By Helen Gibson
If you’ve been involved in ministry, chances are you’ve been there—in need of an additional volunteer at the last minute and scrambling to find someone you trust to get the job done.
Or perhaps you’ve announced a need for volunteers from the pulpit and advertised it in the bulletin, yet you still have a hard time filling vital positions.
Encouraging the people of your church to step forward and serve can be frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be, according to Lifeway’s Todd Adkins, Daniel Im, and Eric Geiger, hosts of the 5 Leadership Questions podcast.
Recently, Adkins, Im, and Geiger released five episodes specifically related to recruiting volunteers in churches, providing church leaders with practical advice and answering some of their top questions. Here are some of the highlights from their conversations.
First of all, what is recruitment?
“To me, recruiting is inviting people to join a great mission,” Geiger says. “It’s not just to do a job.”
Focus on church members who aren’t already particularly engaged, he says. Perhaps these members come to church twice a month and are a part of a small group.
“But they haven’t displayed their ownership of the mission of the church by joining some kind of ministry that allows them to serve in the context of their church,” Geiger says.
Geiger, Adkins, and Im agree that the responsibility of recruiting volunteers doesn’t just fall on a church’s pastor; it’s everyone’s job.
And recruiting volunteers isn’t just about filling vacant positions, they say; it’s about encouraging people to grow into spiritual maturity as they serve as an expression of their faith.
“It’s helping that person be who God has created them to be,” Adkins says. “What we’re talking about is fulfillment here, and I would say you cannot experience fulfillment—you cannot experience spiritual maturity—apart from using your gifts in service to Christ.”
How do you recruit for different types of positions?
While pastors and church leaders should encourage everyone in their congregations to serve, not all volunteer positions are created equal. While some are entry-level, others, such as a coordinator or leader of a ministry area, require more responsibility.
And with different positions comes a need to recruit differently, the hosts of the podcast say.
Adkins, Im, and Geiger agree that church leaders shouldn’t merely rely on cattle calls—or a wide, open call for all volunteer positions in the bulletin or during the announcement time. Instead, they suggested different strategies for different positions.
Im, for one, says the offering time is a good opportunity to discuss different ministry areas and invite people into those entry-level positions.
“If you need more Sunday school teachers for your kids’ ministry, during your offering, before the offering plate is being passed out, or before you have your time for prayer, cast vision and tell your congregation about the life change that is happening during kids’ ministry and what is happening because of their investment into the church,” Im says.
“And then say, ‘Hey, just like you are financially investing into the lives of these kids, you can invest into their lives by volunteering your time.’
“In that way, it doesn’t sound desperate, but you’re still sharing the message.”
For positions with more responsibility, Adkins says the position should be filled by someone who is already volunteering in that area, following a pipeline of leadership development.
What are some of the best ways churches can recruit volunteers?
Adkins, Im, and Geiger agree the best way to encourage someone to volunteer is in person.
“You’re never going to get a better result than making a personal ask,” Adkins says.
Asking in person is even more important when it comes to positions that are further up on a leadership pipeline and require more time and responsibility, Im says.
In addition to being relational, Geiger adds that effective recruiting requires a vision, with a leader sharing the ministry’s ultimate objectives and impact from the beginning. And he says effective recruiting is clear, with leaders being up-front about a position’s time commitment, responsibilities, and goals.
How do you create a recruiting culture in your church?
If pastors or church leaders want to see high levels of volunteerism within their churches or ministries, they must make it part of their church’s culture, Geiger says.
“There needs to be a culture of recruiting volunteers, where it’s not just the senior pastor on the stage twice a year preaching his guts out trying to recruit volunteers, but there’s a culture where people in the church are also inviting people to serve,” Geiger says.
When it comes to creating a certain culture within a church, Geiger suggests telling stories.
“If you want to create culture, you tell stories that embody the values you want to see in the culture,” Geiger says. “If, for example, you want everyone in the church to think, ‘Hey, I can recruit,’ you tell stories about other people who’ve invited people to join them in their ministries.”
Church leaders can also hold up and celebrate people who have been faithful and fruitful in their positions, Geiger adds.
Before attempting to change a culture, however, leaders must understand their church’s current culture. Geiger says they can start to do this by paying attention to the stories and heroes that are currently lifted up within the church.
Then, they’ll have a better idea of the values and ideas that are treasured within a church. And while holding onto some of a church’s positive values, they can start to infuse a couple of new values at a time into a church’s culture, such as an increased emphasis on volunteerism and service.
How do you bring volunteers onto a team?
The final step of the volunteer recruitment process is “onboarding,” or officially bringing a new volunteer into a position. And this part of the process is very important, Adkins says.
“Doing that really well will increase their likelihood to serve long-term and to want to continue serving and to want to be a part of moving up your pipeline and recruiting other people to join in,” Im says.
The way to succeed at onboarding, Adkins says, is by making everything “clean and clear.”
“You want to make sure they know what their next steps are, that those are clearly defined and laid out,” Adkins says.
Adkins adds that each volunteer should have a clear role description, examples of which can be found on Ministry Grid, a subscription-based volunteer training platform provided by Lifeway Leadership.
New volunteers should also be provided with a concise and easy-to-follow summary of information necessary to the position. Every volunteer doesn’t need a three-ring binder, Adkins says, but a page or two that clearly explains what they need to know to get started can be incredibly helpful.
The hosts also emphasize the importance of providing ongoing training and development, as well as feedback for volunteers, so they can continue to grow.
And, as always, they agree church leaders should help their members see the ultimate importance of serving in the church.
“When you serve, that’s actually how you become more like Christ—because that’s what Jesus came to do,” Im says. “So why don’t you do what Jesus did, and why don’t you grow and become more like Him?’”
Helen is a freelance writer in Cadiz, Kentucky.