Great youth ministry volunteers who passionately care for students, help plan events, teach, and disciple are the common thread among every good youth ministry. If you struggle to find these amazing people, then take some comfort knowing that many other youth ministers also struggle to recruit volunteers. It’s time to learn how to recruit them to your team.
Veteran youth ministers who have excellent volunteer teams know these two secrets:
- We realize that if our youth ministries are going to grow, thrive, and someday survive after we leave them, it will be because of great volunteers, not because of us.
- Building and nurturing a solid volunteer team is one of the most important things we do and, therefore, we invest a significant portion of our time to recruiting, training, and supporting our volunteers. The larger the youth ministry, the more time we spend investing in volunteers.
With these things in mind, here are five keys to a successful volunteer recruitment plan:
1. Know your needs
You need to develop a master volunteer recruitment chart. How many volunteers do you need? Take the time to list all the areas where you have a need: Sunday School Teachers, Small Group Leaders, Youth Group Leaders, Lock-in Volunteers, Retreat Leaders, Snack Supper Volunteers, Car Wash Organizers, etc. If you have something that you wish someone was volunteering to lead, then be sure you put it on your list: for example, if you really need a volunteer to take on attendance records, then put it on your list. If you don’t list it, then no one knows that you need help in that area. For each area, make sure to note how many of each type of volunteer you need. Organizing this information in some type of chart makes it easy to keep track of, so that when people start saying yes, you can fill in each area and easily see where you still have holes.
2. Know what you are asking them to do
People are most likely to say “yes” when asked to do something when the expectations are clear. We recommend developing job descriptions for all major volunteer positions. The job descriptions should include time commitment, responsibilities, and training requirements. When you are recruiting someone, they will want to know what you are asking them to do. A good job description should answer all their questions and set you up for success by allowing you to define the expectations of that position. When a volunteer has not been told what to do, don’t be surprised when they don’t do it.
3. Know who you are targeting
Create a list of potential youth volunteers. Your list should be at least three times longer than the number of volunteers you need, because some people are going to say “no.” You will need some help developing this list. A good place to start is the church directory: write down everyone you know who could fill one of your needs. You might consider dividing your list into two groups—those who will work hands-on with the youth and those who will organize and play “behind-the-scenes” roles. Mark the hands-on group with an H, organize with an O, and folks who could do either with an E. Next, start asking other people for suggestions of volunteers. Ask your pastor, your current volunteers, other ministry leaders in the church, and definitely ask the youth (what adults in the church do they look up to because of their faith?). If your church does a time and talent survey or service commitment during the stewardship campaign, then make sure you have those lists. Ask questions like, “Who used to volunteer in youth ministry that doesn’t anymore? What adults do you want mentoring our youth?” Don’t stop until you get that list! Many young youth ministers don’t know who to call. This list will tell you!
Once you have your list, make a note next to each person of the top two areas they might serve in. You want to be as prepared as possible when you call them.
4. Asking—Smiling and Dialing, Coffee or Lunch
There is no way around it: you have to ask people to volunteer. Once you get your list and phone numbers compiled, set aside some time (and plenty of it) to begin calling and asking folks to volunteer. They simply are not going to say “yes” until you ask them, so start asking. We recommend the following strategies:
- Call them. You’ll probably have to leave a message, so be prepared to talk to voicemail. Be specific: “Hi, [name], this is [your name] from [your church]. I am calling to ask you to prayerfully consider being a small group leader for our youth group. Would you please call me back at your convenience at [your number]?” Some will call you back and others will not. Wait 48 hours before calling and leaving a second message.
- As you talk with people, share with them about the volunteer opportunity and what it would mean for the ministry. Tell them about the larger role of service to God’s Kingdom and help them to see that this opportunity will have a lasting and eternal impact in the lives of the teenagers. They are being asked to be a part of something bigger than what they might see. People want to know that what they are giving their time and energy to is making a difference in the world. They want to feel important and needed.
- Don’t sound desperate. Don’t use guilt. You want people to have a positive experience volunteering. The main reason someone should volunteer with your ministry is because of the difference that it will make in their lives and the lives of teenagers.
- Be prepared to talk about the various volunteer opportunities. Some volunteer positions might only require a phone call. But any major hands-on position with youth should involve you talking face-to-face with your potential volunteers. So after you get them on the phone, invite them to coffee or lunch. At your meeting, bring the job description you have created. You will be able to share your larger vision for the youth ministry and answer their questions. Be prepared to communicate dates related to volunteer training (have the youth calendar handy!) and curriculum resources or organizational timelines and event goals.
- Always get a yes! I know it sounds impossible, but it’s not. When I get a “no” to one volunteer area, I listen and respond to their reasons and offer another area where we have a need. For example, you might ask someone to be a Sunday School teacher. They can’t because they can’t commit to being there weekly. My next question is, “Would you willing to be a sub for when other teachers are out of town?” Or if it’s someone I think would be great on a retreat, then, “If you can’t make a weekly commitment, would you be willing to go on our fall retreat?” You should always know what your next “ask” will be. Many folks will have worked out their excuses, but when presented with an option that involves less commitment they are likely to say “yes.” Then, there will be those who are simply a “no.” To turn them into a “yes,” make your final question something like, “I understand that you can’t commit to these things at this time; would you be willing to pray for the youth ministry throughout the year?” I’ve yet to get a “no” to that question.
5. Training and Encouraging
After you have filled in your lists, don’t forget to train and equip them for their tasks. Training, equipping, support, and encouragement are essential to volunteer retention. Once you have done the hard work of finding people to help you, you certainly want to keep them around so that your recruiting efforts get a little easier every year!
Go get them! Great volunteers make great youth ministries!