Volunteer recruitment is a constant concern of those who are charged with the task in ministries to children and teens. Often, the process is made more difficult than necessary because those who are recruiting volunteers aren’t using best practices. We have created a new category of volunteer management in our blog to help address issues that can impact your recruitment, training and management of the volunteers in your ministry.
In this first official volunteer management post, we want to address a few cognitive biases that may be keeping you from recruiting the strongest possible volunteer team for your ministry. Cognitive biases are ways of thinking that impact our decisions and often because of these biases, the results of our choices are not as positive as we had hoped. Unfortunately, most of us are unaware these biases exist, so we continue making the same mistakes over and over.
There are several cognitive biases that may be negatively impacting your recruitment of the best possible volunteers for your ministries. These are volunteers who were gifted by God to minister to young people. They are gifted teachers or have gifts in the other roles of your ministry. They are the most likely to help young people meet the spiritual growth goals you have for them. More often than not though, these people are sitting on the sidelines with their talents, because of one or more of these cognitive biases. Often they are not recruited or their offers of help are refused, leaving ministries a shadow of what they could be.
- Social comparison bias. This is a tendency to favor people who aren’t seen as competition of our own strengths. It’s a tendency to recruit teachers or other volunteers who are just a little bit less gifted than we are. Mind you, it’s not necessarily a thought process of which you are aware. Look carefully at your volunteers. Are you stronger than them in almost every area? You may have been unknowingly recruiting to this bias. Start looking for volunteers who are more gifted and talented than you. Don’t view it as a competition or a threat, but as providing young people with the best possible ministry.
- Status quo bias. This bias tends to reject new ideas or requests for change. It ignores weaknesses and avoids confronting problems. It refuses to effectively evaluate volunteers and curriculum. The fear of change is greater than the fear of failure. It’s why we may leave ineffective volunteers in place for years or avoid gifted volunteers with new ideas. Since the stakes in ministry are eternal, our fear of failing the young people to whom we minister should always out weigh our fear of upsetting the status quo.
- Stereotyping. We usually think of stereotyping in relation to prejudice, but there is a more subtle application that can still negatively impact your ministry. Do you assume a certain type of person makes a more effective Bible class teacher? Do most of your volunteers reflect very similar demographics? While God and His commands and principles don’t change, being taught them in different ways helps every student find the presentation of the material they need to truly understand what God wants for them and from them. These different methods are more likely to come from a diverse group of volunteers with different backgrounds and life experiences. They should all have strong Bible knowledge and teaching skills, but their more superficial demographics should vary.
- Women are wonderful bias. (I promise I did not make this up, but found it from a reliable source!) This is the tendency to assume women (in our case) make better Bible class teachers than men, because they have more positive qualities. The reality is many children today have no father figure in their lives. They desperately need to see godly men in action. They need to be mentored by them. If you are properly vetting your volunteers and have adequate safety policies in place, your male Bible class teachers may be more impactful for some students than your female volunteers. Some of the best elementary school teachers I have ever known were men. Being male does not preclude one from being loving, nurturing or a talented teacher of children.
- Halo effect. The tendency to assume because someone is good looking, smart or has some other desirable characteristic that they also will make effective ministry volunteers. Teaching and ministry are gifts given to all sorts of people. Conversely people with all sorts of other wonderful attributes are not necessarily effective in teaching and ministering to young people. Focus on finding people with the gifts that match your volunteer needs.
- In-group bias. This is the tendency to recruit people who have attended your church for years, while ignoring newer and possibly more appropriately gifted volunteers. Trust is an issue in our world today. Sadly, volunteer vetting alone tells us that those people we know and trust may be harming our young people, while newer people may help them grow more spiritually. Or the reverse can be true. That’s the purpose of volunteer vetting. It allows you to use the most effective volunteers, even if you haven’t personally known them for very long.
Recognizing any cognitive biases you have can be the first step in recruiting volunteers who have a greater positive impact on the young people to whom you minister. This will take a lot of honest reflection and prayer to see how any biases you may have are negatively impacting your ministry. It may take time to make needed corrections, but it’s what those precious young souls desperately need you to do.