I did a little surveying on Facebook about recruiting volunteers to serve in Children, Youth, and Family Ministries. Here is what I learned from the collective bee-hive:
- Ask everyone! As people register, ask each household if they can pitch in somehow. This blanket question gives everyone the opportunity to participate.
- Ask your team! Let your youth or Christian Education team help you brainstorm names to ask.
- Ask, and accept it when people say “no!” There is no need to beg. Affirm their need to step away.
- Ask them to become “gift givers.”Talk about their gifts, and where they might like to serve.”
So ask! In my 20 years of ministry, I’ve practiced all of these, and they are all good recruitment methods. But I have pondering more about the question, “What happens when we ask people to serve?” or “How do people respond to being asked?” I have found that most responses fall into 4 categories.
- Optional: It’s the hard “No!” When my oldest son was in baseball, I remember the coach asking me to go throw a few warm-up pitches. I turned to the coach, and said, “I’m a former tap dancer not a baseball player! No, not my thing.” The coach asked (because that is his job) but I didn’t feel comfortable pitching a baseball. We ask people to serve because that is our job. But not every is cut out or wants to be a Sunday School teacher, puppeteer, or song leader. Honor the no.
- Obligation: Parents feel the pressure to volunteer for many reasons: “I have several kids in the program!” or “I guess it is my turn!” Sometimes as church workers we need a warm body to help lead the program. While this is not an ideal reason for people to serve, it is a practical one.
- Opportunity: Students will often come up at the end of a Sunday School year and ask for a signature on a volunteer form. I do this willingly, of course. Being a Sunday School teacher, puppeteer, or helper gives students, new members, and/ or visitors an opportunity for volunteer growth or to see what the church is about. Many people see volunteering as an opportunity to get to know a ministry or to fulfill a rank in their volunteer ladder or to get to know others. It’s a win-win!
- Ownership: It’s here in this final category that we want to move people towards. After I left my former congregation and when Rally Day rolled around, I learned that no one had to do any recruiting in children’s ministry. I was stunned. I thought at first people had left. But that was not the case. No one had to do any recruiting because many parents, youth, and grandparents stepped up to help. They knew the routine, how to use the curriculum, and were all over digging out the puppets. All they needed was some instruction. The people owned the ministry and lived it out. That’s ownership!
How do we then move people who see ministry as an obligation or an opportunity and into ownership? Beside the great answers above, here are some other suggestions:
- Volunteers are solid rocks. A church could have the biggest and brightest curriculum, neon lights, and hundreds of kids. But without volunteers and people to serve, Sunday School or faith formation activities won’t move forward. The church needs people to serve, and as church workers, we need find ways to ask them and to equip them to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
- Year Long Recruitment: Many of us look at fall as the recruitment period for programming. And, it is! But what if once your teaching team was set, you sought out three new people (parents, grandparents, or yout) to get to know and their interests? That way you will have new people in your back pocket and ready to serve!
- Be Honest. People lead busy lives – give each person a job descriptions with realistic time commitment and with manageable tasks or expectations. I am happy to share my training manual with people via email.
- Find Ways for People to Serve. Not everyone can serve each Sunday morning or Wednesday evening, but many people can do things from home or on a different day. Never turn a volunteer away but find ways they can serve.
- Change. The big “C” word. It’s inevitable, and don’t be afraid of it. Think of it this way: Many of us have a smart phone, and it updates overnight. The phone just does it, so why not church? Sometimes what we are doing is not working anymore, and we need to update the ministries. That’s totally normal. So embrace the changes that need to be made.