How to recruit ministry volunteers

Recruiting ministry volunteersWHAT NOT TO DO:

1. Never stand in front of your congregation and make a plea for help. Don’t ask for anyone interested to contact you. You may get a response from someone, but they could be an immature believer, have disqualifying personal issues, or sign up just to have fun. And since they know you’re in need of help, it’s hard to communicate, “Sorry, we do need help, but you’re not what we need.” You almost have to take whoever shows up at your office door.

2. Never beg people to join your ministry. You don’t want people to join you out of pity, sympathy, or because they have a hard time saying no. Don’t come across as a ministry that’s struggling and needs help in order to function. That’s not very inspiring and sets a completely wrong perspective for that potential volunteer, especially later if they decide to come on board.

3. Never invite someone to join your ministry team unless you’re confident in their abilities to fulfill the roles you assign. Don’t set your volunteer up for failure by saying, “Let’s see how well you can perform here” and then later say, “Wow, I didn’t know you were so bad at this. Oh well, thanks anyway!” This is a disservice to your ministry participants as well as to your now ex-volunteer. Set them up to succeed!


1. Ask your church staff and other trusted leaders for referrals of people they think would be a great fit for your ministry. Also, intentionally establish relationships with people outside your ministry area and get a feel for where they’re at spiritually and how they may or may not fit into your team. Pray over every lead.

2. Talk with other people who know your potential recruit. What input do they have? Any concerns? Can they envision that person successfully participating in your ministry?

3. If everything checks out, approach the recruit and cast the vision for your ministry. Share what God’s doing in your team and where you believe He’s leading. Also listen to their heart, talk about their passions and what God’s doing in their life, especially points that may intersect with what God’s doing in your ministry. Throughout the discussion, generate excitement for this individual if it looks like a good connection could be made between your ministry and this potential volunteer.

4. Invite the recruit to become a part of the ministry as a fly on the wall — no responsibilities, just to observe. Debrief together after every experience.

5. If they agree to join the ministry, clearly set the expectations and responsibilities for that individual. Provide ongoing training and support as they venture out into their specific area of ministry. This insures that they won’t burnout right away and will be a part of your group for a long time to come. Also make sure you take care of any legal stuff your church might require, including background checks and/or application process.

6. Set your standards high and keep ’em there! The last thing your ministry needs is a questioned reputation because someone on your team did something or said something that was really stupid or even downright harmful. Your ministry should always be a safe place where people have full confidence in the integrity of your volunteers.

Posted on March 5, 2007

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  • Beyond my youth ministry volunteer team, I also recruit others to help with our special events. A couple of weeks ago, I approached an elder in our church about helping. He does not have a heart for working in the youth ministry, but I don't need someone with a heart for youth ministry to grill hamburgers. He was glad to do that.

    This way, I keep youth events in front of others in the congregation who would never be apart otherwise and my youth ministry volunteers (and me too) spend their time with students.

  • I like that idea Justin.

  • I invite our current team to take part in the recruiting process. If I have done a good job communicating to our team the mission and vision of the ministry as well as the expectations of leaders, they will be in a great position to recommend good potential leaders.

  • I agree with Benjer. When we empower our leaders to be part of the recruiting process (even if it is just 'feeling people out') it gives them confidence and they feel like they have value and that their input is valued. I think it can go a long way.

  • Ann

    As a former member of a supposed youth ministry "team", I agree with Benjer and Chris. Nothing brought heartache to the ministry like the leader recruiting someone who wouldn't/couldn't get along with the other volunteers. What it tells the volunteers is that if the leader didn't trust our judgment concerning potential teammates, he certainly wasn't going to value our inputs on any other subject either. It turns out to be true more often than not.
    Oftentimes volunteers have been in the congregation a lot longer than a youth pastor and may know more people. I was once able to recommend a worker that had been out of youth ministry for a while (due to their family demands) because I had known and worked with them. The youth pastor wouldn't have had a clue as to this person's suitability.

  • Tim

    Yeah, I think the only time I brought on some volunteers without running it by the rest of the adult staff was when I was at a church that didn't have any volunteers in the first place.

  • On the recruiting and running it past the current adults working …. I think it depends on the size of the church, how many volunteers you have, what ministry format you are using and how you recruit / train and implement the volunteers.

