5 Principles for Recruiting Volunteers

Youth Specialties
August 3rd, 2015

I have the privilege of speaking and working with youth ministers all across the county. There are a lot of fabulous people out there who are loving teens and helping teens love Jesus. There’s some really incredible ministry done by so many really incredible people. But through all of my encounters with these amazing people, I often find one fallacy that seems to permeate ministries throughout the country: We’ve somehow become convinced that if we really told volunteers what we needed them to do, we would find ourselves doing ministry all by ourselves.

So we resort to one of two methods: 1. Ask little, expect little, receive little. We decide that there’s a bare minimum folks are really going to give, so we only ask for that much. Or 2. The bait and switch. We ask little of volunteers in order to hook them, and then when it comes time for them to serve, we pile it on. The first method leads to burned-out staff and a realized theology of scarcity—the second leads to burned-out, frustrated volunteers who never know the real joy of serving in ministry.

There’s a better way.

Be Honest. Be Bold.

Youth ministries who don’t have at least a 1:7 adult to student ratio are probably not doing ministry that lasts. Youth ministry is almost always more successful when we can connect students with strong, faith-filled adults who love and care about them.

Here are five principles of recruiting that will change your ministry for now and years to come:

1. Get started early.

If you start asking for Sunday school volunteers a month out, you’ll fail every time. You’ll constantly find yourself scrambling, piecing together teams. We live in a world where everyone is being pulled in a million different directions. Ask ahead—way ahead. Be the first—not the last—on people’s calendars. We begin our recruiting process in November . . . for the following fall. Nine to ten months in advance is our standard, and it never fails. By the time May 1 rolls around, all of our volunteer roles are filled, which means instead of scrambling for volunteers we can work ahead and be creative in our ministry.

2. Be specific.

No one should be asked to do a job unless they know exactly what is expected of them and what constitutes success in that job. That’s why your volunteers need job descriptions. If you want a volunteer to write five notes a week to students who have recently missed youth group, put it in the job description. If you want someone to lead youth group part of the time, put it in the job description. If you want a volunteer to show up thirty minutes early so they can serve dinner . . . you get the idea. And when I say “job description,” that’s exactly what I mean. These should be professional, specific, and you should give them to the person you’re recruiting when you’re recruiting them. We have some excellent job descriptions for free over at the Ministry Architects website. Click here to download some samples.

3. Be selective.

Do not send out a mass email. It does not work. You know how you feel when you get a letter in the mail that is addressed to “The Current Resident?” If you are like me you probably throw it directly in the trash, people do the same thing to our “all call’s” for volunteers. The same goes for putting it in the church bulletin. It’ is impersonal at best. Know what kind of volunteer you want, and recruit that skill set and personality specifically. It takes more time initially, but in the long run you end up with a higher success rate and a better-equipped volunteer force whose skill set is matched to their jobs.

4. Be supportive.

The worst thing you can do is recruit your volunteers, hand them a curriculum, and tell them you’ll see them in nine months. They can’t exist on an island—they must be trained, and they must be encouraged. Don’t put them on a boat and push them into the terrifying sea of junior high small groups! Do an initial training to talk about your safety policy and standards for ministry, and also share practical tips for leading students. This is a good time to go back over the job description with them. Then regularly check in with them. Especially concentrate on their first month—that’s when they’ll have the most questions and insecurities.

5. Believe.

If you do all these things, then you’ll have done a good job of setting yourself up for success. But you can find peace in one last thing: God uses imperfect people to do extraordinary things in the lives of students. You must simply believe. Believe that you’re not the only one who cares about these students’ faith. Believe that the God we point them toward is in our midst, working through all of our planning. Believe that God takes our hard work and co-creates something holy and beautiful in our churches and youth ministries.

Since it’s already very late in the year and I bet that more than one of you have not finished your recruiting, I recommend a new book by my good friends Mark DeVries and Nate Stratman: Building Your Volunteer Team: A 30-Day Change Project for Youth Ministry.

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STEPHEN INGRAM is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of “Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time.” ORGANICSTUDENTMINISTRY.COM

Youth Specialties

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