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Lessons Learned: Volunteer Recruitment and Training Tips

I don’t sing well enough to lead singing. I never could play guitar and sing with kids at the same time. My tortured instrumental teachers and generous musical friends identify my piano and guitar skills as “rudimentary.” This lack of musical skills might have killed my hope to serve as a Director of Christian Education. But thank God for always providing musicians in the churches where I served. Thank you, Verna, Judy, Luther, Londa, Spencer, Norma, Kathy, and other volunteers who stepped in to share your musical gifts!

As a side benefit, my gaping lack of musical ability allowed others to serve, and let me work at tasks better suited to my abilities. In this way, God brought His people together to accomplish His mission of teaching about Jesus in our churches and communities.

But how do we find people to work in specific areas? The question becomes urgent this time of year when many recruit volunteers for Sunday School and other educational programs.

Most church leaders admit that they struggle to recruit and train volunteers. Uncomfortable and unsure, some even procrastinate and exacerbate the problem. I did. How about you?

Try these tips for improved recruitment success and greater volunteer satisfaction.

  • Pray for your congregation’s needs and the people God might bring to fill them.
  • Periodically review talent surveys, if your congregation uses them. If not, look for people who interact well with children and love God’s Word. Talk with folks to find out about their hobbies and what they love to do.
  • Ask your pastor, other leaders, and parents to recommend people who could fill needed roles. Someone else may know just the person you need.
  • Use announcements to round up volunteers for positions that anyone can fill, not those that require specific abilities. Skilled people may think you don’t want them, or you would have asked. (Been there, done that.) They might be willing to help, but need you to acknowledge their abilities and that kids would benefit from them.
  • Understand that recruiting gives people a chance to feel valued, affirmed in their skills, and needed by your congregation. Know that not everyone will agree to help, but that asking them to serve has its own benefits.
  • Approach people in an open, positive way. Speak with them in person, chat on the phone, or send personal correspondence to seek their help. Tell them why you think they’d make a difference. Tell them about the importance of the Sunday School ministry and how their role would share Jesus with children and their families.
  • Share a job description to clarify the position expectations, skills needed, and time commitment. Download a free Sunday School teacher job description today from “Blueprints for Children’s Ministry” by Kim Bestian. Later, use the job description to help volunteers assess their service. Adjust expectations as needed.
  • Don’t ask for an immediate response, but ask people to think and pray about the opportunity. Say you’ll contact them in a designated amount of time to talk again.
  • Speaking of time, recruit people for a designated time, such as one quarter, the school year, or every other week. A specified time frame is less intimidating and lets volunteers better assess the opportunity. Never-ending tasks raise many red flags.
  • Get more recruitment tips from DCE Shelli Haynes here.

Once recruited, your volunteers need orientation, training, and ongoing support. Try these field-tested ideas to help your volunteers thrive.

  • Provide training and resources to increase volunteers’ success and satisfaction. Pair new people with veterans to learn the ropes. Organize teams of people with a variety of talents to work together in a specific area.
  • Ask your pastor to install, dedicate, and recognize volunteers in a worship service at a key interval, such as the beginning of a new quarter, school year, or season. Consider identifying volunteers that day a color ribbon, special name tag, or rubber bracelet.
  • Lead an event or demonstrate a skill with their group and then talk afterward about what happened. Help volunteers identify what worked and what didn’t. Discuss ways to improve.
  • Take time to talk with volunteers about their concerns. Give honest feedback and make improvement plans together.
  • Meet to plan events or share tips on specific topics, such as check-in-and-out procedures, discipline, or involving parents. Meet in a favorite restaurant or coffee shop or provide a snack or meal if you can.
  • Take your volunteers to a group-building activity, such as a ropes course found at many camps, a zipline course, a mystery room, mystery party, or an interactive museum.
  • Consider reading a volunteer book together, such as the highly-rated Authentic Youth Ministry: Straight Talk about Working with Kids, Teens & In-Betweens. DCE Cassie Moore shares much wisdom for both new and veteran leaders working with children and youth. Download a free training guide.
  • If time prohibits meeting, just give Authentic Youth Ministry to your volunteers.
  • Email or text links to volunteers for webinars and CPH Seeds of Faith Podcasts (background and insight about each week’s CPH Bible lesson).
  • Continue to pray for your volunteers. Encourage and affirm them intentionally and often. For great ideas, see Lessons Learned: Teacher Appreciation.
  • Plan special periodic thank-you events for volunteers, such as a meal, coffee klatch, picnic, or dessert buffet. Consider a bigger event that includes all your church’s volunteers.

May God richly bless His Church with a variety of talents and abilities. May He guide your volunteer recruitment and energize you to share the Gospel of Christ with joy!

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