    Also, there are numerous times that I recruit and bring people on my team that my current leaders do not EVEN KNOW.

    It is part of my job to cast the vision, implement the vision and in that process develop a team of adults that will carry out the vision / mission of the church. If I ran everything by my leaders, we would not get things accomplished.

    Also, we do Every Member In Ministry. Thus, the principle of what is being discussed would not be valid. However, this is moving off the subject at hand.

  • Tim

    If every church member were already involved in ministry then yes, this post would have a very different approach. Unfortunately that is rare for most churches given all the various spiritual and emotional maturity levels.

    I don't think we're talking about running every decision by the volunteer team, just getting their input when recruiting. This has worked both ways for me. One time the volunteers thought someone should come on board, but I had reservations and made the decision not to invite them. Another time my volunteers had reservations, but I saw lots of potential and brought the individual on board anyway. Both situations turned out fine. I just know that, as the leader, ultimately I make the decision on who I unleash onto the students and who to protect them from.

  • I understand that.

    I have been in small churches where getting 1 new volunteer a year was a real struggle. I have also been in churches where if I did not get 15+ volunteers in a month or two, we would be in real trouble.

    The biggest thing ( in my opinion ) is to recruit through your vision. Use your passion to "sell" them.

    We are in the the process of every member in ministry where individual sign-up through volunteer pamphlets. We recruit our leaders.

    Senior Pastor and Leadership team has given me "the charge" to recruit leaders and place them in the ministry.

    We are in a huge cycle of change here and many new leaders are being placed in ministry.

    I will concur with Ann that some of the toughest ministry time can be when new leaders / ministry servants (volunteers) come in and the "gel factor" with the established guard.

  • Ann

    Yeah, I'm not talking about the old guard volunteers exercising "veto power" over recruits but the leader allowing (and also receiving) input to the selection process. This is true for any working team. I work for a very large corporation and my boss tries to involve other people in the hiring process eventhough he is the ultimate decision maker. What he's discovered is that no matter how good someone looks on paper, the reality is that we must work together as a team. We've hired some really smart and talented people who were defective in their interpersonal relationships or in character. He relies on others' discernment to help weed out the bad apples ahead of time. Believe me, no one wants to work with them.

    I know of a pastor who tried to recruit a young lady for ministry but didn't know that she had an ex-husband with "benefits" – some of the women leaders knew of this BECAUSE she had told them about her repeated moral lapses . He really couldn't understand why this made her unsuitable for ministry, but deferred to the rest of the team's judgment. The next time however, he didn't bother to ask before bringing the next lady in and got burned by the inappropriate lifestyle disclosures she posted on the internet. (want to know if a new recruit's behavior will embarrass the ministry? check out their blog, xanga, facebook, or myspace -sometimes it's all right there for all to see.)

    A caveat here: there's danger when we claim that we are the end all of a particular ministry and hence all decisions are ours -"there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors". While a pastor may be hired to have charge over a ministry, it's not your Youth Group, it's Jesus'. He calls lay and clergy alike to "feed His sheep" and both will stand before Him to give an account of their stewardship. This 20th century model of the pastor doing the whole ministry is passe' (actually I think it harkens back to pre-Reformation Catholicism). Christ established His Church as a community, not a bunch of saved individuals grouped around a dynamic pastoral personality. Really, if you look at Ephesians 4, pastors are to equip the saints so that THEY can do the ministry. A leader would want all his/her team on the same page spiritually, emotionally and relationally to have maximum effectiveness in ministry.

  • Tim

    Excellent comment, Ann. Thanks!

  • Ann:

    That was a very good comment with a lot of great advice and wisdom. I would agree with almost all of what you said ( 95%+).

    My adult leadership team does have very good input on who could be leaders. However as mentioned, there are numerous people in the church that the leaders do not know about ( as those I do not because of the size ).

    Depending on how the team is structured will also determine how much group dynamics play into factor and what the adult leadership team is trying to model to the students.

    On your caveat. I agree with the Ephesians 4. It goes back to what I mentioned before. We work on every member in ministry. We, staff, recruit and train and implement them for ministry and encourage them in the giftedness and in their passions. I think you can and at times need to be the end all ( on decisions ) and still model Eph. 4.

