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How to Recruit Volunteers Who Stay in Your Children’s Ministry Program

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How to recruit volunteers who stick around is a key challenge for most kidmin leaders. Check out these 11 tips from a veteran children’s minister.

Two common concerns of children’s ministers are “I need more volunteers” or “How can I get my existing volunteers to stick around?” The short answer to both is: Do your advance work upfront.

You may be dealing with pressing needs right now. But simply taking the necessary time to get good people in the correct positions for the best reasons makes the difference between perpetually trying to deal with volunteer emergencies and putting those urgencies to rest. The converse is true, too, when it comes to how to recruit volunteers. If you don’t make the effort up front, you’ll pay for it in attrition, conflicting expectations, and harder-than-ever recruiting next time.

Here’s a plan for how to recruit volunteers and build a reliable, committed team.

11 Tips for How to Recruit Volunteers

1. Pursue Passion

Stop thinking about what you need. Instead, ask yourself why people would want to serve in children’s ministry at your church.

Here’s the truth: Connecting people with their interests and passions is the key to getting and keeping them. Passion is an important motivator. It will sustain individuals through a tough season in ministry if what they’re doing is connected to a purpose or group of people that inspire them.

Do you have someone serving fifth-graders who’d rather be with 5-year-olds? Does someone gravitate toward connecting one-on-one with kids on the margins yet leads songs up front? The more you know what makes volunteers’ hearts beat faster and help that happen, the more they’ll commit, stay, and love it.

2. Pin Down Details

You may have heard this before, regarding how to recruit volunteers. But so many kidmin leaders opt to skip the vital step of developing a job description detailing clear expectations. You and your volunteers need to understand what the volunteer is committing to. No one wants to think they’ve signed up for once-per-month only to discover they’ve committed to an eternity of Sundays. Few people like to be told they’ll just be a helper and find out later they’re expected to prepare the lesson and teach every week.

It’s also tempting to do the reverse and make it sound like children’s ministry is really no big deal, kind of a “just show up” approach. But people want to know they’re significant and what they’re doing is significant—no matter how small or minimal the task. Tell volunteers how vital their involvement is. If you see people just fade away without explanation, it may be because you weren’t clear on expectations upfront.

3. Open Up Dialogue

It’s essential to have an intentional conversation with each person you think might be interested in serving. This is where you listen intently to their words and the meaning behind them.

This is where, if you’re frantic or distracted, you might miss the young mother saying she doesn’t want to help in her own child’s class but can make calls from home. That non-fit may be a huge reason she’s now no longer showing up. These conversations are also where you might go in thinking a schoolteacher is a perfect fit for Sunday school but instead discover he’d rather coach at your sports camp.

Open dialogue can provide clarity, help you both find the best fit, and give you the opportunity to express your vision and enthusiasm. Yes, this takes time. But the time you spend on the front end pays off significantly the rest of the year. Ultimately, it saves you time in lost recruits. Never forget: Lack of clarity and mismatched placements are two of the biggest reasons volunteers may eventually quit.

4. Seek Strengths

How intentional are you when it comes to finding out about potential volunteers’ other interests, spiritual gifts, and behavioral styles? If volunteers you’ve previously recruited now seem to be less reliable, they may not be serving in their area of strength.

Take a moment and consider volunteers who call you to cancel the morning they’re due to serve or who show up late or inconsistently. You can probably think of a few. Now ask: Are those people placed in the right position? Do you have a person who’s gifted in hospitality doing paperwork rather than greeting families? Or do you have someone who’s strong in administration leading games rather than organizing? Sometimes a simple shift in duties will re-energize those who are on the brink of quitting—especially if you intentionally recognize their God-given strengths.

Check out this resource to help volunteers identify their spiritual strengths.

5. Outline Expectations Regularly

For your volunteers to know what you expect, you must communicate. A lot. Be generous with your communication and clear regarding what orientation, training, support, and resources you’ll provide them—at the front end and along the way. Recall your own first day on any job—it was likely overwhelming with much to learn, logistics, people to know, and the anxiety of wanting to do well.

Your ministry’s orientation needs to increase your volunteers’ comfort, decrease discomfort, and grow the probability that they’ll stay because they feel warmly welcomed, set up for success, and genuinely valued. Answer basic questions: Do they know where everything they need is? Do they know whom to ask to get resources? People can be so frustrated by the lack of orientation and information provided that they simply never come back.

By the same token, if you’ve failed to set your expectations clearly and early, don’t despair. It’s not too late to do so now. You can clear the slate with your existing team by setting up a team meeting that covers the same information you’d give at orientation, geared for a team that knows the basics but needs clarity on expectations.

6. Let People Reflect

By far, the best way to invite potential volunteers to serve is to personally ask them to be involved. But when you ask, don’t act or sound desperate. Even if you are. Honestly give people the freedom to say no to you. Plan far enough ahead of your busiest season to allow potential volunteers time to reflect and pray about the commitment.

Here’s why: If you don’t push people into something but invite them and allow processing time, they’ll stay longer and go deeper into their ministry role. If they feel coerced or “guilted” into saying yes, they’ll typically do the minimum and spend the rest of the time thinking of ways to quit as soon as possible.