Recruiting – The Game Changer
When Nick Saban was hired as the head football coach at the University of Alabama, he told the Athletic Director he didn’t necessarily get the best coach in the country, but he got the best… recruiter that ever lived.
Since then, Saban has gone on to unprecedented success, winning five national championships over a span of eleven seasons. No matter where your football allegiance lies (if at all), that is an impressive accomplishment. There has been a lot written about Saban’s success and the myriad of reasons for it. But the biggest reason may go back to his claim when he was hired. Alabama recruits better than anyone else. On any given Saturday and in every game they play, Bama simply has better players than the team they are playing.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of successful college football programs.
The same is true of our Student Ministries. Except we don’t recruit athletes, we recruit volunteers.
Think about it: each of us can only effectively disciple a certain number of students. Jesus had many followers but He focused his most intense discipleship efforts on only a few, 12 to be exact. If we’re on Jesus’ level, we could disciple 12 students on our own. But let’s be realistic and say it’s more like 8-10. If each person can effectively disciple 8-10 students, we can multiply 8-10 by every volunteer in our ministry and that is how many kids we have the potential to reach. Recruit more volunteers to minister to kids, multiply your ministry’s capacity to reach students.
Recruiting is the game changer, the magic, the secret sauce.
You don’t have to be the best Student Pastor in the world, if there is such a thing. But if you learn to recruit at a high level, you can turn a dormant ministry into a disciple-making machine.
That’s a big “if.”
Recruiting is not easy. It requires focus, understanding, commitment, hard work and people skills, among other things. It necessitates time spent thinking, planning and talking about recruiting that could otherwise be used to hang out with kids or plan your next event. Student Ministry can often feel like putting out fires. There’s hardly ever time to look ahead because we are always captured by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Carving out space in our calendar to think about who else in our church could work with students can be challenging. But it is absolutely worth it.
Because God loves teenagers. Jesus died for them, wants desperately to redeem them and transform their lives. The more committed, trained adult volunteers we recruit to partner with us, the more potential we create for students to hear these timeless, life-changing truths.
The Basics of Recruiting
Identify the right people
• Parents of teens. These are the people who have a vested interest in your ministry.
o I admit I wasn’t as comfortable bringing parents alongside to work with me until I became a parent myself. If you are young, single, childless, or all of the above, don’t make the same mistake I made.
o Parents of teenagers make amazing youth workers. And they will become powerful advocates for you when you invite them in and empower them to lead with you.
• Local college students/young singles. Make sure their schedule really permits the time necessary to invest.
• Young married couples who haven’t started a family yet.
• Senior citizens. One of the best and most beloved youth workers I’ve ever had on my team is in his seventies and still making a difference in the lives of kids.
• Staff spouses. Low-hanging fruit!
• Older high school students (to work with middle school students).
Begin a relationship
A three-step process for recruiting volunteers:
1. Meet them in person and talk with them informally about the ministry (work on your recruiting pitch*)
2. Within a reasonable time period, follow up with an email, phone call or text to invite them out to lunch or coffee.
3. Treat them to lunch or coffee. Spend time getting to know them. Show genuine interest in who they are. Ask questions. Listen. Be present.
o This requires a level of time commitment and/or budget you might not feel you have. But it is an important part of the recruiting process.
o It should be obvious, but exercise caution when meeting members of the opposite sex. Consider bringing your spouse or another volunteer along to join you.
Invite them to partner with you in ministry.
One of the things I hate most in life is being told “no.” I’m like George McFly in Back to the Future: I just can’t handle that kind of rejection. But I learned a long time ago if I never ask for fear of hearing, “no,” I’ll never hear a “yes,” either. And if you follow the three-step process above, by the time you’ve met together over a meal or coffee you should have a pretty good sense of where your potential volunteer is at. As you begin to close the deal, let them know they will be your partner in ministry. Because you need to ensure strong partners, set the expectation of an important process they will need to go through in order to work with children.