    We could look at ministry models in the church ( NT ) church and see individuals "commanding". Once again, you refer to pastors doing the whole ministry – if that is what my post sounds like I do, it is far from the truth. Most times, I have individuals complain that I have too many people doing too much of my work.

    If any of the post sounds harsh, I apologize. There is no intention of that. I am just very passionate about leaders and volunteers and us (ministry) being on the same page. I love dialogue on the subject.

    I am not looking forward to tomorrow when most likely I am going to have to "fire" a volunteer.

  • Tim

    Aww man, Jeff. I'll pray for ya tomorrow. I've had to dismiss volunteers before, too, and it's never easy. Fortunately most of mine were due to pretty blatant misconduct or after warnings, so there wasn't a lot of speculation from anyone, but still. It always has the potential to backfire really hard, in which case you just gotta stand firm knowing that you did the best thing for the benefit of the ministry as a whole.

  • Thanks for the prayer. This is one of those tough ones. She is very tender-hearted and has great compassion for individuals.

    However, she really is not suited for ym and she will not buy into the vision and mission of the ym and she is very "taxing".

    BTW, I may ask you a personal request soon.

  • Ann

    Naw, I didn't get harsh from your post and my reply wasn't directed at you or Tim. Certainly, you can have chaos if you attempt to implement many deciders on staffing decisions or anything else for that matter.

    Jesus obviously set the tone and pace of servant leadership with the disciples, He selected each and every one of them Himself. Yet, and here's the key, He invested nearly all of His waking hours, building them up AS A TEAM. He taught them, told them where to go and what to do, explained things to them and rebuked them when their thinking was off base. He ultimately entrusted them with His sheep. None of us are Jesus, however, and so to reflect more fully the mind of Christ and utilize all the available spiritual gifts, we need to spread some of the ministry and deliberation around. This a good thing! As opposed to, she's invading my turf as pastor.

    My own recent experience with youth pastors has been quite negative – I've certainly seen the dark side of ones that thought the way I was describing. I was "fired" from youth ministry a year ago by someone who was and is like that- to not agree with his thinking, even if it was kept private between us, was to be labelled evil and ungodly. Now only two of the original volunteer staff (out of 8) remain and are afraid to say anything.

    In nearly 25 years of youth ministry, I have seen others like him -the underlying quality they have in common being hubris. No one can tell them anything and disagreement is not allowed (because afterall, God SPOKE to them to do x even if x is dangerous, immoral, unwise or illegal). These types don't need any help recruiting, teaching or discipling because they are the PASTOR. My roommate saw them too in her MDiv seminary classes at Talbot (she finished her MDiv there and is working on her ThM now). Her profs continually remind these guys that a title does not a pastor make. The sad part is that they wonder why God isn't blessing their ministry with any spiritual depth. But if it's all about them (which can attract big numbers), why would He?

    I have also seen good leaders -ones that pray for and with me, who ask my opinion and even when we don't agree, still love me and show concern for me by talking and explaining things to me. They want me to grow in Christ and will maximize the use of my gifts. My walk with Christ is as important to them as the students'. With those guys, I'm excited about coming to youth group and I'm willing to really, really go out of my way to help out. Amazingly, the other team members feel the same way and our relationships with each other are tight. The students see Christ-like behavior modeled before their eyes and are more receptive to our message.

    Don't get me wrong, I still have hope that one day again I will be a part of a youth ministry where the latter not the former style is practiced. However, I do want to be instructive by my experience to you guys (and gals) who only hear the youth pastor side of things. Corporations spend millions of dollars every year trying to navigate and train in the area of group dynamics; it is unfortunate that seminaries and Bible colleges spend so little time teaching future pastors on this subject. A skill that certainly comes in handy when you have to "fire" someone.

  • Ann:

    What you have described is why I chose the educational path that I chose and why I chose it.

    I did the Bachelors' in Christian Education w/ emphasis in Church and Family Life.

    I did the Masters' in Ministry with emphasis in Church Growth in Evangelism.

    HOWEVER … my most helpful degree was when I went back to schooland received a Bachelors' degree from a business school in Organizational Leadership Development.

    You are 100% correct in the assesment of seminary education. It is sad. I think the tide is changing in a few of them.

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