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3 Alternatives to Frantic or Desperate Volunteer Recruiting

3 Alternatives to Frantic or Desperate Volunteer Recruiting

A great team of volunteers is the lifeblood of any healthy ministry environment. No youth pastor, no matter their experience, wisdom, cultural relevance, or caffeine consumption, can or should do ministry on their own.

Big or small, single-site or multi-site, every youth ministry is more effective and likely more fruitful when there is a team of diverse people working together to see young people introduced to Jesus and guided in their faith journey.

So, how does this team get built? In most churches, there aren’t dozens of people lined up outside

our office waiting to serve with Axe-laden middle schoolers or to lead small groups overflowing with high school drama. Building a team can feel as daunting as making it through a “hot one's” challenge without throwing up.

Though there is no magic bullet for recruiting, there should be a commitment to some basic practices that shape the way we recruit. Because of just how important this team of disciple makers is to any ministry, there should be a plan for our recruiting efforts.

Early in ministry, my recruiting plan was sheer desperation. Maybe this is true of you? I needed breathing bodies that could pass a background check just to manage the chaos of middle school ministry. Here is a simple truth: frantic or desperate recruiting efforts produce frantic or desperate volunteers.

When you recruit from a place of sheer desperation, people serve because they felt bad for the youth pastor (or they’re convinced you’re crazy and want to be the responsible adult in the room). But what happens when things settle down, and the desperation fades? The answer is that when the perceived need is gone, so are the people. This mass exodus (or drip by drip departure) takes place because there’s nothing keeping a volunteer connected, nothing significant driving their involvement, and nothing guiding recruiting efforts to get them on the team or lead them well.

Thankfully, there’s a better way. Here are three things I like to keep in mind when recruiting a team of amazing volunteers around me.

1. Tap Some Shoulders.

We’ve all sat in a service that turns into an infomercial for the dozens of volunteer needs across our church, right? “You know, speaking of the resurrection, we have a need for some people to rise up and fill a need on our traffic team. If you feel the Lord speaking to you, talk to Gary before you leave.” More often than not, poor Gary isn’t getting any phone calls.

I don’t mean to be overly critical of this approach; there is a time and place for it. But here is what I have learned to be true: When the net is cast that wide, most people will assume someone else is going to step into it, or you risk “catching” the wrong kind of person.

Rather than relying on well-placed plugs for your ministry opportunity, spend time in the lobby of your church, stand in the back of your service, and do some people-watching. Who do you see worshiping and engaging people around them? Who do you see reflecting Jesus in those spaces?

Go tap a shoulder. Introduce yourself, and invite them to coffee. Make the invitation personal and specific. Say something like, “Hey, I was noticing the way you welcome the people around you, and I would love to have that kind of hospitality in our student ministry. Can I take you to coffee, get to know you a bit, and share some opportunities to serve our students?” When you do this, the person you are speaking with feels seen; you’ve made a personal connection, called out godly character in them, and pointed to a way in which they could further bless the church.
When we take the risk and tap a shoulder, we make recruiting personal.

2. Verbalize Your Vision.

Similar to the temptation to rely on recruiting from stage it’s easy to overemphasize our digital or written efforts in recruiting. Using a church bulletin, a website, creating signage, or a social media campaign are all means to share a need. They each have their place, but much like casting a wide net, they will lack the individuality and specificity that a verbal vision cast brings.

When we sit down with someone, we have the opportunity to articulate a vision for the ministry role we are inviting them into and a chance to point to the work that God is already doing within the ministry. You can personalize the invitation, attend to specific questions, offer clarity where needed, and provide a full sense of your own heart for the ministry.

A former boss encouraged me to recruit like Nick Saban, not like a community college coach. A coach at a community college knows they’ll need to push really hard to land that five-star recruit. Nick Saban, however, knows good things are happening in the program with or without that recruit but wants them to share in the excitement of the success and contribute to the growth.

When we recruit, are we pointing to the amazing things that God is already doing? Are we giving a glimpse at how this person's giftings may be used by God in the space we’re inviting them into? Verbalizing the vision when recruiting invites someone to latch onto something bigger than themselves, which invites them to longevity in a role and serving for reasons that go beyond any one person or desperate plea to get involved.

3. Recruit On Your Knees.

Processes, plans, tips, and tricks are helpful. As someone who’s spent my occupational ministry career at a large multi-site church, trust me, I know the value of a good system. I also know the value of a robust prayer life. When it comes to recruiting, taking a prayerful posture might be the most important part of your plan.

When you work in ministry, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that you’re called to participate in building God’s Kingdom. That’s who you are as an image bearer and as a child of God- you’re stewarding His creation and invited to join in what He is doing as He reconciles the world back to Himself. But too often, we rely on our tricks, our quick wit, or the latest youth ministry hack to build kingdoms that end up being a bit more about us than we might care to admit.

Scripture paints the picture of a God who is working to build a Kingdom that won’t be overcome. We can trust Him to provide the workers needed to see His Kingdom built. God has invited you to play a part in the kingdom-building, but He’s the chief builder, and He knows perfectly what is needed to see it done. More than just a knowledge of what is needed, He has the means to provide it and the desire to do so.

A plan for recruiting, a pipeline for development, shoulder-tapping, and verbalizing a vision are all important. But each should be situated properly under the lordship of King Jesus and should be preceded with and covered with prayer for God to bring the people you need to steward the flock He has entrusted to you.

Let’s commit to being intentional and prayerful about the needs we have within our ministry. Living in the sweet union of participation and reliance can be a bit unsettling at first, but speaking from experience (and always growing), it’s the best place to be.


Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • What adaptations do you need to make to your current recruiting process/strategy?
  • How can you invite your current team of volunteers to join in the efforts of recruiting new volunteers?
  • Who can you invite to join you in praying for God’s provision of new volunteers in your area(s) of ministry?

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