If you are in charge of recruiting volunteers for children’s or youth ministry, you may feel as if you are in a never ending cycle of rejection. After decades of observing volunteer recruitment efforts in churches and ministries all over the world, I have learned there are certain ”best practices” that successful recruiters utilize. They are things anyone can do…if you are willing to put in the time and effort at the beginning to make your life easier later.
- Aim high. Successful recruiters understand the extreme importance of having the very best ministries to children and teens. That means they also need the very best possible volunteers. They are not afraid to communicate that they will not necessarily accept everyone who applies to volunteer. They have screening processes that include criminal records and reference checks and interview about personal theology to make sure false teachings won’t be shared as truth with young people. If you recruit for ”warm bodies”, that is all you will usually ever get.
- Ask in person. General announcements are not effective. You should speak with everyone on the telephone or in person. Emails should only be used in emergencies. You need to hear the inflection when someone speaks and see their body language in order to recruit effectively. Every adult in your congregation who is eligible to volunteer should be personally contacted at least once a year to determine their current interest in volunteering.
- Match volunteers and roles according to gifts. One of the reasons most ministries have high volunteer turnover is that they guilt people into filling volunteer roles for which they are not gifted. This also means the role is not performed well and the volunteer is miserable. We also expect one volunteer to do multiple tasks requiring multiple gifts. For example, a children’s Bible class teacher may be expected to teach and decorate the room. The person gifted in teaching is not necessarily gifted artistically. This proves stressful. Breaking up roles into smaller gift sized ones means recruiting more people initially, but your turnover will be reduced as people are using their gifts and asked to take on manageable tasks.
- Be honest. Do not ever tell a teaching volunteer candidate their time commitment is only a few minutes a week. It’s a lie, because to really do that job properly, it will take several hours a week. Lies always backfire. If the person takes you at your word and only puts a few minutes of prep time in a week, your ministry will suffer. Or if your expectations are appropriately high, the volunteer will soon realize the true time commitment and feel deceived.
- Create a master schedule for a year at a time. Volunteers should be asked how many months/quarters they want to volunteer, if there are any time periods they cannot volunteer and if the role is working with children – which age groups they prefer. This allows you to create a master schedule. You will still need to call and confirm before the time period in which a volunteer is supposed to begin, but at least you have a big picture of the future. Better yet, volunteers are happier because you have respected their wishes and preferences. If for some reason you do not have an opening in their desired time slot or age group, offer them other alternatives or place them on your waiting list or substitute team.
- Have a substitute team. We have past blog posts about how to develop and structure it. Two hours before class time an ill volunteer or you will be too busy/stressed/ill to call a bunch of people trying to find a substitute. Knowing a substitute is already prepared and ready to start with one phone call, makes everyone’s life easier.
- Provide ongoing training that is meaningful. No one has time for pep rallies or training with no real helpful content. Even the best teachers can become stagnant without regular inspiration and training. You need to provide various ways to improve skills regularly. Books and articles are great for weekly and monthly training. Seminars should be held at least once a year. Some training can be virtual to make it easy to attend, but the most effective training will be in person. People who have never taught before should have an initial training session with you to make sure they understand policies, procedures, expectations, etc.
- Provide apprenticeships. It is quite likely you will find someone who has the gift of teaching who has never taught before. It can be helpful to pair these people with experienced teachers in an apprenticeship. Lead teachers should be asked to explain how they prepare and how they make certain choices for their class. They should also be encouraged to gradually turn over more responsibility to the apprentice until that person can comfortably plan and teach an entire class from start to finish.
Using these tips may seem like a lot of extra work at first – and it may be. If you embrace all of these best practices, however, you should soon have a dependable and talented volunteer team in place – making your job easier and your ministry more effective.