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Star-Studded Recruitment

Stephanie Martin

Here's a quick quiz for you as a children's ministry leader: Think of the top 10 important tasks or responsibilities that are part of your children's ministry. Volunteer recruitment is somewhere on that list, right? Now think of your top 10 favorite tasks or responsibilities involving children's ministry. Where does volunteer recruitment rank there?

For many people, it doesn't even make that second list because it's more a necessity than a joy. But with the right attitude and approach, volunteer recruitment can not only be done successfully, but it can also be done with passion and excitement-and it can even be something you look forward to.

In this article, several children's ministers with a vision for volunteer recruitment share their secrets to joyful success. Use their advice to find and keep stellar team members that'll make your children's ministry one to watch.

Keep Your Eyes Open

"Volunteer recruiting is a constant Process," says Sue Miller, executive director of Promiseland, the children's ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Although her recruitment involvement spikes at times, she recruits nonstop because "one-to-one recruiting is the most successful method and can be sustained throughout the year," she says. In addition, children's ministers face the reality that "the need for gifted, passionate volunteers is constant."

Nate Meiers, children's pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Mansfield, Ohio, has certain times of intense recruitment focus (specifically July and August) but also constantly publicizes the need for volunteers. "We keep our mission purpose out there, which is 'Healing Kids' Hearts,' " he says.

One advantage of always being in "seek mode," Meiers says, is that you can avoid sounding desperate. "We never make a public call for helpers without also mentioning the whole screening process," he says. "That way, people know we're not willing to sacrifice quality."

Maintain A Positive Viewpoint

Your attitude toward recruitment-and toward your ministry as a whole-affects whether other people can see themselves as one of your volunteers. Volunteer recruiting experts emphasize that children's ministry must be a priority, not an afterthought. While recruiting volunteers, it's essential to communicate that children's ministry is a desirable place to serve and that the job comes with great responsibilities as well as great rewards.

Daniel Brown, senior pastor of Coastlands Church in Aptos, California, and the author of What the Bible Reveals About Heaven (Regal Books), says it's crucial to change people's mentality. "Children's ministry isn't just baby-sitting," he says. "You must take care of the lambs before you can do anything else."

Brown says senior pastors "must communicate that children's ministry isn't a bothersome, lower-level responsibility. It's an incredible opportunity to develop people." (See "Pastor in a Starring Role" on page 97.)

Miller, author of the book Making Your Children's Ministry the Best Hour of Every Kid's Week (Zondervan), says, "People volunteer because of their willingness to invest their precious time and talent in a cause with a compelling vision." Purposely sharing your ministry's vision with the entire church on a regular basis ensures that people will think of your program first when deciding where to invest themselves.

Meiers agrees that excitement about a church's children's ministry goes a long way toward bringing in new volunteers. Word of mouth is very effective when people are enjoying what they're doing, he says.

Watch For Potential Team Members

Volunteer recruitment is more an art than a science, with nuances and people factors to consider. But there are some tried-and-true ways to ensure success. H Focus on relationships. One word comes up repeatedly when children's ministers speak about their best volunteer recruitment methods: "relationships."

Anne Piros, children's ministry director at Coastlands Church in Aptos, California, says her most dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers come out of relationships. "People are usually most willing to serve because their lives have been meaningfully impacted in some way. So I place a high focus on how I can connect with people personally," she says. "I want to know where they work, what they like to do, how their parents are doing, and so on. Because I see the same people each week, I can build relationships with them over a long period of time."

Coastlands uses home-fellowship groups as teams of children's ministry volunteers. To lead a home fellowship or cell group, someone must commit to serving in one of the children's classrooms and must inspire his or her cell-group members to get involved as well. Piros says this system not only eliminates the need for formal recruiting, but it also allows cell-group members to develop meaningful relationships with each other and with the children, who receive care from the same adults each week.

• Serve people. Piros says her most effective recruiting tools are the values her church places on relationships and serving. "One reason people serve at Coastlands is because we've learned that serving others is the most effective way to grow in our relationship with the Lord," she says.

In an effort to focus on relationships rather than roles, Coastlands has a saying: "Use the job to get people done and not people to get the job done." Piros says, "If people are committed to serving and understand the true nature of it, it won't matter where they serve-children's ministry, ushering, serving coffee, and so on. They'll be committed, reliable, and excited because of how much more they're getting from their willingness to give."

• Get personal. With church members hearing so many requests for help, appeals for children's ministry volunteers can get drowned out or ignored, according to Miller. She says, "However, when one person deliberately describes the joy he or she has in serving kids to a friend, and then asks that friend to give it a try, the success rate is much higher."

"If a ministry has volunteers with passion to reach kids and serve in a role that matches their giftedness," she says, "then these people will recruit more effectively than any big program." Miller adds that one-to-one, relationship-oriented recruiting isn't only the most effective volunteer-recruitment method, but it's "completely unrelated to church size, type, or any other demographic."

• Offer options. Willow Creek's Promiseland team works on volunteer recruitment by making a variety of service opportunities available. "Special-event volunteer" roles during holidays and other heavy-attendance dates allow people to test-drive volunteering. Parents also have the option to help out once every six weeks.

