Volunteers that Stick

Twenty ways to recruit the greatest team of helpers on the planet.

On any given Sunday it can be heard from thousands of churches: "We need workers, we need workers, we need workers, WE NEED WORKERS!" Wouldn't it be nice if recruiting workers were like a game of Red Rover?

You remember, "Red Rover, red Rover, send workers right over!"

I've worked at wonderful churches of varying sizes, and the one thing they all had in common was the need for more workers. The truth is, the bigger the vision, the more people serving and helping it takes to make that vision reality. Ministry was never designed to be done by only a select few. Jesus had the Spirit of God without measure, yet the first thing He did upon starting His earthly ministry was to recruit help. If Jesus needed help, you and I need truckloads of it.

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Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:2, "And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." In this verse we see four groups of people taking the gospel to others. Paul taught Timothy, and Timothy taught faithful men, who were then to go and teach others. In 30 years of building teams of volunteers I've learned a fundamental truth that relates to this formula: People need to be needed more than you and I need the help. Raising up volunteers that stick is a win-win for the local church and for the individual!

As great as that truth is, however, you can't develop people until you locate them. So how do you find potential leaders? Get on the offensive. I recruit children's workers by first looking for parents who like kids. I look for people who show interest in their own kids because chances are they'd be willing to help with others' kids as well.

Your search for workers isn't limited to the places in which you need them. I'm on the lookout not only at church and special meetings, but also at Starbucks, Sam's Club and practically everywhere I go. Encourage the workers you already have to do the same. Jesus allowed His disciples to recruit two of the 12, so challenge your team to recruit others.

As you continually seek new volunteers, identify giftings you are looking for, and be watchful for people who display them. Be specific—make a list of what you need and want. If possible, search first within your organization for people to promote. Also, make sure you qualify all candidates. I require potential volunteers to complete an application, submit references, allow us to do a criminal background check if they are working with minors and conduct an interview. Finally, pray these workers in. Philippians 4:6 says, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." He hears your cries for helping hands!

Getting Them to Stay

Once you've located them and qualified each candidate, here are 20 things I believe you need to do to cultivate volunteers that stick in your ministry:

1. Start slow. Don't dump volunteers in a class with a Sunday school quarterly and say, "Tag, you're it!" Start out new recruits by allowing them to watch, and add responsibility slowly. In the process, you can teach them your church's way of doing things. Train them in your policies and procedures, which should help answer their questions of "What do you want me to do?" and "How do you want me to do it?"

2. Immerse them in your vision. Use every method available—videos, sermons, blogs, Web sites, brochures, visuals, etc.—and let these tell your story. Vision is contagious. Over the years I've realized my vision is what keeps me going. If that vision doesn't allow me to quit at certain times, it will do the same for those who've acquired it from me.

3. Be a model. People do what they see. Show is a much better way to train than tell. When you model ministry on an ongoing basis, it keeps everyone moving forward together.

4. Build trust. If you want your volunteers to trust you, be a person of integrity and do what you say. Prove yourself—don't lead by position only. Show people you are worthy to be followed.

5. Be real and transparent. People like a leader who puts their pants on one leg at a time. Be normal; admit your struggles and shortcomings. Be approachable. Put yourself in the volunteers' place and look for ways to make their load lighter.

6. Invest your time in them. Time spent in others is never wasted. You can't develop leaders without investing time in them. Discipleship is taking someone who is Christ-like in an area and letting their Christ-likeness rub off on others.

7. Believe in them. Give them a chance to do ministry. Let them learn by doing. "But Jim, they're not as good as me," you say? There was a day you were not as good as you—but you learned by doing. Now it's time to return the favor.

8. Encourage them. Everyone can always use a little encouragement. Workers not only respond well to it, but they also flourish. Develop a great habit: Catch people doing things right! In fact, have your key staff write three thank-you notes each week. I promise you, this practice will change your ministry.

9. Be a coach. Coaches motivate. They teach, make corrections, maintain team spirit and point their teams to the next level both corporately and individually. Even the greatest athletes in the world have a coach.

10. Ask for commitment. The greater the commitment, the sweeter the victory. Every time I've asked volunteers for a greater commitment, those who rallied and said yes became the best volunteers I've ever had. Rotating workers might be a quick fix, but it doesn't produce longtime volunteers.

11. Set goals for growth. Don't allow people or ministries to stay stagnant. Help volunteers come up with goals to improve and grow. If you aim at nothing, you'll hit it every time. As good as goals are, equally important is knowing how close you are to reaching them. Evaluation is often that missing link and should go hand in hand with goal setting.

12. Communicate on a regular basis. No relationship can exist without communication. Communicate with more than meetings. Use every method possible. Let your workers know what they need to know to excel and they will.

13. Supply the tools they need. It's easier to do quality work with the right tools. Make sure you give all who serve what they need to minister effectively. Start by offering creative environments; mix in exciting curriculum and teaching supplies, and add audiovisual gadgets and gizmos. If we want to reach the sight and sound generation, then we must give helpers sights and sounds to work with.

14. Check on them systematically. People spend more effort on what's inspected rather than expected. I found out years ago I couldn't spend all my time teaching the children. I was more valuable as a problem-solver and leader of leaders than just a teacher of kids. See for yourself what's going on. Observe your workers in action.

15. Conduct regular equipping meetings. If you give your workers knowledge and wisdom, then you should also give them the power to do the ministry with excellence. By meeting specifically for the purpose of equipping, you can teach your leaders what to do and show them how you want them to do it. These kinds of meetings are more about developing skill sets than information.

16. Care enough to confront. As a parent I confront my kids because I love them. If I love my volunteers, I'll confront them when their actions need to change. Remember, though: Always confront in kindness.

17. Ask for ideas and opinions when appropriate. You can lead by either handing out solutions or involving others in the solution process; the ultimate decision will still be yours. However, volunteers stay put when they're listened to.

18. Promote and entrust. Turn over more to those with ability. People stay put when you recognize their abilities.

19. Thank them. Show them you value and esteem them. Say it. Write it in a note. Express it publicly. When the magic words thank you come from your heart, they are always welcomed.

20. Give them a disciple. Make them accountable to impart what they've received into someone else. Ministries excel when you develop depth at all key positions. And as any sports fan knows, teams with such depth consistently win.

Each of these steps is easy to do; the hard part is doing them all at the same time. Understand that grooming volunteers doesn't happen overnight. Yet as you commit to make these a part of your lifestyle as a leader of leaders, you'll find that help will come—and stay!

Consultant, trainer, speaker and coach Jim Wideman has led some of the nation's largest children's ministries during his 30-plus years of ministry For more information, check out jimwideman.com.

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