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Sold Out: 8 Critical Roles You Play in Selling Your Ministry

Being a ministry leader is a lot like being a salesperson. Here are eight critical roles you play in selling your ministry to your volunteers.


Believe it or not, you’re a salesperson for your ministry — if selling is defined as convincing. Think of everything you do to try to convince your volunteers of something — to attend training, to call absent children, to move into greater leadership, and more.

So what kind of salesperson are you? A used car salesman whose selfish ambition and egocentric manipulation makes a customer feel coerced? Or a Starbucks barista whose smile and winsome words create a climate where people don’t mind committing five bucks for a cup of coffee because the experience overshadows the price?

A manipulative salesperson can force people to comply with requests, but compliance isn’t your goal. Commitment is your goal. Using guilt or fear to motivate only leads to outward action without internal commitment. Creating a culture of compliance isn’t consistent with a long-term ministry mind-set. Your goal is to prepare people for productive, life-changing service that fulfills their needs for significance, belonging, and kingdom productivity.

The best way to convince people to do something is to focus not on what you need, but to instead focus on what they need. You must sell in such a way as to enhance people’s satisfaction. Tap into what motivates people at each stage of their level of satisfaction, and you’ll help people buy into your ministry’s good goals. Once you understand the stages people go through, adjust your role to fit their needs.

8 Critical Roles You Play in Selling Your Ministry

Learn as a Student.

Some of your volunteers might be ready for change — they just don’t know it yet. They’re content to just sit in the choir or just observe on the sidelines. What should your role be?

You must become a Student to learn all you can about what’s important to these potential volunteers. Ask questions. Do they have time to serve? Are you aware of their passion or heart for service? Do they have children? This is the first step in the process of selling your ministry.

Diagnose their need as a Doctor.

Once you have all the information you need to understand people, you’re ready to diagnose their need to serve in your ministry.

A Doctor diagnoses discontent to arrive at a need the patient unknowingly wants. Too often, our potential volunteers don’t even know that working in children’s ministry is beneficial to them. Your role as a Doctor is to persuade a person as to the benefits of his or her service.

Frankly, too often we don’t feel that what we’re providing is beneficial, and thus we’re hesitant to recruit or too timid to expect good attendance at our teacher training. A good Doctor shows what healthy patients look like, is passionate about good habits, and is gentle in persistence.

Build a picture of the solution as an Architect.

Once you’ve convinced people they need what you’re offering, design unique solutions by playing the Architect.

An Architect arrives at a simple solution to your volunteers’ needs. This is truly where the fun begins. Is one of your volunteers’ needs to feel a part of a small accountability group? Your team approach to ministry might just be the solution.

Does your training meeting attendance leave you frustrated because the felt need of another meeting just isn’t part of your volunteers’ equation? Then try calling it something different. Or disguise team-building as a trip to the outlets or meet one-on-one at Caribou Coffee with your favorite potential leader.

Debby Albrecht, the director of Kingdom Kids at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, had a tough time getting volunteers out to an evening training meeting until she hit on an Architect’s dream of a solution. Instead of an inconvenient and irrelevant meeting, she broke down her team-building over two days and at times that were very good for her volunteers — not necessarily just for her. She met with one group at 10 a.m. and then another at 1:30 p.m. and finally a third at 4:30 p.m.

These times, incidentally, corresponded with when her volunteers were finished dropping off or picking up children, or when a swing-shift spouse could take over watching young children.

Coach your team.

Once you’ve designed a unique solution, you’re ready to move on to serve as a Coach for your team.

The role of a Coach is one of the most critical. Your potential or current volunteers are comparing what you’re selling with many other alternatives. Time commitments, family priorities, choir rehearsal, work, and vacations all compete for the same priority in a volunteer’s mind.

What you have to coach or compel are the strengths of your “game plan” as opposed to the competition’s. Why is ministering to children in some churches a badge of distinction? Why do many leaders attract stellar performers around their ministry? They’ve understood what makes their training event, leadership development program, or ministry opportunity a priority in terms of prestige and honor in people’s minds.

Jim Wideman at Church on the Move in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has surrounded himself and his children’s ministry with an unprecedented amount of long-term volunteers. Why? First, Wideman is committed to his church leaders, which creates a culture of commitment. Second, Wideman is committed to putting the right people in the right places to maximize their talents.

Once people know you’re coaching for team success, and their own, it feels right to choose ministry in the children’s department as opposed to somewhere else. Now they’re ready to buy into the commitment requests you’ve been selling.

Deal with their fears as a Therapist.

Have you ever wondered why an email wasn’t returned or a phone call went unanswered or those who’d RSVP’d just didn’t materialize? It’s fear of commitment. The fear stage many of our volunteers arrive at changes what we’d seen as a “sure thing” commitment to a no-show.

Fear is an emotional response we’ve all felt when we’re ready to say yes to that marriage proposal or sign the lease on that car. What should you do and how should you respond to fear?

When fear sets in, your role becomes that of a Therapist. Since fear is an emotional response, you don’t want to respond with logic or an argument. When a phone call isn’t returned, don’t keep pestering the timid with the same form of contact. Email them. If that doesn’t get a response, casually contact them on a Sunday-or even show up at their home. They’re avoiding you because of their fear and want desperately to say no but don’t know how.

Close the deal as a Negotiator.

In the role of Negotiator, you summarize the benefits and results that come from a “yes.” For your volunteers, it’s a restatement of what you’ll do for them and what you expect they’ll contribute.

Remember, if a person has already said yes to come to your training event, you just need to confirm the arrival time and promise to conclude by a certain time.

In negotiations, you restate when the teacher’s assignment will conclude and what resources you’ll provide for your team. Volunteers are committing, and you’re negotiating the terms of that commitment so there’s no misunderstanding at all about expectations. This is a great time to review the position or ministry description even if you know the person is going to continue with the commitment or is just beginning the term of service.

Invest in people as a Teacher.

Don’t leave the committed alone; instead, help them value the role they’re playing. Your role changes for them to one of Teacher as you fulfill their expectations.

It’s a terrible thing for a volunteer to begin a term of service, attend that training, or agree to staff-development only to realize that what was promised isn’t being delivered. In our role of Teacher, we create a climate of learning to highly value service, commitment, and the quality of what we’ve sold them. As you play Teacher to your team, drop in and watch them shine in the classroom. This is a great time to evaluate with your team members if what they expected is being delivered.

Monitor your team as a Farmer.

Once we’re convinced people’s expectations are being met (or exceeded) we then play the role of the Farmer to sustain satisfaction.

A Farmer works hard to prepare the soil, plant, and then harvest. However, in between is a process that appears to be effortless and leisurely but is in fact full of watchfulness and anticipation.

You’re not “hoping” your team is satisfied; you make certain that satisfaction is being felt and realized. You’re celebrating commitment and talking up the results of changed lives in each classroom.

Notice that you’re playing the Farmer once your team members are in place and enjoying their service. Too often we try to encourage our team to stay by pleading with them or touting their supposed success as we measure it. But success in ministry measures satisfaction through the volunteers’ eyes, through the parents’ observations, and not through the institution’s priorities.

Keith Johnson is a former Aha Architect for Group Publishing, Inc.

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


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