Miller says both groups of volunteers provide essential assistance to the ministry even though they're not ready to commit to a regular serving schedule. And, she adds, "The retention rate for people who start out as special-event volunteers or parent helpers is high."

Beware Of These Methods

Some approaches are likely to result in more frustration than volunteers. They're like shooting stars that seem to glimmer brightly, but quickly fizzle out. Because of the messages these approaches can send, they're often counterproductive.

Cold Calls-Our experts agree that picking up the phone when you're in a jam is the least effective way to find volunteers. Meiers uses cold calls only as a last resort. "You've got to have some reason you think that person should be matched with your ministry," he says. For example, you could remind people of their previous involvement with vacation Bible school and say why you think they'd be great in a particular volunteer role. "They must be connected to your mission," Meiers reminds.

Public Announcements-Brown says personal invitations are much more effective than appeals from the pulpit. "Avoid guilt or pressure," he advises. "That makes children's ministry sound like a less-than-desirable job."

Filling Spots-Another ineffective volunteer recruitment tactic is filling a spot just to fill a spot. "Then you end up having to fill it again in a few months," Meiers says. "I'd much rather ask a person what they'd want to do and say, 'I'll make a spot for you.' "

It's essential to match an available spot with someone's unique gifts and passion, Meiers says. That's not always easy when an urgent need must be met. But he adds, "My attitude is that the Lord will provide [volunteers], and I must be faithful and trust him."

Look In The Right Place

Finding volunteers is easier once you know some ideal places to search and some of the traits to look for. The best volunteers, Meiers says, have a vision for what you're doing in your children's ministry and not just a sense of responsibility. Look for the following types of people.

Problem-Solvers-Meiers recommends seeking out people who notice problems, suggest answers, and are willing to fix what needs fixing. "When you put problem-solvers into leadership," he says, "they'll begin surrounding themselves with volunteers and potential volunteers." This takes the pressure off the children's minister to be the sole recruiting source.

At Berean Baptist Church, Meiers has a Children's Leadership Team (CLEAT) of six to 12 people who always have their antennae up for problem-solving volunteers.

Parents-Another great volunteer pool is parents, especially parents of older kids. Meiers says, "Parents will tell me, 'When I was a kid, there wasn't anything for me. And when I was a [parent] of young children, I didn't do what I should have for them. And now I realize the benefit of that and want to make sure other kids get it.' " H Anyone With a Heart for Kids-Although some groups of people may tend to yield more volunteers, don't limit your search to specific demographics. "The reasons that draw one group of people to a ministry might be very different from what motivates another group," Miller says. "So when considering the different audiences that a children's ministry can vision-cast to, make sure the vision fits each of them just right."

Meiers says it's important to remember and accept that there are different levels of volunteers. "Some are just helpers and will be gone in a few years, so there's a continual need for recruitment," he says. "Others stay, and you can put them in leadership."

Watch Out For Your Volunteers

Recruiting volunteers is just the beginning. How you treat people and whether they feel appreciated will determine if they stay on your team. H Start them out right. Take time to discover where new volunteers will be most useful as well as most fulfilled. At Willow Creek, potential volunteers meet with Promiseland leaders to discuss their spiritual gifts. Then they fill out an application that inquires about previous experiences so they can be appropriately placed in the children's ministry.

"People also receive clear expectations for skill and reliability requirements before starting in a new position," Miller says. "A key to all this working well is to truly understand all of the specific volunteer positions the ministry needs to fill."

• Appreciate and support them. Meiers says his #1 recruitment method is making his current volunteers happy so he keeps the retention rate high from year to year. When he asks current volunteers if they'll continue serving, about 80 percent say yes.

It's crucial to specifically thank your volunteers, both personally and publicly, Meiers says. He gives gifts, has occasional banquets, and makes sure the senior pastor shows appreciation to children's ministry volunteers from the pulpit. "We have lots of celebration-of and with our volunteers," he says. "We work on creating a positive feeling, which can take awhile."

• Respect them and their time. Piros says she tries to make Coastlands' children's classes as user-friendly as possible to "be a good steward of the time volunteers give." Office volunteers do most of the classroom preparation (sign-up sheets, name tags, craft preparation and instructions, errands, and so on) ahead of time for teachers.

"Because most people serve in children's ministry for long periods of time with no break, we try our best to have the atmosphere be fun, safe, and positive-both for the kids and the adults," Piros says. Other important considerations she recommends are being mindful of potentially stressful room dynamics, avoiding super-messy crafts and activities, and planning well in advance rather than functioning week to week.

• Help them avoid burnout. Tired or uninspired volunteers not only can't serve with joy but won't be around for long. Avoiding burnout is a "dual responsibility," Miller says, shared by volunteers and their immediate leader. "Honest conversations must regularly take place about workload and how much joy is gleaned from serving-especially when new initiatives or other ministry changes take place," she says. "Experience has taught me that the ministry director must consistently model all this."

Meiers tells all his volunteers, "If you're not enjoying your ministry, let me know." He says sometimes volunteers are better suited to serving elsewhere within the church, and children's ministers must learn to be okay with that.

By refocusing your volunteer search and working to spread your program's vision, volunteer recruitment will not only be easier but it might even crack that list of your favorite responsibilities. And as a result, your children's ministry will be quite a sight to behold!


Stephanie Martin is a freelance writer and editor in Colorado. Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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