Enlist volunteers the right way

Years ago when my wife and I were newlyweds and had just joined our first church as a married couple, we were approached after only 2 months of church membership by the student pastor.  He “ambushed” us in the hallway just outside the worship center and asked us if we’d teach an 8th grade girls Sunday School class.  We felt put on the spot, but hated to say no.  I looked at my wife, she looked at me, we looked at him, and said yes.  He placed the teaching materials in our hands right then and said he’d see us next week in the fellowship hall where the junior high classes met.  We started in just one week and had no training!  I hate to think back on how poorly we probably taught those girls.

Our story had a happy ending, and over time (and with the student pastor’s help he gave at weekly teacher’s meetings) we became proficient at teaching.  Over our time at the church, we taught almost every grade from 7th-12th, and served as department directors for both the junior and senior high departments.  But we both vividly remember how we were enlisted, and although we loved serving with this student pastor, he made a mistake in the way he recruited us to his student ministry teaching team.  Let’s talk about the right way (or ways) to enlist volunteers so that scenarios like ours are not repeated.

It’s important to recruit the right people

Which of the following quotes on the importance of people in organizations resonates with you the most?

  • “If all our buildings and equipment were totally destroyed, but we still had our people, within ten years we would have rebuilt everything, and be more successful than we ever were before.” – Howard J. Morgens, CEO Proctor & Gamble, 1957-1974
  • “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”  – John Maxwell
  • “You’ve got to get the right people on the bus, and then decide where the bus is going” – Jim Collins, author of Good to Great

The three quotes simply reinforce that people are our greatest assets.  I once heard a conference leader say that “those closest to you determine your success.”  So if people are truly assets to our ministries, and gifts the Lord gives to us to help fulfill His will, then how should we invite them to become a part of our ongoing ministries?

It’s important to recruit the right people in the right way

First, don’t recruit people in a hallway (or by e-mail or texting)!  Make sure you set an appointment with the person you’re recruiting because appointments mean that something is important.  We set appointments to meet with our doctors, we set appointments to get the oil changed in our cars, so how much more important is it to do this with the men and women we are inviting to join with us in God’s work.

Don’t recruit people through pulpit announcements or blurbs in the worship bulletin.  Mass appeals for workers don’t work…and if you happened to get a response, you may have to deal with someone who isn’t right for the job.  Stay in control of the recruiting process at all times by asking God to provide the right person.  Don’t settle.  Allow the Lord to place one person on your heart who is the right person for the role.

Give the person a job description.  It doesn’t have to be super-detailed…in fact, a simpler, shorter, to-the-point list may work best.  Stick to the core essentials of the role to which you are recruiting the person.  Show the person the job description, go over it, but don’t recruit to a job description!  Recruit the person to your vision for what the role can accomplish in the lives of people.  For instance, don’t recruit a class secretary by only showing them the tasks on the job description (taking role each week, turning in that role to a central location).  Add to it the fact they will be helping you to make sure that by having accurate records, people won’t fall through the cracks…they’ll feel valued and missed as the class reaches out to them when they’re absent.  See the difference?

Don’t recruit the person to an open-ended role.  Be certain to have a start and end date so the person knows there is an “exit”.  People may be hesitant to enlist if they think it’s for the long-haul, and they often don’t like making long-term commitments.  I always recruited Sunday School teachers to a one-year commitment, and allowed them to evaluate their ministry and decide if they wanted to continue their teaching role (they almost always did and I had very little turnover in my adult teaching ministries).

Ask the person to pray, and set a date to get their response.   Don’t call for an immediate response.  Give the person time to process your request, consider the costs, and pray about it.  Do set a definite date and time to contact them again and get their response.

Do start the recruiting process early.  If you wait until the last minute, you’ll end up with the wrong people in key roles…guaranteed.  You’ll feel pressure to fill a void, and the people you’re recruiting will feel the pressure you’re under and may say yes when they really shouldn’t.  If your annual Sunday School promotion event takes place in August, consider starting the recruiting process 3-4 months prior to that.  I’ve served with staff members who made assumptions that people were going to re-enlist, so they delayed speaking to them about it.  When the volunteers chose not to continue in their volunteer role, it left a staff person scrambling to fill a key role, sometimes just a few weeks before annual promotion.

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