picture of what they’ll be doing, it seems to be less overwhelming for a new person.

Tom:

We must define the position we want and then look for that person. Too often we get a crew of people and then try to find jobs for them. A “first date” might be serving ice cream at an event. I’ll spend time with people, talking about our ministry and the impact on children. If it goes well, I’ll try for a “second date” at Starbucks to get to know them and talk about a specific need.

Susan:

Most important is prayer. Pray for God to give you the eyes to see who he wants you to place in ministry. Look around and see those who are faithful, those who speak highly and enthusiastically of the ministry, those who have personally benefited from serving, those who share stories with you about how their child learned this or that from the lesson. That’s who you want to partner with you in ministry with kids. Colossians 4:2 instructs us to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” We would do well to make this our gold standard in ministry. Never try to convince anyone to do anything. What a joy and privilege it is to participate in the work of God and that God would count us worthy to allow us to serve him!

cm: What last words of recruiting advice do you have?

Christi:

Always be on the lookout for new team members. Plug in families soon after you’ve gotten to know them. It makes them feel “part of the family,” and they are more likely to stay with your church and keep growing in their relationship with Christ.

Tom:

My pet peeve is announcing, “If you don’t volunteer, we’ll cancel this ministry.” Do you want guilt volunteers or those with a passion to impact the lives of children? And don’t forget screening. We live in a crazy world. Be cautious

Susan:

Charles Spurgeon talks about teaching children God’s truth: “Whether we teach them the truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error.” No matter what it takes to get the right people in the right positions to teach God’s Word the right way, do it! cm

Jennifer Buell is a former children’s minister, mom, and freelance writer in South Dakota.

For more great recruiting ideas like this, subscribe today to Children’s Ministry Magazine!


2 thoughts on “Tips for Effective Volunteer Recruiting

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the input. I would say, I think I got a couple of children’s workers via an announcement, though we only did that once–not because we were “in need” but just to make the ministry opportunity known to the congregation. Usually I approach people whom I think would be good in the positions, and ask them to pray about serving. Some seemed to just be waiting to be asked! Others weren’t interested…It’s up to the Lord. We don’t want anyone in the children’s ministry who doesn’t want to be there. I do let people know that they are always welcome to go look and see what’s going on, and then when they decide they let me know. So far, that has been enough to keep the ministry supplied with children’s workers. I would emphasize that it is totally up to God, not us, to “move” someone into position…We all know that already, but have to keep reminding ourselves, esp. when we feel the pressure.

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Tips for Effective Volunteer Recruiting

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