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/ 27 August 2019

Recruiting and keeping volunteers

We never seem to have enough volunteers for our children’s and youth ministry. Sam Donoghue has some tips to help you develop a recruiting culture and build a team that will stick around for the long term.

I recently wrote some words for this blog covering three top tips on managing behaviour. Halfway through writing it I realised that I had stumbled upon the potential for a series of posts based around frequently asked questions. Last time was behaviour management; this time it’s volunteers!

London has the lowest rate of volunteering in the UK by a significant distance. Indeed, when I looked into this, I found a comedy graph showing volunteering rates for different areas of the UK where London has been removed from the line as we basically ruined it for everyone else by distorting the averages to the point they no longer made sense.

It’s also true that volunteering levels are much higher within faith communities than outside, but they can only really be described as ‘high for London’. If we wanted to go a bit deeper, we could look at some of what is driving this but I’m aiming for a short and punchy article and so I’ll leave that for another time.

1. Recruiting volunteers is an ongoing process, not crisis management.

The best volunteer recruitment I’ve ever seen was at Hillsong Church with their youth team. They are present in the lobby of every single service or event inviting people to be part of what they are doing. Now I know there are many reasons you can dismiss that, not least the fact they are fishing in a pretty large pond. Yet you’ve got to admire the commitment to the process. Week in week out every Sunday they understand that they need to keep having the conversations, understanding that most people need more than one conversation to get on board. The know they never think they’ve got it sorted. If the only time you think about volunteering is in a crisis, you’re leaving it too late and you’re likely to fall in to the next trap.

2. The threat of closing the kids work will not produce great volunteers.

Too often a crisis is used to try and pressurise people into stepping in. It will probably save the day short term. However, the same crisis will come around again, but next time it will be worse as you’ll have used up the people most likely to respond to the crisis.

You recruit the best volunteers when they are excited to be a part of what God is doing in the children’s work and feel a sense of call to be part of it. These volunteers need a bit more work. As well as constant recruiting, you need to make sure the whole church is connected to what is happening with children and are encouraged to at least pray for what is happening. You need to get people out for a taster to see what happens and discover how it isn’t that difficult and is unlikely to result in death. You need get it on the agenda of the church leadership, so they are supporting volunteer recruitment. All this should help to boost the quality of who you can recruit.

3. Develop your team.

You will shed volunteers regularly if they feel undervalued and bored, so think about how to develop them. This requires lots of carefully pitched small steps that get people more involved; people always say no to big steps. Most churches I work with seem to have two levels of children’s work volunteer: the leader and the helper. Most churches will tell you that the problem they have is that they are OK for helpers who are not expected to do anything other than show up, but none of them want to be leaders. Of course they don’t, it’s much too big a step. You need to move people on slowly and train them well so that they gradually move across. It is possible to move people on from just showing up but you need to be proactive in using small steps and lots of encouragement so that feel they are thriving. Not everyone will make the move but some will, as we do find that the more time they spend doing children’s work the more they will love it.

Don’t forget our Academy Basics children’s ministry training, which can form that next step for volunteers. Check out our training page for information about courses near you!

About Sam Donoghue

Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.

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