Recruiting Volunteers: The Principles (Part 1)

I remember a particular time that I took students to a winter retreat. At the beginning of this retreat, they would have a leaders' meeting to talk about the retreat. My leaders and I sat by a long-time youth pastor friend of mine, Brad. After the meeting he turned to me with a frustrated look and asked me, "How do you do it?" Puzzled, I replied, "How do I do what?" He stated, "Every year you come, you bring all these leaders. How do you get so many people to help out? I can barely get a few people to volunteer!" I was shocked. Brad never had a problem with attracting students, and I was dying to find out why he wasn't attracting leaders! He asked me if we could to get together during our free time so he could pick my brain, and of course I agreed.

Brad worked at an average sized church of 300, but his youth ministry was not the average with 80 students (most of them not even from within the church). I always admired how he loved working with students and his passion to helping his students find their way back to God. When we got a chance to sit down and talk, the first thing he said was, "So, how do you do it?"

I smiled and asked, "Well, what have you done to try to get more people in the past?" Brad sighed, "I have done everything you can think of doing. I have put out a plea in the bulletin for 8 weeks, I went in front of the church and asked for help, I sent out numerous emails, and now I am in the process of talking to the elders about requiring parents of students who attend to volunteer." I asked, "How did that work for you?" He said, "At first it seemed to work well, but I realized that people were just volunteering out of pity and not sticking around for the long haul. Then people just stopped responding to my pleas!"

With a desperate look in his eyes he said, "I'm starting to think that no one cares about our students at our church. I had big plans to start small groups for these students but I have no one to lead the groups. I'm getting really tired."

I replied, "I can completely understand what you are going through. Recruiting the best volunteers is hard work. It can be frustrating, time consuming, and draining. We've all been there and that is the good news. I have learned a lot from others over the years. I have broken all of what I have learned into two arenas: Principles and Practices." I took out a piece of scratch paper and started jotting down these arenas.

The Principles

Principles are the things you believe that direct your actions. If you want to attract excellent volunteers, then you need certain beliefs that guide your outcomes. I called these beliefs The Best Principles. Here are The Best Principles on volunteering:

1. Inspiring the Best. Be the person everyone wants to be by dedicating yourself to excellence. Your volunteers will only give as much as you are willing to give. They will risk only as much as you are willing to risk and work as hard as you are willing to work. You will only be able to attract high quality leaders and competent volunteers by expecting the best out of yourself and your ministry.Ask yourself, what are the things you need to do better in your ministry?

2. Envisioning the Best. Most people don’t like traveling long distances without a well thought-out plan on how to get to their destination. It is the same way with ministry. The better your vision, the better leaders you will attract. Everyone wants to know where you are heading in your ministry so they don't feel like they are being left in the dark. Taking the time to clearly define your vision will encourage more participation within your leadership teams.No one wants to serve in a dying ministry, or the perception of a dying ministry. Do some reflection, where are some areas that your vision needs to improve?

3. Requiring the Best. You are the measuring stick to excellence. You have to encourage others to reach for the highest quality they can give. Never settle for anything less than the best from your volunteers. Allowing complacency and low commitment within your ministry will only result in discouraging high quality leaders from serving in your ministry. People have a limited time to give, so most of them want to serve at a place where they feel like they are not wasting their time. How can you encourage excellence within your ministry?

Brad looked up from the notes, "This all sounds good, but to be honest, this seems like it isn't enough. I mean, I understand all of these things and I believe they are important. But it seems like I'm missing something."

I replied "Yes, you're right. That is where The Practices come in to play."