One of the things I still carry from my southern upbringing in my love for college football. I live for Saturdays in the fall. For me and most of my friends, there was football season, spring practice and recruiting. Our discussions were always about who has the best quarterback, which defense could stop what offense and what top rated high school player was going to which school. Coaches were rated on wins and losses and how well they do on the recruiting trail.
Who would have thought one of the things ministers have in common with college coaches is the willingness and ability to recruit? If you ask any minister what is the most persistent challenge of their ministry and almost without exception they will say, “finding volunteers.”
Part of the problem is most ministers aren’t told this is a necessary skill for success in our ministry. We receive almost no training in the process of identifying and employing volunteers. Most of it is hit or miss and most of the time, it’s a miss.
One of the more modern developments of church leadership is the growing reliance on professional clergy. Positions that were once done by volunteers are now filled by professionally trained ministers who have graduated from a recognized schools and assumed to be experts in their chosen fields. One of the unintended consequences of the professionalization is the loss of volunteers. Lay people think either they can’t do the work because they don’t have the training or they shouldn’t do the work because the church can and will hire someone to do the work.
That’s all about to change. There are two streams coming together to form a new river of ministry in the local church. First, we aren’t going to be able to afford to hire professionals for every role in the church. Gen Xers and Millennials have different priorities in their giving. The rising generations will be less inclined to support large building programs and institutional funding plans. They prefer to give directly to the ministry. The coming generations need to see and understand the impact their giving is making.
The second stream is a renewed desire on behalf of the younger generation to actually do the ministry. Builders and boomers were driven to succeed in order to provide the resources required to live the way we wanted to live – including being generous. The rising generations don’t want to pay someone else to do their ministry. They’d much rather do it themselves. Now, instead of giving money to dig a well in a village on the other side of the world, the Gen Xers and millennials will jump a plane and go dig the wells themselves…and post it all on social media.
One last stream of influence is churches are going to be smaller. Gen Xers and millennials crave community. Churches will be large enough to provide extended families and intergenerational community groups – think tribes, but no bigger. The average church community will between somewhere between 400-800 individuals.
This means smaller budgets and smaller staffs, but the more ministry that needs to be done. How in the world are we going to do all of this work?
The same way the church always has – through volunteers. Which means church leaders – professional ministers included – like college coaches are going to have to be good recruiters.
What does it take to be a good recruiter? First, every great coach has a plan. This plan will include an offense and a defense and a thorough knowledge of what kind of athlete is needed to run those schemes. Every minister needs to have a ministry plan. Here’s what we’re going to do and here’s how we’re going to get it done. From there, the minister will know how best staff the work.
Most ministers don’t have a plan. That means they don’t know whom to recruit. They just do whatever it takes to get them to next Sunday. The result that can be hoped for is mediocrity, but worse, ministry never happens and people are robbed of their opportunity to use their gifts in a way that makes a difference for the Kingdom of God.
Next, ministers need to train their volunteers. To stay with the sports metaphor, ministers need to “coach up” their volunteers. Teaching adults isn’t the same as teaching students. There are techniques and skills that can easily be taught to our volunteers. Our volunteers deserve opportunities to succeed and with a little help, most volunteers will.
Volunteers need to be celebrated. Too many times, faithful men and women show up Sunday after Sunday, do their ministry and no one will ever thank them. Most people who serve in a church don’t do it for the glory, but a little gratitude will go a long way in raising their level of satisfaction in serving the church.
Make sure you’re asking your volunteers to do something that can be done in a few hours a week. Don’t try to find people who’ll work forty hours a week for cookies and juice. Break every job into chunks of hours that can be done by a volunteer during the week. Some people can give twenty hours a week. Some can give ten and others can only give four or five. Tailor your requirements and expectations to fit what each one has available.
Finding volunteers to staff a ministry is part of the calling of working in a local church. Recruiting is part of the job. Most people want to make a difference with their lives. Make sure your ministry gives them an opportunity to do so.