When Nick Saban joined the University of Alabama as the head football coach, Saban told the Athletic Director that they didn’t necessarily get the best coach in the country, but they got the best recruiter.
Since then, Saban has reached unprecedented success, winning five national championships over a span of eleven seasons. No matter where your football allegiance lies (if at all), this 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. 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.
- 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 with 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. 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.
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.
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 the recruits.
- Regular in-house training.
- Beginning of the school year.
- Regular training throughout the year. Once a month is ideal. Every other month minimum.
- 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. Consider GoGeorgia or Conclave.
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.