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How To Effectively Recruit Volunteers

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Team Training for 17 June

It was the autumn of 2007, Christa and I were just newly settling into our new city and ministry after a summer of very intense and fun summer camp. We’d served with a great team who all loved the churches that they’d come from and since we were new to the city we wanted to find a church where we’d have some friends and find a place to get involved.

  • Week one we went to Gospel Church. The service was fine but as we waited in the very crowded foyer afterwards not a single person tried to figure out who we were.
  • Week two we went to a bigger Missionary church. This one was much more polished, had some good conversations and we even got a visitor package. But we left feeling neither excited nor disappointed.
  • Week three we tried Eastview. A growing church with a mission to yuppies living in the suburbs (we lived in the ‘hood’ (a poor neighbourhood) and served teenagers). The service was okay – same as everywhere really – but as we finished, Phil & Julie were sitting behind us and introduced themselves. Then they invited us to their home group that Thursday. We were blown away. When we showed up at home group and met some other folks who have been life long friends (and not just because of Facebook).

Fire hose

This relationship led to further invitations – to lunch after church, to serve on teams, to lead the youth worship band, to attend conferences. Each opportunity helping us to grow and helping us to serve our church effectively and well.

Today I want to share with you some of the biggest mistakes people make in recruiting – especially in church and other volunteer run organizations. The first 2 churches had people there who hoped that we would join them – and Eastview had nothing special about it, except that the people had some good disciplines and practices around how to invite people into the community and the work they did with passion.

The problem

Recently I sat in a meeting of highly committed volunteers who feel the pressure to recruit new workers and to find their own replacements. It’s difficult – especially as a devoted worker – to understand why others don’t just sign up and join me in the work. And it’s even more difficult when I pour into relationships that do not result in these friends joining us.

So whether you face the challenge of replacing yourself in a volunteer role or you need more help because the ministry is growing, you’re tempted to use the easiest means possible. I here to encourage you with experience and research to say that easy is not effective. Effective recruiting is risky and costly in terms of time and relationship. If you’ve ever been recruited, you know that guilt can be a powerful weapon in recruiting, but that it doesn’t leave you motivated for the long term. When a recruiter uses guilt and pressure they’re losing the battle.

There’s no magic formula. Rather, I would like us to simply increase our effectiveness because when we have the right people on our bus we will all be more satisfied because we’re getting where we wanted to go.

The first mistake I see people making: Recruiting to a job vacancy or program.

Urgency to maintain what you’ve got can lead you to saying things like:
“Hey, you’re a parent, why aren’t you teaching Sunday School?” “You should be an usher, we’re really short on ushers.”
The problem with this approach is that it might work. You have no idea if the person is gifted, passionate, or even a Christian. Guilt might get them in the door, but it won’t help your team if they’re not a good fit.
Solution: Invite people to a vision – you don’t need to be an actor or speech writer, just know what God has inspired you with. Here are a couple of phrases I came up with today:

“We want every person who comes to VB to welcomed warmly and to meet someone who could become their friend.” – warm, friendly, hospitality types can get excited about this, and will rise up to join you.

Or how about this one:

“We can see that the world is changing rapidly. Many of the highest paid jobs today didn’t exist 20 years ago and we still thought the Irish & South Africans were the biggest threats to world peace. We’re serious about training our children and youth to know Jesus for themselves and to communicate God’s love in a culture that changing quickly and has never heard about Jesus. Would you like to help by bringing healthy snacks to our Training Camp?”

This requires knowing your vision and knowing where you’re going. Imagine if you got everything you wanted and nothing went wrong – where would you be in 2 years, 5 years, 20 years?

Second Mistake: Firehose invitations

Here is something I hear from rookie and veteran volunteers who can’t seem to find the help that they need: “If we could just make an announcement in church,” or “Let’s print a flyer and deliver it to all the houses in our neighbourhood,” or “please send this announcement to the organization’s mailing list.” Announcements, flyers and emails are useful and helpful for many things – but they are counter-productive (which here means that they do the opposite of what you intended to happen) in recruitment for a few reasons:

  1. The people who need to be asked personally, don’t consider any of these methods to be a personal invitation.
  2. The best candidates for the role may be absent from the meeting, live outside the catchment area or only skim read your email. At the same time, those who have nothing else to do or have an inflated guilt complex are more likely to apply.

It’s like using a fire hose to water your garden plants.  It might get the job done, but it may do more harm than good.


Recruiting.008Solution: Use a watering can.
If you want the best candidate for the job, ask the best candidate for the job. Then be willing to wait for God’s timing.

Working with the Holy Spirit, we want to invite the people that God is showing us. Watering Can recruiting is about trying to do what the Father is doing

Things are rarely as urgent as they’re presented and God has an impeccable sense of timing. God rarely has the sense of urgency that we do – he’s not a fireman, he’s a gardener. Think of all the people he put into fiery situations – they all started in gardens or wildernesses. Adam, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, Saul/Paul. So, prayerfully choose your favourite and tend that relationship patiently.  And remember, the best leaders were once the good team members.

“The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people.”
Bill Gates

Third Mistake: solving your own immediate problems, rather than solving your candidate’s problems.

I know, you’re feeling under pressure to meet a deadline or replace a worker or raise some needed resource and it’s hard to see anything but what you have to accomplish. But this sense of urgency can cause you to miss out on the way that your need is someone else’s opportunity.
Solution: Recruiting people who will benefit from being with you.
The goal in recruiting a person is to add value to their life and their addition to your team ought to add value to your team.

I have a young friend Martin, and everytime I would have an Alpha event in his home town, I’d bring him along. He helped me carry things, set up displays, pray for people in ministry time, share his story of meeting Jesus and more. And while he’s helpful, clever and stronger than me, I always considered this to be a mutually beneficial relationship. I needed help and an extra set of hands and he enjoyed being part of something bigger, he benefited from retelling his story and we got to spend time driving and catching up on life. His volunteering was adding value to his life and my life. I was helping him to solve a challenge in his life.

“A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him.”
H. S. M Burns

The Community we’re building:

I get really excited about Vineyard Brussels when I see the quality of people coming in to our church. People are encountering Jesus, making friends, getting healed and they’re scattering globally with testimonies that God is doing a good thing in Brussels. When I think of what’s at stake, we need the best people in the places where they can do the most good. I know that some of our needs are very urgent, God will help us.

Some of our best workers are right beside us, just waiting to be asked personally. Some need a friend more than a task – help people make some new friends. You’re not imposing on people to ask them to help – if you love this church, they will want to be part of making it great. Let’s show people that we really mean it when we say that here, “everyone can play.”

(also see: some quotes on recruiting)

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Author: Robb Massey

I'm a husband, dad, pastor and a coach. I love following Jesus, riding my bike and having fun with my family. We live in wonderful Winnipeg, Manitoba in the prairie heartland of Canada

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