Annual Panic

By Mark A. Taylor

Every August and September, I was gripped by panic. As part-time education minister with a smaller church (now it’s mega), I was responsible to recruit Sunday school workers for every age level and to staff a fully graded program on Wednesday nights. When kids choirs took a break on Sunday evenings (we had Sunday-night church back in those days), my job was to create and find workers for kids’ classes then too.

In a church of a few hundred, that was a lot of volunteers, and we never seemed to have quite enough.

We encouraged people currently serving to stay on the job. We made lists of likely prospects. I encouraged department superintendents as they helped me with the task.

Sept29_MT_JNBut as each new church year began, there were always a few slots unfilled, always a few classrooms without the volunteer teachers and helpers we needed. I can remember sitting in the back during Sunday-morning worship and scanning every pew. Had I missed someone who’d be willing to work?

The experience taught me some things about recruiting volunteers, but I learned even more when I talked with Susan Lawrence and Melissa Sandel in our September 17 Beyond the Standard BlogTalk Radio interview.

For one thing, annual panic should not be the norm.

“There’s a difference between managing and leading,” Melissa Sandel said. “Managing is dealing with today today. Leading is planning for tomorrow today. There are times when you just have to get through Sunday. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a plan to keep yourself from getting into those fixes.”

One strategy is to focus on times of the year when people are more likely to volunteer. At West Side Christian Church where Sandel serves as director of ministries, those times include the beginning of the new school year, the beginning of the calendar year, and right before Easter.

Susan Lawrence added that sometimes a church has trouble finding enough workers because of trying to do too much. (In retrospect, that may have been my recruiting problem.) Lawrence, a speaker and writer from Taylorville, Illinois, suggested church leaders ask, “Are we just trying to keep programs going? Are we being wise stewards of the people we have?”

Sandel set forth a big-picture strategy for recruiting the volunteers a church needs: Find people “wired to do what you’re asking them to do.” Cast vision: “You’re not just filling holes”; you sell the “why” and then the “what.” Explain to them “how their role fits into the big picture of what your church is trying to accomplish.”

And she added that good recruiting can lead to developing more than dependable volunteers. “When you onboard them well, and then you care for them and you equip them over the long haul, they become great recruiters for you.”

Lawrence said sometimes the recruiter’s job is to help a potential volunteer say no instead of yes. Sandel agreed. “Part of recruiting is helping people connect with the role that’s the right fit for them,” she said.

Hopefully I’ll do a better job of that whenever I’m in a recruiter’s role again. Before that, I need to listen again to the practical voices of experience in this Beyond the Standard episode. It ought to be required listening for anyone recruiting local church volunteers.

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