It was August and just weeks before our fall programs were starting. The reality set in that I did not have much of a team of adult leaders to work with our students; it was full-on preseason panic. What set my panic in perspective was the Children’s Director, who’s office was right next door. She needed a massive number of teachers for Sunday School and Wednesday night programs while I only needed a handful of folks. Ours was an affluent church where people would rather write a check than carve time into their busy lives to volunteer.
What I found didn’t work included pleas for leaders in church bulletins, newsletters, and even from the front of church. This didn’t draw the type of people we needed and has an inherent risk of attracting people with unhealthy motives. I also failed with cold calls or letters to church members who I did not personally know. From trial and error, as well as applying concepts from leadership books, I eventually found a way forward that has worked in the churches I’ve served. It’s all about inviting people into ministry with us. God uses his people to share in the proclamation of His saving grace. Once I changed my mindset from recruiting to inviting, I no longer faced the preseason panic.
What can we do to find and keep adults who can serve in our ministries in meaningful ways? The number of students we disciple is obviously related to the size of our leadership teams. The following is what I have found works in the task of inviting people into ministry with us.
- Pray without ceasing! First, we need to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers (Matt 9:38). Specifically, pray for God to show you who in your setting might be leadership candidates. Even after you have a team in place, keep praying these same prayers. We want to continually be inviting people into ministry with us.
- Search your congregation for potential leaders. I suggest searching within your congregation for two reasons. First, some of the churches I’ve served required this. And second, because I view the job of the youth pastor to engage the members of the church in ministry to and with youth. The church I grew up in used students from a nearby Christian college to be the main team of volunteer leaders. While they were great, we never got to know many adults in our congregation. We know that when students experience intergenerational relationships in the church, they are far more likely to remain involved in the church for life.
Anytime members of your church are gathered, ask God to show you specific people who might be gifted youth leaders. Be on the lookout for those with a vibrant faith and good relational skills. Age is not a valuable criterion unless you are leading a very specific ministry that requires certain levels of physical ability. Look for a diversity of people to create balanced teams.
- Invite people you identify (as the Lord leads) to meet with you over coffee or a meal. Simply explain that you want to share your vision with them and seek their thoughts. In that meeting, share your vision for student ministry and how they could play a part in it. Ask them to pray and seek God’s guidance about their potential involvement in your ministry. The key in this stage of the process is communicating a compelling vision for ministry. What drives your vision? What strategy flows from that vision? What stories can you share to illustrate the vision working? A beautiful side benefit of this process is that your vision and communication of it gets refined every time you share it.
- Follow up with the people you meet with. Give them the opportunity to visit and observe your ministry if they sense that they may want to be involved. Let them know there is no pressure in observing. Rather, they need to see your vision in action and discern whether or not they fit in your ministry team.
- Ask them to complete whatever background checks and child protection training your church requires. Then invite them to commit to serving for a period of time. I like to ask for a year-long commitment with the option to renew annually. This allows them to gracefully bow out if their life situation changes, or if either party senses this is no longer a good fit for the ministry.
I have found invitation to be a better paradigm than recruiting for going about the task of involving volunteers in ministry. No longer do I have to recruit, but I get the privilege of inviting people into ministry alongside me. They can then invest in students’ lives because God called them to. This is a more joyful and committed motive than merely helping the youth pastor because he or she asked for it.
Stop recruiting volunteers and start inviting people into leadership in your ministry. I do believe it will save you from any preseason panic once this is a regular part of your leadership in the church.