The primary calling of the pastor is to equip God’s people to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
But it’s hard to do that when you can’t find any volunteers.
It’s one of the questions I get asked a lot – especially when I’m teaching on discipleship. “I want to be a training pastor. But how do I find volunteers? What’s the best way to recruit them? Make a general announcement, or ask people one-on-one?”
In a small church, the answer is ‘yes’. Do both. Here’s why.
If you only make a general announcement you’ll usually get little or no response. And sometimes the response you get isn’t the one you want – like the person with no musical ability wanting to sing on the worship team, or the member with a perpetual scowl wanting to be a greeter.
But if you only make a private request it can feel like an obligation. In the meantime, you might miss out on someone who’s willing and able, but isn’t aware of the need.
The best way I’ve found to do this is a simple five-step process:
Step 1: Make General Announcements
When you have a ministry need, announce it for a couple weeks in your bulletin, your weekly email, your Facebook page, Sunday announcements, and so on.
Don’t be surprised if you receive little or no response. But that’s okay, you’re not expecting any.
Step 2: Look for a Specific Person
After you’ve announced the need, start praying, thinking and looking around for someone who might have the gifts, passion and calling to meet that need – even if they don’t recognize it, yet.
But remember to look for the right characteristics. Pick volunteers based on passion and servanthood, not status and experience.
Step 3: Make a Specific Request
Approach potential volunteers directly and honestly. Tell them you’ve been thinking and praying about who should do this ministry, and they might be that person. And let them know that you’re willing to invest your time, skill and energy into working with them on it.
Start with a simple request like this. “You know how we’ve been asking for someone to help out in Kids’ Ministry? I think you’d be great at that. Do you mind if we sit down so I can share some ideas with you?”
Most people will say yes to a sit-down, even if they’re not ready to say yes to doing the ministry – yet.
By the way, if you get a volunteer from the general announcement, go through the following steps with them, too.
Step 4: Meet To Share Your Vision and Hear Theirs
Tell them why you think they might be the right person to meet this need. Let them know what you’re asking of them and what you’re willing to give them in help and training.
Ask them what their thoughts are. After all, if they’re right for it they may have some ideas that need to be taken into consideration.
Step 5: Train Them
This is the essential element that turns volunteering into discipleship.
Remember, the Apostle Paul told pastors (along with apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers) to “equip the saints…” not just find warm bodies to fill empty slots.
For specific ideas about doing this, check out Mentoring Is Better than Curriculum: Seven Steps to Better Discipleship.
The Benefits of the General and Specific Asks
Many churches fail at recruiting and keeping volunteers because we don’t train people, we just just hand them curriculum and walk away. This gives us a reputation for leaving people hanging, which makes it harder to recruit someone the next time.
But when we go through this simple (but not easy) five-step process, some important things happen.
By prayerfully and thoughtfully asking people, we increase the likelihood of matching them with the right position for them and the church.
By sharing ideas in an up-front meeting, we’re less likely to lose people after they start.
By training them, we dramatically increase the likelihood of success for everyone. And we gain a reputation as a place where passionate, willing volunteers will get the tools they need to grow.
It’s been said that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. The same goes for discipleship.
Start today. Or years from now you’ll be wishing you had.
No, this isn’t easy. Or fast. And the smaller the church, the more likely the initial volunteers will have to be trained by the pastor.
But in the long run, you’ll develop a self-perpetuating mentoring system as those who get discipled start discipling others.
Intentional mentoring is a great way to expand your church’s capacity for effective ministry and fulfill our mandate to make disciples and equip the saints.
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