How to Recruit Church Volunteers

When you realize you’ll need to recruit some volunteers, does your heart leap for joy? Or does your stomach get tied in knots?

Most of us don’t enjoy finding people to teach Sunday School or help with the rummage sale. We feel we’re putting pressure on people, begging, wheedling and maybe even stretching the truth (“There’s nothing to it!”), because those tactics often slip into our recruiting. And the result is sometimes like wolves encircling a herd of buffalo, where the weak become the prey.

Such tactics are:

  • Unkind. We wouldn’t want them used on us.
  • Ineffective, in the long run. Those who say ‘yes’ soon quit, and people run and hide when they see us coming
  • Unbiblical. They don’t fit the picture of the church as the body of Christ. (I Corinthians 12)

There’s a better way. It begins with thinking of recruitment as extending an invitation. For example, to recruit ushers, you will invite people to serve by being an usher.

An invitation

Personal invitations are best.

First, start early. Real early. Don’t put it off. Desperation is inevitable at the last minute.

Personal invitations are best. I love it when a friend invites me to lunch. But when an unknown financial company invites me to a free dinner, I ignore the invitation.

Church bulletin announcements can be a good general invitation, but their usefulness is limited. Most people skip over them or conclude that others are more qualified or have more time. If you invite people through a personal email or phone call, or, best of all, face to face, you’ll get a more thoughtful response.

Who to invite?

My friends know that I’m more likely to accept an invitation to a book discussion than to a pool party, because they know I love to read but am not a fan of swimming.

Everyone in your church has their own likes and dislikes, skills and abilities, schedule and commitments. Invite people based on what you know about them and tell them why you’re inviting them. “I saw the program cover you designed.” “Mary tells me you’re great with kids.” “You were a wonderful organizer at the Advent tea.”

Some invitations are more inviting than others.

Don’t just ask people you know. Ask 3-4 other people to suggest people they know with the gifts to be a blessing in the position for which you’re recruiting.

An inviting invitation

Some invitations are more inviting than others. “I have to throw a baby shower for my sister. Wanna come?” is less inviting than “We’re going to celebrate Sandy’s new baby. It’ll be a lot of fun. Can you come?”

How do you describe the serving opportunities you’re inviting people to consider? “Teach Sunday School” is accurate but it doesn’t paint much of a picture. Compare it to: “We’re looking for someone to share Jesus with our third graders, to have fun with them at craft time, and to help them put their faith into action.”

Also have on hand a one-page ministry description that includes these details, plus the details of the job, including training available, length of commitment, etc.

Accepting or declining the invitation

I’d be happy to receive that invitation to a book discussion group. But then I’d think about when it meets, if I have time for another commitment, and maybe even the type of books to be discussed before I accept or decline the invitation. Even those with a servant heart have to carefully choose among the many opportunities for serving.

Every church has its own “way we do things,” both the formal systems and also the unwritten habits of church culture. The invitations you extend are affected by both

When you invite someone to serve in a ministry, encourage them to take time for prayer and thought. Get back to them later. Accept a “no” answer graciously, and listen carefully to their reasons for declining. Perhaps the job can be adjusted to make it work. Or perhaps you can help them find another ministry better suited to them.

An invitational system and culture

Recruitment is affected by more than just your invitation. Every church has its own “way we do things,” both the formal systems and also the unwritten habits of church culture. The invitations you extend are affected by both. If leaders are serious about getting more people involved in serving, they’ll address these questions:

  • Are people reminded regularly that we all are gifted and called to serve?
  • Is there regular biblical study on stewardship of time and talent?
  • Is personal help available for people who want to determine their spiritual gifts, abilities, ministry passion and to select ministries that match those gifts?
  • Do existing ministry groups welcome the new ideas of new volunteers?
  • Are volunteers trained, supported and affirmed while they serve?
  • Do staff members work at helping people serve, or do they try to do it all themselves?
  • When two or three are serving together, conflict is inevitable. Is it dealt with in healthy ways?

First, Last and Throughout

Prayer is your key recruitment tool. Staying in close, personal contact with the Holy Spirit opens us to his involvement in the recruitment process. Recruitment is inviting His people to use gifts He has given in His service. We can be confident that God will supply all the people needed to do what he wants done. When we remember it’s about Him and not about us, recruitment is an exciting adventure in His service.

rev. August 2010

Tools you can use:


Is Your Church a Good Steward of Its People’s Time and Talents?” – a simple survey. . The third page of this survey is a list of resources on church volunteerism.

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