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Popping the Question

Sophia Winter

You've scouted the best prospects for your volunteer positions, you've made lists and organizational charts, you've created an amazing recruiting campaign, and now you're ready to pop the big question: "Would you like to join our team?" All your hard work boils down to that one question -- and your potential volunteers' responses.

You can dramatically increase your chances of hearing the golden words: "Why yes, I'd be honored to serve in the children's ministry!" -- if you implement these "deal-closing" ideas drawn from the world of advertising sales.

• Communicate, communicate, commmunicate. Then communicate more. Provide prospective volunteers with as much information as possible concerning the responsibilities they're considering. (Job descriptions help.) Often people will say no simply because they're afraid of what they might be getting themselves into. If you fill in the blanks for them and maintain open communication, you'll both be clear on the position's expectations. This way, you'll also avoid the pitfall of having your hard-won, new volunteers quit because they weren't given full disclosure of the position's requirements. Everyone wins with complete and concise information.

• Tout the benefits. People want to know "What's in it for me?" Before approaching someone about a volunteer position, discern what possible benefits exist for the potential team member. Whether it's emotional fulfillment, greater exposure to your church, or just a great way to make a difference, know these upfront. The potential benefits help people catch hold of your ministry's vision.

• Welcome volunteers as friends. Building relationships in any recruitment venture is key. If you haven't taken time to connect with your prospective volunteers on a personal basis, they're far less likely to commit to your team. Take a potential volunteer out for coffee or share a meal together. Work on building rapport, sharing your ministry vision, and expressing your priorities. When people experience firsthand your passion for ministering to children, they're much more likely to join ministry forces with you.

• Don't waste time -- yours or theirs. People appreciate straightforwardness and forthrightness, even when the news isn't good. If you foresee problems with a background check, mismatched goals, or any other stumbling block, it's best to be honest. Often potential problems can be worked through and reassessed. By being succinct, direct, and kind in all your communication, you not only show respect for others' time, but also you allow prospective volunteers to see that you handle situations with efficiency and ease. Direct communication isn't always easy; but when an issue is skirted, everyone's precious time is wasted.

• Value and treasure people. Never treat people as a means to an end. People immediately sense if your recruitment goals supersede your genuine interest in them. Always show respect for people as individuals -- not bodies on an organizational chart. Let your behavior and courteousness toward prospective volunteers speak for itself. Your most committed and loyal team members will be those who truly believe you have genuine interest in and love for them.

• Remember your higher purpose. Some-times it takes away the apprehension and pressure of recruiting when we step back and remember that popping the question really isn't about us. It's about serving God and children. So focus on the outcome of your efforts instead of the negative feelings you may have about possible rejection. Rather than allowing anxiety to stall your efforts, allow yourself to think of the children who'll be positively impacted and how this uniquely qualified person can make that special difference in your children's ministry program.

• Check back later. Remember that a no today could be a yes tomorrow. People's lives and responsibilities change. The more people you connect with, the more possible volunteers you'll have later. If you show appreciation for people's situations, they'll most likely be open to serving in the future.

• Affirm people's qualities. Everyone likes to be affirmed. And what better compliment is there than to suggest to someone that he or she would be a welcome, vital part of your children's ministry team? When people feel you've noticed them and their unique gifts and talents, it translates into a strong affirmation -- even if their answer is a no.

• Know when to say when. Recognize when a situation is a "no-go." Although you might've invested time and energy in a potential volunteer, if you're sensing red flags or the person expresses serious doubts, walk away with good feelings on both sides. Persuading someone to take a position who truly isn't equipped to do so is a huge mistake -- and will lead to far more work later. If a potential volunteer exhibits a large degree of apprehension from the start, chances are the experience won't be a positive one long-term. Walk away.

