I’m certainly not an expert in recruiting. I have had my own struggles in building a volunteer team, but failure can be a terrific teacher. There’s no magic formula. The only way to recruit successfully is continuous hard work and tenacity to apply a few key principles. I want to share some of the insights and practices that have guided me.
Never recruit for a need; recruit for an opportunity. There is nothing less attractive than a pastor or ministry director standing up in front of the congregation and saying, “We’re swamped. We’re overwhelmed. We have to have some help! Will you please help us before we collapse?” What do you think the person listening actually hears in this plea? It screams, “There’s a really good reason no one is working with them!”
Here’s a free pointer: Never use the phrase, “No one wants to help us,” or “I can’t get anyone to help me.” People’s natural, instinctive (and wise) reaction to these statements is to avoid working with you. When you begin a recruitment pitch with negative words, it’s like my son, Jordan, beginning a request by saying, “Dad, I know you’re going to say ‘No,’ but . . .” My immediate response is always “No!” And he’s given me permission to give that answer. In fact, I can answer before he finishes the question. I’m trying to train him not to talk me out of agreeing with him before he asks the question. And I’m trying to train ministry leaders in the same way.
Rather than moan about being desperate for help, celebrate the growth and excitement of your ministry. Don’t talk about what you don’t have, talk about what you have—opportunities for the volunteers of your church to work on a great team and make an eternal impact in the lives of many.
Share the vision of your ministry. A clear, compelling vision of changed lives captures the hearts of those who might volunteer to join your team. Share stories in church services about God working to change the lives of individuals and their families. Also, ask team members to share stories about how God has touched them as they’ve served in the ministry. Being a volunteer is an incredible opportunity to honor God—not a rigid duty or an empty task.
When you’re recruiting prospective team members, you can tell them, “God is going to accomplish His plan in the lives of the people in our church. The question isn’t, ‘Will God do it?’ The question is, ‘Do you want to be a part of it?’”
Recruit one-on-one and face-to-face. Rather than putting a global, impersonal request in the bulletin, producing a video segment, or begging for a pulpit spot from your Lead Pastor, recruit by approaching people one-on-one and having a meaningful conversation with them.
Ask God to show you the people He’s preparing to join you. When He puts someone on your heart, make an appointment so you have time to share your vision and answer questions. Don’t just walk up in the hallway at church and give a quick invitation. That doesn’t communicate value or respect—or good planning.
Instead, invite the person to lunch or, at least, talk on the phone when you and the person aren’t rushed or distracted. Explain, “I wanted to talk to you because I believe God has given you the heart and the skills to make a difference in people’s lives.” Most will have plenty of questions. Remember: There are no stupid questions! Some people will give you an immediate response, but others will want time to think and pray about it. Respect the process for each person.
Recruit volunteers based on their gifts. Don’t recruit a volunteer simply to complete a task. In other words, don’t say, “I need someone to take care of the fifth-grade boys’ class.” Take time to uncover the person’s desires and spiritual gifts. If they’re not sure about their gifts, you can use an online inventory or one your church uses for other ministries. Find a role that best fits the person’s gifts, talents, and interests. For example, don’t stick a person who is gifted in teaching in the corner taking attendance. Honor every person’s heart and God-given abilities.
Develop a ministry application for volunteers to complete. If you don’t already have one, create an application that gathers important contact information and asks pertinent questions to provide insight into the person. What are their likes and dislikes? What experience do they have working in this area? What are their gifts and talents? What do they consider “success” in ministry?
Always include a criminal background check and personal references when recruiting someone to work with minors. Virtually every church leader can cite painful incidents when adults harmed children. Conduct due diligence to minimize the risk. It’s your responsibility to make sure kids are protected when they come to learn about God.
A standardized, comprehensive application elevates the importance of the ministry in the applicant’s eyes—and in the eyes of parents. It tells everyone about your dedication to create a safe and secure environment.
Ask for feedback and input from other staff pastors and your lead pastor before finalizing a person’s position on your team. The staff of your church can be an excellent source to screen people who might become volunteers in your area of ministry. They may be aware of situations in the applicant’s life that preclude him or her from being involved in ministry—at least at the present time. This may involve spiritual problems, emotional difficulties or family disputes. Also, the person may be serving in other areas of ministry and may already be stretched too thin.
It would be wise to get input from your pastor even before you approach the person about getting involved. Ask for a few minutes in a staff meeting or privately with your pastor to ask for input. A little caution will help you immensely and save you a world of hurt!
Develop a job description and clearly communicate your expectations. Don’t expect volunteers to “just know” what they need to do. For every responsibility, develop a job description to avoid confusion. Muddy expectations inevitably lead to confusion, disappointment and conflict. It takes some time to craft clear, workable job descriptions, but once you have them, they’re invaluable. You can create your own or adapt those used at another church.
Partner the new recruit with an effective member of your team. The best way for someone to learn how to do a job effectively is to watch someone else in action. Find the member of your team who is really knocking it out of the park and connect the new recruit with that person for at least three weeks. Allow the new recruit to observe not only what the veteran does, but also what she doesn’t do. Leave the door open for the new recruit to come back and ask questions to clarify roles and responsibilities.
Encourage your entire volunteer team to be relentless recruiters. You shouldn’t be the only one pumping up the ministry and asking others to be involved. People expect you to recruit volunteers; but in truth, the best recruiters are the volunteers who connect very closely with kids and parents. People may feel they can blow me off when I ask them to join our team, but they highly respect other volunteers who are their peers and who love being involved in our ministry.
As you build your team, remember this: Never settle! It’s better to have an unfilled position than the wrong person on your team. After someone has been recruited and placed in a role, it’s very difficult to “un-recruit” him. Pray, think and strategize. Ask God to give you a terrific team. As you talk to people, share your heart and your vision and begin building your team for the future.
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