Like every other youth worker, I struggle to find volunteers!
What I find is that the higher the commitment, the harder it is to find someone willing to step up and help. When the commitment level is low, I can usually find someone to help out.
For example, if I need someone to bring food to our Sunday morning meeting or come hang out for an afternoon at a waterpark, I can usually fill that spot without many phone calls or texts. On the contrary, when I need to fill a small group leader spot that requires a weekly responsibility and a yearly commitment, I struggle to find the right person.
An idea that I’ve been implementing over the last two years has become extremely helpful when it comes to recruiting volunteers: promotion.
I start with people who are willing to volunteer for the small stuff: driving for an event or coming to hang out at the trampoline park. We typically do stuff like this all summer long. This pool of people is fairly large as it’s anyone who can pass a background check and likes students enough to spend a few hours with them. When I see people hanging with students and not just on their phone in the corner wishing for it to end, I go up and ask if they will come and help with our DNOW Weekend in some way or come on our Winter Retreat.
The DNOW and Winter Retreat present a slightly larger commitment, but both are only a weekend. If they are willing to help with the event in some way, it puts them in front of more students for a little longer time. There’s a little training involved and some more vetting that happens, so the pool gets smaller. If I hear positive things from them and from the students who interacted with them, I ask them to come on the mission trip we do in the summer.
By now my pool has grown substantially smaller because I’m asking that this person take a week off of work and come on mission with us. I’ve also found out if they can be around students for long stints of time and survive to talk about it to friends and family. I intentionally have these leaders in small groups with students during the mission trip to help debrief after each day. This has been my master plan all along. I spend an entire week watching this person interact with students in the most draining way possible. If they are all in, if they are loving on students and helping out with them in huge ways, I drop the bomb.
I ask them to become small group leaders in the fall.
By this time, the person has already devoted a good deal of time to student ministry and has already formed relationships within the ministry and maybe has even caught hold of the vision. In fact, this year every single person who came with us on the mission trip came back to volunteer as a small group leader, minus one. That person wasn’t going to be a good fit. But seeing them on the mission trip helped me know that before I considered them for a small group.
Does the system always work? Nope. Sometimes I find out rather quickly that a person isn’t suited for student ministry around the time of the retreat. Or that person’s schedule is already packed and they can’t commit. Or someone amazing shows up halfway through the summer and I find out they would be a GREAT small group leader without me putting through my process.
But in this way, I remind myself who I’m asking to help with a little event could one day be a small group leader. It really helps me to keep recruitment in my head all year long. It also helps that our calendar is geared in this way: Small summer events, DNOW, Retreat, Mission Trip, Small Group Kick-Off.
Putting this into practice has been huge for my volunteer recruitment.
What practices have you done that have helped you?
By Ronald Long, Student Minister to Middle School at Wayside Chapel and DYM author.