Enlisting group leaders is an important part of every church leader’s role. That may be especially true in a post-COVID era of ministry.
By Ken Braddy
I once sat in a leadership conference and heard the presenter tell the audience, “Those closest to you determine your success.” At that time, I was new to ministry and had already seen the impact of that statement. The people I recruited into group leadership gave both me and my church a reputation. Thankfully, it was a good one. But that isn’t to say I didn’t make some mistakes along the way. Sometimes I recruited the wrong person, and correcting that mistake was often painful—for both of us.
Over the years, enlisting group leaders has become an important part of every church leader’s role. That may be especially true in a post-COVID era of ministry in which the number one frustration of many church leaders is volunteer recruitment. Everywhere I go, that topic seems to come up in conversations when I ask about pastors’ most pressing needs. The answer is almost always related to the need for more volunteers to help carry the load of ministry.
Over the years, I’ve learned some principles for enlisting group leaders. I’ve used the following principles in ministry, and I encourage you to consider implementing them in yours.
1. Start with prayer
The word “pray” appears many times in the Bible, and there are several Greek words that we render as the English word “pray.” When Jesus called His disciples’ attention to a field that was white and ready to be harvested, He reminded them that the workers were few.“The starting point is for us to acknowledge our insufficiency and great need.” — @kenbraddy Click To Tweet
Jesus then told them the solution: pray (Greek deomai). But did you know the word “pray” used in that verse means to beg because of lack or need? The starting point is for us to acknowledge our insufficiency and great need.
2. Set an appointment
Make sure you set an appointment with the person you’re recruiting because appointments communicate that something is important. We set appointments to meet with our doctors, to get the oil changed in our cars, and for haircuts, so isn’t it at least as important to do this with the men and women we are inviting to become group leaders? Recruiting people in a hallway at the church or via email or text messages is not the right way to recruit.
3. Avoid “all-call” announcements
Mass appeals for new workers don’t normally produce results. People who hear the announcement assume someone else will step up, and in the end, no one steps up. And the people who volunteer because of an all-call announcement are often not right for the role. Allow the Lord to place one person on your heart. Then set the appointment. It takes longer to recruit this way, but it is a better way.“The people who volunteer because of an all-call announcement are often not right for the role. Allow the Lord to place one person on your heart.” — @kenbraddy Click To Tweet
4. Ask for a specific time commitment
People may be hesitant to enlist if they think the teaching assignment is a “forever” assignment. In my experience, asking a group leader for a one-year commitment is the right length of time. It allows you to train and equip them, and it gives them time to get to know the people in their groups.
5. Enlist year round
If you wait until the last minute, you’ll end up with the wrong people in group leadership roles—guaranteed. Rather than waiting until the summer months to recruit people for the church’s annual group kickoff in August or September, identify potential leaders throughout the year.
6. Clarify the win
This phrase simply means that your group leaders know what it means to “score.” They have been told the essential tasks they are expected to accomplish. I’ve identified four key tasks of groups and group leaders in my new book, Breakthrough: Creating a New Scorecard for Group Ministry Success. I’ve led churches I’ve served over several decades to focus on these four key tasks as the essential “wins.”
7. Provide sample resources
Potential group leaders want to be successful, so give them samples of curriculum and other support materials they are expected to teach. Even as you’re enlisting them, give potential group leaders a few days to review the materials and ask clarifying questions.
If you skip this step, the person you are recruiting might mistakenly think they have to create their Bible studies from scratch each week, which might cause them to decline the opportunity to lead a group.
8. Provide a list of training opportunities
Before your initial recruiting visit, make a list of the training opportunities your church will provide throughout the year. Consider training events at the association level, state level, and national level. Also include events that you plan to create for your leaders. Research has demonstrated that quarterly and monthly training events generate numerical growth.
9. Ask current teachers for recommendations
No one will see potential new group leaders faster than your current leaders. Ask them to help you spot potential new leaders who are active, present, supportive of the pastor, and who have the potential to become apprentice and/or new group leaders.
10. Recruit people to a vision, not only to a job description
A job description is important, and potential new leaders need to know what is expected of them. But don’t stop there! As you recruit, cast a vision for the role and how the Lord will use it to make disciples and advance His kingdom.“As you recruit, cast a vision for the role and how the Lord will use it to make disciples and advance His kingdom.” — @kenbraddy Click To Tweet
Recruiting to a vision for the role might look like this: “By becoming the leader of our 8th-grade boys’ group, you will influence the next generation of young men who will become high school and college students and ultimately husbands and fathers and future church leaders.” The job description component is important, for sure, but don’t leave out the vision portion!
11. Recruit shepherds, not teachers
Shepherds can learn to be better teachers, but it is difficult to lead teachers to love people. Shepherds love people, but sometimes teachers love the sound of their own voices. Shepherds care for God’s people and may not be the most outstanding teachers, but their love is sensed by group members who become fiercely loyal to them because shepherd-teachers are often involved with them outside the classroom.
12. Agree on the goal of starting a new group
The time to agree on this major goal is at the time of recruitment. Once a potential leader agrees with the importance of starting a new group, that person can be held accountable. Teachers sometimes dig in their heels when asked to “divide, split, or start a new class” because they weren’t told that it was an expectation during the recruitment phase.
13. Conduct a potential group leaders’ class
An exploratory event that is open to the entire congregation, or just invited guests (people identified by church staff and current group leaders), is a good way to introduce potential group leaders to the basics of group leadership and expectations of group leaders.
Speak about the goal of your church’s teaching ministry, answer questions, and follow up with each person to see if God is leading them to become a group leader at your church.
Listen to Ken’s conversation about enlisting group leaders on the Disciple-Making in Community podcast.
Ken is the director of Sunday School for Lifeway, a church groups practitioner, and author of several books, including Breathing Life Into Sunday School.
For permission to republish this article, please email Marissa Postell Sullivan.