How Not To Recruit Quality Volunteers


“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign

around his or her neck that says,

‘Make me feel important.’

Not only will you succeed in sales,

You will succeed in life.” –Mary Kay Ash


Spending the last twenty plus years of my life in church work has afforded me the opportunity to work with hundreds of churches.  Through all those contacts one common theme arises.  During our conversation about ministry, we get to this problem.  “We need more volunteers.”  It is a problem that is not limited only to the church.  It is a nationwide crisis.  We are all looking for high-quality volunteers.  Out of this need has grown this blog series.   I want to help churches in particular figure out the key to finding quality volunteers.  Since I am sarcastic, let me start with the absolute wrong way to address the issue.

I am from the deep south.  We love our football down there.  And might I say we are pretty darn good at football?  Schools in the south have a knack for finding the best recruits. They have overcome the negatives of playing in oppressive heat and humidity.  One thing coaches in the south do not do belittle their programs.  Could you imagine Nick Saban of the University of Alabama, walking into a top recruits house and sitting down with his parents and talking about how winning a national championship is not their goal?  Imagine him telling the recruit we don’t practice all that hard?  There is little commitment required to do well.  And we don’t expect you to make a big difference determining our success?  As a matter of fact, anyone could do what we are asking you to do.  Are your ready to sign up and come and practice in the heat of Alabama?  I would guess not.  Then why do we do that to people we are asking to serve in the church?

Here are some common mistakes people make in recruiting volunteers: 

1)    Downplay the importance of the task.

I remember meeting with a church counsel once that for a solid year could not find a single soul to serve as vice-president of the congregation.  So I asked the group, “So what are you telling potential volunteers?”  The Chairperson responded, “Well that this job does not require much effort.  You maybe need to chair two meetings a year.

And it’s not hard because no one is expected to follow through on what they have committed. The congregation doesn’t hold us accountable.  The congregants are just happy we keep them in the loop. We have been vacant for over a year, and no one has noticed.”  So I said to him.  “You are asking people to give up their valuable time for a job that has no kingdom impact.  Requires no special skills to accomplish.  That has no desired outcome, and no one has even cared enough to notice it is vacant. No thanks. I could be playing golf.”

Think about the last time you attempted to recruit someone.  Was the example above your best sales pitch?  “Come one come all and sign up for this insignificant, mindless, talentless, small commitment volunteer position. I know how busy you are so this won’t take much of your time.  And we don’t even care if you do it well.”

Doesn’t God’s mission deserve more?  Shouldn’t we challenge people to give God their best not just their leftovers?  Is that good stewardship?  Just something to think about.

2)    Don’t Provide Training.

Here is a famous illustration about passing down behavior.

The new Jewish bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother’s brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Hubby thinks the meat is delicious, but says, “Why do you cut off the ends — that’s the best part!” She answers, “That’s the way my mother always made it.”

The next week, they go to the old bubbie’s house, and she prepares the famous brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she asks her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, “Dahlink, that’s the only way it will fit in the pan!”

Make sure you give people a task and do not train them.  I served several congregations where there was no orientation for new board members. What training they did get was from someone leaving the position who had to figure out the job on their own.  So whatever bad habits he inherited now are being passed on to the new person.  Before you create a culture where you just do things because the previous person did it, find out what is the proper way to do it.  Then provide adequate training and orientation for your people.

If you want to find quality people,  make sure what you are asking them to do is important.  Give them a vision for how this ministry is relevant to the work of God and his kingdom.

More posts on volunteers:




2 Comments on “How Not To Recruit Quality Volunteers

  1. Pingback: How to Recruit Like Jesus | The Light Breaks Through

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