Events are essential, and they are such a vital part of student ministry. Although there are some aspects of retreats that we can't control, there is one crucial aspect that we can control: recruiting adult volunteers.
No matter what size ministry you operate, you can always benefit from people helping you. Some leaders have led alone, but the best thrive with help around them. Before we dive into the article, I want to take a moment to speak to those of you who do operate alone. Thank you for the sacrifice you make, and for the countless hours and energy, you have poured into these students. The hope is this article might provide you with some helpful tools to start bringing others into the ministry. If you are someone reading this who operates with a team or group of volunteers, then our hope is this article helps you do this even better!
When it comes to the art of recruiting, there is one important thing we have to start with. Who are you recruiting? There are two different ways of approaching who you recruit.
Number 1-The Next Generation
Do you remember what life was like when you were twenty years old? If you have trouble answering that question, it might be even tougher to answer the following question. Do you remember what life was like when you were fifteen years old? I’m not trying to make you feel bad about your age, but the reality is that each year we get further away from the age of the people we are ministering to. The first group of people you are going to look to is one of the largest benefits of doing student ministry, former students.
Bring in college students who have passed through your ministry. They’re younger, closer to the age of your students, more energetic. These students can answer the question of what it feels like to be twenty because they are. Not only that, but their memory of high school is fresh. The struggles they faced in high school are directly comparable to the current high school experience. I loved seeing my college leaders start talking with my current students about certain teachers who were still at the high school. The current college students are also the older students your current high schoolers looked up to.
Along with the advantages come challenges. Maybe they don’t know your students as well as the adults within your church. They may not have as strong of a grasp on teaching and leading students as your existing small group leaders. College is also not a time of accountability in most situations. When you work with college students, you want to draw them in with a few key things.
1. The Investment Opportunity
We all live our lives, hoping to have some sort of impact on the world around us. I could not name a single person who wants to go through their life, hoping they just survived. Most individuals want to affect the world, and a powerful way to do this is to pour into the next generation.
2. The Fun Opportunity
College-age students can always find something fun. It's not hard to walk down the hall of a dorm and find three other people who are willing to go and do something fun. When you invite college students to join you for your retreat, also let them know it's going to be fun. I'm not saying this has to be the only focus, but if your students know it will be fun, then they are more likely to come. I worked at a church where we recruited ten small group leaders by merely telling them we would be playing real-life Fortnite that weekend.
3. The Guided Opportunity
You are not going to cut these students completely loose this weekend, as that would be a dangerous thing to do. Remind them of the fun they had at events like this, and how they get to do this for the next generation. You'll model what they are going to do over the retreat by investing in them. My favorite response is when a college student tells me they didn't love the retreat while they were in the student ministry. I ask them why and how they would make it better. When they answer, I do my best to work that into the planning and ask them to come to make it happen. Inviting them into the creation process of the retreat gives them even more, buy into the event.
Although this is not a bad option, there is another, potentially more reliable option.
Bring in your students existing small group leaders. This comes with a couple of strengths as well. Your existing leaders have been working with your students for some amount of time. They know their hearts and their struggles better.
On top of that, they will be already set up to have an impact after your event is over. There are adults currently present within the lives of your students, so why not ask them to be involved even further? We see bonding occurs through shared experiences, and there are few experiences like a retreat weekend.
This also runs with the issue of typically, your existing leaders may be a little older. (Trust me when I say that the last thing you want is a tired and grumpy leader at your event…) This can easily be accounted for. If you have some leaders who you know will need a little bit of break time, aka all of them, then schedule that for them. If you have more leaders than you need, you can promise them times of rest. They will not only praise you for the needed rest, but they will also be more willing to return. The last thing a leader wants to feel is overused. This method is asking your current and committed volunteers to do a bit more. This works out well, but you have to make sure you treat them well.
Now that we’ve covered the WHO, what about the WHEN? When is the best time to begin recruiting those volunteers?
I once asked a ministry mentor the same question, and he responded yesterday. All jokes aside, the general rule of thumb that I’ve found is that the earlier you get your volunteers, the better. Some of the most organized and best volunteers are also the people that make plans months in advance. I start recruiting for next year’s event about one week after the event ended. Follow up with your leaders who did a great job, how would you like to come back and lead with this again next year? Go ahead and put it on your calendar. The odds are they likely won’t put it on their calendar, but the seed you just planted makes it significantly easier to recruit next year.
A safe bet to start recruiting is three months ahead of your event. You want to start putting your asks and hooks out there because, at those moments, you can make sure you are looking for the right people. Don’t find yourself in a situation where you are trying to find volunteers in the days before the event. If you find yourself searching for volunteers the day before the event, these likely will be undertrained and unwilling volunteers. You wouldn't preach a message without preparing, and your leaders will be preaching much louder than you all weekend. The voice, attitude, and energy your leaders bring can make or break your retreat.
Also, make sure you refine your ask. The way you ask someone to volunteer does matter. What you give them when you ask is crucial. "Will you lead 16 middle school boys this weekend," or "Will you help out or student ministry by mentoring and leading a group of our middle school guys in their weekend as we focus on the life-changing power of Christ?"
WHICH SOUNDS BETTER?
We’ve said it multiple times already, but find time to train your adult leaders before your event. Don’t leave them high and dry. This is as much their event as it is yours, so help them! I've never had a leader approach me before the event, telling me they felt overprepared for what I was asking that weekend. I've had plenty of leaders show up asking questions of things I THOUGHT I had covered. When three different leaders ask you the same question…you likely didn't communicate that point well.
Another thing I've found helpful is emailing out your leader packets ahead of time. This usually includes the schedule, expectations, travel/sleeping arrangements, and small group questions. I also print a copy of these for each of the leaders. There are few things like holding that paper copy in your hands. Your "experienced" leaders will thank you for it.
Focus on a follow-up. After your event: "How did we equip you well? Where did we fail?" This lets your volunteers know that issues that they may have had this year won't be there next year, plus it increases buy-in on the part of your volunteers.
Your next group of volunteers is out there; you just have to ask. Don't be discouraged if you get some no's when you start asking. Remember that proper spiritual health is to say no to things sometimes. You might happen to be the no they needed to say. What that also means is God has the right volunteers waiting around the corner. Be fervent in seeking them and be organized when you find them.
What you do matters, and your events matter. We here at YM360 are your biggest fan, and we want to help you do what you do as best we can. If there is ever a way we can help, please reach out, and we'd be happy to! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Andy and Robbie give you more advice for recruiting volunteers in the video below!
Or listen on the go with the YM360 Podcast!