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How (and How Not!) to Recruit Volunteers

In our post-pandemic world of lower in-person church attendance (averaging about half of what it was pre-Covid), many are left with serious volunteer drop-off problems.

Keeping the same programs with less resources is a tough challenge. With tight finances and staff limitations, developing good practices for recruiting gifted, passionate volunteers is critical. Plus, it allows them to step into their Kingdom potential.

My friend Barry Long planted and pastored a large church for many years. The following notes are taken from his workshop on recruiting volunteers. Though using Children’s Ministry as an example, the principles are applicable for any ministry area.


  • Always be working yourself out of the classroom. Leaders who are doing hands-on ministry cannot be recruiters and if they don’t recruit, they’ll end up doing all the work and burning out.

  • Always meet new people at weekend services and be certain to get their names. Once you have their names, be sure to write it down or text it to yourself in order to memorize it. In this way you can greet them week by week. From these names you will develop a pool of potential recruits.

  • Never try to recruit “on the fly” on Sunday morning. This communicates a nonprofessional image and desperation. Even though we often feel desperate, to communicate this to people undermines the chances they will respond favorably. When you approach people to recruit them on Sunday, it appears as if you've just thought of the idea (“Oh, there’s what’s his name. I wonder if he could teach the fourth graders?”). Sundays are for building relationships and serving people, not recruiting.

  • Never recruit someone from a position of need or by using guilt. (“Dara, we sure could use your help in the kindergarten class. We’re overwhelmed with kids. By the way, two of them are yours. Can we ask you to do your part?”)

  • Always recruit from a position of vision. When you approach potential volunteers, you should do so based upon the vision statements of your church. (“Damon, I’d love to spend a little time with you and your wife and share our vision for the ‘future church’ represented by our kids. May I drop by next week around 6:30 one evening?”)

  • Always recruit in stages. After presenting your church’s vision to a potential recruit, invite them to come and shadow you for a few Sundays. Then invite them to be an apprentice. In this example, teaching in the classroom may be the final stage of recruiting and should be filled by those who can apprentice others.

  • Always meet with potential recruits at a set appointment. If it’s that important to you, it will become important to them.

  • Never fail to follow-up within one week with those you have met. If they say “no” ask if it would be okay to contact them again in six months. Keep their name on file and call them back.

  • Never recruit someone without defining what their exact duties will be and how long they will be expected to serve. If you are vague in defining these two things, the potential for a “yes” will be greatly diminished.

  • Always ask for referrals even when the potential recruit says “no.” Who might they know at the church that might be a good kids’ teacher?

  • Never limit your recruiting to those who you know or those who have served in the past. This perpetuates an ingrownness that is not healthy and burns people out. Look for new people.

  • Always be prepared to outline a thumbnail sketch of the programs you are using and why you are excited about them. If you’re enthused, they will be also.

Next week we’ll offer tips on what to do after a recruit says “yes”—a guide to maintaining healthy, passionate volunteers.

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches


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