Have a clearly defined application and screening process.
1. An application to volunteer in your ministry.
2. A state and federal background check.
3. Mandatory abuse awareness training.
I wish I could tell you this will never be a barrier for adults to serve in your ministry. But the truth is it can be. Sometimes people will balk at filling out paperwork requiring them to go in depth about their spiritual background or their personal discipleship habits. Ask for it anyway. Also, it’s rare, but people can also be offended at the thought of a required background check. Require it anyway. I would also recommend your ministry go beyond background checks to fully train any adult who works with children about the dangers of child abuse. MinistrySafe is a great resource in this regard.
This won’t guarantee your students will be 100% safe from harm. But at least you can have peace knowing you are doing everything you can in the recruiting process to protect them.
Train them, empower them and turn them loose (but don’t forget about them).
Now that you’ve got your team of volunteers in place, it’s time to get them ready for the enormous and challenging task they have agreed to.
You have to train them.
• Regular in-house training.
o Beginning of the school year.
o Regular training throughout the yar. Once a month is ideal. Every other month minimum.
o You can bring outside speakers in occasionally, you can train and empower another adult volunteer to lead these training for you, or you can do it yourself.
• At least one outside training event each year.
o Go Georgia.
Stay closely connected with your volunteer team.
• Call each volunteer at least every couple of months just to check in and see how they’re doing. You don’t even have to always ask about their group. You can just chat about life, listen and affirm them.
• Send hand-written thank you notes.
• Make it a habit of getting face-to-face over coffee or a meal at least once a semester.
Give them the tools, training and time with you they need to be successful discipling students. View them as fellow ministers and not just a means to an end. Learn to recruit at a high level and your ministry will flourish.
Recruiting is a lot of work. But it’s important to work and our kids and God’s kingdom both deserve our very best. With the best (committed, screened, trained) adults in the church at your side, you could become an unstoppable force in your church and community.
If I can help you in any way, please let me know.
*Recruiting pitch ideas.
• Begin with why (TED Talk by Simon Sinek).
o We know where we’re going and need you to help us get there. Emphasize the vision. If you have a clear idea of where God is leading your student ministry and can articulate it succinctly and passionately, people will want to join you. Spend some time clarifying the language of your vision in a way you can deliver it in a sentence or two.
• Appeal to their gratitude.
o Were in you a part of a youth group that affected you in a positive way? One year I was invited to serve tables at a Women’s Dinner at our church. Also there helping were about ten husbands from one of the young married couples classes. I had never met most of them. When our “shift” was over, we were all sitting around a big table eating dinner. In that moment, I was divinely inspired to use the occasion to make a recruiting pitch. I looked around the table and asked the group, “How many of you came through a youth ministry that affected you in a positive way when you were a teenager?” Almost every hand went up. “Great! Then I’m sure you would love the opportunity to provide the experience you had to a new generation of teenagers.” I took down email addresses of two men that night. Both of them and their wives became volunteers in the ministry less than nine months later. Many adults in our churches were part of a youth ministry when they were kids. Many of them will be challenged by the idea of giving back.
• Make connections to a parent’s role.
o How would you like to influence the opposite gender dating pool? I wouldn’t recommend placing parents in their own child’s small group setting. Kids need a forum to be open and honest without their parents in the room. However, I highly recommend allowing parents to lead the opposite gender group in their child’s grade. Parents are highly motivated to see real change in kids’ lives when they understand their son or daughter could be dating someone in their group in the near or distant future.
• Show them what the Bible says about service.
o Every believer is a minister. The Bible teaches every person has a personal responsibility to minister to others in the way they are called and gifted. Perhaps student ministry is how God is calling them to serve as a minister in your church. Again, they are not just helping out or filling a slot. They are partnering with you in ministry. This is an incredibly important distinction and can’t be stressed enough. The language you use when you approach someone could be the difference between igniting a holy fire in someone’s heart or snuffing it out before it has a chance to burn.