• Give people amazing opportunities. Remember, if the opportunity to serve is never offered to someone, that person never gets to experience the joy of putting abilities and spir-itual gifts into action. Many times we make assumptions -- about people's lives, their circumstances, and their desires -- that are plain wrong. Some of your most dedicated and effective volunteers may be people you least expected to show any interest in children's ministry. It pays to get to know your church members, make personal contact, and -- of course -- ask! When you pop the question, it could start an amazingly memorable experience -- for you, your volunteers, and the children.


Question-Poppers

We asked several experts and, well, nonexperts to share their experiences when it came to successfully "popping the question" in their field of expertise. Their responses offer interesting insights into how we can approach the business of getting to "yes."

On Matchmaking...

"I'm constantly amazed at how many people stumble their way into marriage -- and then wonder why their relationship grows miserable, stagnant, or chronically contentious. They simply didn't approach this monumental decision objectively and proactively," says eHarmony founder Neil Clark Warren.

Effective volunteer experiences don't just fall out of the sky. The very best experiences effectively use a person's spiritual gifts in the proper place. Connecting personally with a prospect will help you match the suitability of the position with the person.

On Proposing...

Craig DeMartino was extremely nervous before he asked his girlfriend to marry him. So rather than going the conventional, down-on-one-knee route, Craig photographed the engagement ring and hid the photo with the message, "Will you marry me?" in the car glove box. His wife-to-be found the photograph and message, felt guilty because she thought she wasn't supposed to see it, and said yes.

We're not suggesting you guilt-trip your volunteers into serving. We are, however, suggesting that you think out-of-the-box when it comes to making your proposal. That doesn't mean you have to rent a singing telegram, but you might consider "giftwrapping" your question with a list of the person's unique gifts for the open position.

On Hiring...

"Part of offering someone a position is to make sure you've covered everything before you get to the point of the offer so the offer itself is nice and easy," says Laura Huntley, a human resources specialist. "Don't settle. Don't hire in a panic just because you need someone right away. Hiring the wrong person will cost you hours and hours of additional work later on. And always do reference checks -- you'd be amazed at what people are willing to tell you."

Keep a cool head, even when disaster strikes. If you find yourself short on volunteers and even shorter on time to recruit, you may want to limit positions or make them temporary. That way you can ease up on your commitment requirement.

On Compatibility...

"We look at people's skill level, motivation, and interest, and whether they're driven by high-quality results and will work well in our culture," says Tiffany Rogers, a human resources specialist. "Be honest about what the job entails. Tell people the good and the bad aspects so they can make an educated decision."

Being honest about the not-so-terrific parts of a particular role is important. It establishes open communication and a standard of expectation -- every position has its down points; if you're not honest about it, how can people trust you?

A Match Made in Heaven

Whether you're an old pro or you've just stepped into your recruiter's shoes, asking a potential volunteer to commit -- and stay committed -- can be a nerve-wracking assignment. After all, suiting a volunteer with a position is a lot like matchmaking -- you're looking for compatibility, comfort, and productivity. Neil Clark Warren, psychologist, author, and founder of the eHarmony.com matchmaking Web site, offers marriage guidelines for compatibility that can be applied to volunteer matchmaking.

  • Be choosey. Just because people are available, doesn't mean you should plug them into vacant positions.
  • Get to know each other...well. Spend time forming a personal relationship so you know what you're getting.
  • Choose the best person for the job. If you try to please others with your hiring choice rather than going for the best match, chances are good you'll be disappointed in the end.
  • Have realistic expectations. This means having grace for human frailty, but also standing by your expectations. Understand that even in the very best of circumstances, people will still have different opinions, problems, and needs.
  • Understand people's flaws. Know that just because someone signs on to become a volunteer, that person's personal issues won't disappear. For example, if you constantly catch a prospective volunteer telling "white lies," don't expect that tendency to go away once the person commits to your ministry. Ask yourself before you make an offer if you can live with behavioral problems, because they won't go away.

Sophia Winter (swinter@group.com) is the advertising director for Children's Ministry Magazine. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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