Have you ever felt like you were trapped in a revolving door when it comes to recruiting? Just when you begin to feel you finally have enough volunteers, someone quits, and you’re back to recruiting again. That’s been the snapshot of my life for more than 20 years as I’ve served as the children’s pastor of a multi-site church in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Here are a few other snapshots: On average I oversee 150 volunteers and I’m typically recruiting for about 75 positions at a time. By my best estimate, I’ve recruited around 2,000 volunteers during my tenure.
Now I have to be honest; there have been several month-long stretches when we had all the help we needed and I got to catch my breath. But I’ve learned that those moments of surplus never last long. And there’s an upside to my perpetual recruiting: Having to spend so much time and energy enlisting new volunteers has fast-tracked my learning curve on the most effective ways to recruit.
FOCUS ON THE PERSONAL-NOT PIZAZZ
In my early days of leading children’s ministry, I used to think that having a catchy message–maybe a cute take-off of some current TV commercial–would result in lots of people wanting to be involved in our ministry to kids. What I found, though, was that often our most creative efforts yielded the most disappointing results.
I’ve come to realize that what makes all the difference in recruiting isn’t some flashy idea or message, but simply my ability to communicate with people. And just as important as how I grab someone’s attention is who I’m speaking to and what I’m saying.
People want to be personally asked to be involved. So it’s no surprise that a blurb in the church bulletin bears negligible results. And if I don’t have a clear message about what I’m asking from the person, if I don’t know who the right person for the job is, or if I can’t clearly explain the various ways that person can be involved in the ministry, I’ve missed my window of opportunity to add that person to my team.
SPEAK THE PASSION IN YOUR HEART
The second key to effective recruiting also relates to communication: It’s communicating the passion you have for your ministry to others.
Think of it this way. Before I attempt to recruit someone else to serve in our ministry, first and foremost I must be convinced that our ministry to kids is the most important thing our church does. After all, if you don’t feel this, no one else will. If you don’t feel completely passionate about kids, your ministry, your team, and your church, then recharge your batteries.
Remind yourself why you do what you do. Spend time investigating what the Bible has to say about kids. Ask God to open your eyes to see what he’s said in the Bible about kids. The Old Testament Bible prompts us in Psalm 89:1-2 to teach the next generations about God. That’s a good place to begin. Next, explore the passion and importance that Jesus showed to children. Wess Stafford, president of Compassion International, does a great job sharing a glimpse into God’s heart for kids in his book Too Small to Ignore. Reach for that book right after exploring the Bible.
It’s enlightening, refreshing, and invigorating to grasp the importance God places on kids. To effectively excite others about your ministry, you’ve got to fully grasp it, too. Your voice speaking out for kids can influence your entire church community, in turn creating a culture that values kids. When you’re working within a culture that loves kids, it’s a whole lot easier to find volunteers who want to serve.
Share what God has shown you about children with anyone who’ll listen. Your pastor, your friends, people in your small group, the parents in your church-wherever and with whomever you find an opportunity, speak up on behalf of children. Proverbs 31:8 tells us to speak up for those who can’t do so for themselves. That’s your cue to become an advocate for kids. Develop a few key thoughts and examples of why kids are so precious to God. Memorize those Bible passages about God’s love for kids and become familiar enough to paraphrase what Jesus said about them.
Ask God to place his passion inside your heart. That’s where God captured my heart. I want to love what God loves. And when the moment presents itself, you’ll be ready to share some pretty valuable insights to key people who’ll see your passion–and take it as their own.
FIND THE “KID PEOPLE”
It took me a while, but I finally came to the realization that not everyone in my church is called to work with kids. It’s hard to imagine that not everyone loves kids and is great with them when you are. Nowadays, my goal is to find the people who are “kid people.” That’s where prayer comes in. I need my eyes opened to see these people. I must be able to discern who the right person is for my team–and I’ve realized it’s not always the people I assumed it would be. A perfect example…I used to think the right person was someone who was looking to build relationships, so I emphasized that our ministry was a place where people could be part of a team.
We build teams within our ministry to kids, so naturally I thought that the relationship piece was what would attract people to join us. Sounds pretty solid, right? But what I later realized was that the people I was attracting with that specific message were most often people who didn’t relate well within the mainstream. They struggled relating with our team and with the kids. Clearly, I wasn’t reaching the people I needed to; I had to clarify my target and rethink my message.
Now, as I target the right “kid people,” I communicate specific ways they can be involved in ministry to kids. When I need volunteers for a specific purpose, I consider what the right people need to hear and know about the position before I approach them. For every position, I include detailed information about the amount of time each week volunteers serve kids, the skills (if any) needed, and the length of commitment required. In the past I didn’t give volunteers an end date for their commitment.
Ending dates are scary; what if a volunteer’s time is up and I have no one to take that person’s place? But the reality is that by asking volunteers to commit for a specific period of time (with built-in time off), I actually prevent burnout and get people who enjoy ministering to kids to keep returning year after year. In fact, I have one volunteer who’s served in our ministry for over 20 years…and he still loves it!
When you help people find the right position (even if it means a bit of shuffling to begin with), they’ll have a more satisfying experience…which means ultimately your overall load of recruiting will drop. I like to categorize volunteer positions into groups; for instance, opportunities to work with kids or administratively, to volunteer weekly or monthly, or to volunteer with a specific age group. Categories tend to attract the people who want to serve in them. When you give people the options available, they’ll seek out what appeals to them.
You may still have to play a bit of matchmaker, though. That means recruiting a volunteer for one position and then tweaking the position or the volunteer’s role until the fit is more complete or compatible. I had one high school girl who initially really wanted to work with preschoolers. She was faithful in coming each week, but I couldn’t get her to stay in the room for the whole hour. She continually found excuses to leave the room to go visit her friends.
After many conversations about her commitment and the position description, I encouraged her to volunteer with an elementary age group, assisting the kids as they checked in using our computerized check-in system. Not only was she great at overcoming any computer glitch, she worked alongside another high school girl and the two became good friends. Putting her in the right place made everyone a whole lot happier.
Helping people find their place to serve in the body of Christ is one of the great joys of leading people. Even though my job has its periods of stress and challenges, I know that I’m making a difference not only in the lives of the kids but also in the lives of the volunteers serving in our ministry. And I’m not doing my job alone. What I do matters to God. He wants kids to know him, become like him, and make him known in their generation. The more volunteers I have, the more children’s lives we can impact–together.
What a Volunteer Wants
In a recent study of volunteers commissioned by the Girl Scouts of America, people listed these requirements for a successful volunteer experience:
- Flexible schedule
- Clearly defined roles
- Opportunities that match volunteers’ interests
- A welcoming environment
- Reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses
- Training, mentoring, and other support services
Source: Voices of Volunteers 18-29
Becky Olmstead is the children’s pastor at Vineyard Church of the Rockies, a large, multi-campus congregation in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 2008 she was appointed to lead a National Task Force for Children’s Ministry in the Vineyard movement, which sponsors conferences, develops resources, and raises awareness across the country.