I heard some advice from a friend years ago that stuck with me. We were talking about fundraising for non-profits. He made a statement I have never forgotten. He said, “Most non-profits fail because they don’t realize that their number one job every day is fundraising. They want to see fundraising as secondary to the mission they're called to. But without funds, there is no mission." Solid advice for anyone running a non-profit. But there is also a significant application to youth workers when it comes to recruiting and keeping adult volunteers.
The call to disciple teenagers is what drives us in youth ministry. But if we don't have adult volunteers to help us, most of us would find our discipleship efforts severely crippled.
Identifying, recruiting, and keeping adult volunteers is one of the most vital tasks of any youth worker. And because this strikes fear into the hearts of many of us, I wanted to pass along three foolproof ways to recruit volunteers. In almost 20 years of doing youth ministry, I’ve seen these tips work. Here they are:
Tip 1: Refine Your Ask
Many youth workers don’t do a great job with their ask. For many of us, our recruiting efforts consist of an email to our existing youth ministry list asking for warm bodies to fill needs. “We still need two adult males to teach 9th-grade small group at 9:00." If you're lucky (or desperate), you get an insert in the church bulletin that may list needs with checkboxes by them. "Check the box beside "7th-grade girls small group leader" and turn your form in. If I can be direct with you for a moment, this is a pretty uninspiring ask. It makes it incredibly easy to say "no" or ignore it altogether.
Want a better way? Instead of inviting your adult volunteers to a task, invite them to a calling. Instead of asking if they will fill a time slot, ask them if they will consider taking on the mission of influencing the next generation of Christ-followers. Invite them to a calling. Which is a more compelling ask:
“Karen, we REALLY need someone to teach a girls breakout group on Sunday mornings. Is that something you have time to do?”
“Karen, I’ve watched the way you live your life and approach your faith. We have an awesome group of girls who I believe would really respond to someone like you. I think you could make a significant impact in their faith lives. Would you consider being someone who would invest in these girls over the next year?”
I believe most Christ-followers WANT to make an impact in the lives of others. Frame your ask around an invitation to make a difference, not a plea for a warm body to fill a time slot.
Tip 2: Embrace The “Zero Entry Pool” Mentality
Have you ever seen those "zero-entry pools" at hotels or water parks? You know, they are the ones that you can gradually walk into without having to jump right in. The nice thing about them is that if the water is chilly, you avoid the shock of the plunge. You can gradually get used to the temperature. We can offer the same approach to adult volunteers.
For those potential volunteers who have not had much interaction with your youth ministry, work to create intentional small intersections where they can ease into your world. Invite them to your Wednesday night service to hang out. No responsibility. Just be in the room. Or invite them to be a driver for a weekend retreat. Figure out a way to get them around your students in a low-risk environment. Then, when the time is right, begin to transition them to more responsibility. You may find you don't even have to ask; they may approach you asking for a more significant role.
We have to remind ourselves that many people want to help, they just aren’t comfortable with the unknown. Breaking down those walls can help.
Tip 3: Be Excellent
If you’ve ever heard me lead a workshop on adult volunteers, you’ve heard me say this. It’s a “sugar stick” of mine, one I don’t mind repeating. The absolute best way to recruit volunteers is to simply be excellent at what you do. Proficiency attracts proficient people. People who are serious about using their lives to make a difference will be drawn to areas of ministry where a difference is being made. Have a plan. Work hard. Invest yourself in your students and your ministry. Lead well. And watch as people come to you asking how they can get involved. I've been doing this a long time, and I can promise you this is a true statement: Youth workers who are excellent and faithful at their calling rarely struggle to find volunteers.