The more I talk to parish ministry staff and volunteer leaders, the more I hear about how finding enough, quality volunteers is a challenge. Sometimes so much of a challenge that a leader can become overwhelmed by this–and only see this barrier. It can get discouraging. Plus, the wrong volunteers to continue planning, implementing, and assessing any new initiative in church-life can doom even the most brilliantly inspired and prayerfully discerned new direction. We’ve got a tag going here on this blog for Volunteer Management, and here’s the latest…some practical tips from experienced Children’s Ministers, that apply to us all:
Let’s start with ourselves (not the prospective volunteers), here’s what we need to stop doing…
- Making announcements (pulpit, bulletin, social media, etc.) in a vacuum and expecting to get the right volunteers.
- Feeling guilty about recruiting volunteers, and thus procrastinating (leading to all sorts of other problems in training, discernment, quality, etc.).
- Relying on leaders (or the dedicated few) as routine “substitutes”–it’s okay to substitute sometimes, but if this is routine, it really just means you’re avoiding the heart of the matter when it comes to formation and recruiting.
- Not having a clear plan, vision, and mission for your volunteers (and waiting until you “have some” to figure this out).
- Taking setbacks personally and leaving prayer out of the equation.
What to do instead?
- Spiritual formation first! Set ministry volunteering within the proper context of stewardship as a disciple’s response to God’s love–a “get to,” not a “have to.”
- Pray, pray, pray–for God’s guidance to give you eyes to see needs, others, etc.
- Build relationships. All the time. With current volunteers and potential/future ones. Relationships, not announcements work.
- Do more listening. As Tom McKee explains (in the interview this post is based on):
I often find that if I listen, that “no” actually means one of several things: “Not now — I’ve got too much on my plate;” “Not this position — I have other gifts I’d like to use;” “Not with this present leadership;” or “Not in your lifetime.” Listen carefully to the excuses.
- Think of recruiting volunteers like dating–take the time to get to know the person, don’t force them to make a huge yes/no/forever commitment to serve once as part of discerning ministry, progressively build into greater responsibility, get to know the person’s strengths and don’t be afraid to use these strengths, know when it’s okay to prayerfully discern a “no” or “let me introduce you to another ministry…”