Written by Aaron Helman
No youth ministry has ever had too many volunteers.
When you’re dealing with caffeinated teenagers, you need all the help you can get, and so you’re always on the lookout for your next great volunteer.
It’s just that sometimes they’re really, really hard to find.
You put out a callout email to all of your parents. No one responds.
You make an announcement from the pulpit. Nothing.
You get a blurb, front and center in the church bulletin. Crickets.
It’s that last one we’re going to talk about today, because whether it’s in print or on the internet, handed out on Sunday mornings or sent directly to people’s homes, the church bulletin is almost always the worst place to find your next volunteer. Here’s why:
MOST PEOPLE WON’T READ IT.
I know, someone at your church (maybe you!) worked really hard to collect, organize, and publicize all of this information.
The sad truth is that almost no one will read the whole thing. Most people will peruse the document, looking for things that pertain to them and tactically filtering the rest.
If your plea for volunteers is in the Youth Ministry section of the bulletin, you shouldn’t expect it to be seen by people who aren’t already somehow invested in your youth ministry.
If you’re looking for a few high-energy twenty-something adults to help with your Junior High Retreat, you won’t find them in the Youth Ministry section of your bulletin, because they don’t read that section, because they don’t expect that there’s anything for them there.
THEY’LL ASSUME IT APPLIES TO SOMEONE ELSE.
The vast majority of people do not believe themselves to be qualified to help in youth ministry. Either they’re too old or they don’t know enough about the Bible or they’re not cool enough or they feel like just don’t get teenagers.
You know that those things aren’t disqualifiers for youth ministry. Shoot, I’m too old and not cool enough and I definitely don’t get teenagers a lot of days.
People have an idea in their head of what a great youth ministry volunteer looks like and it’s usually not them.
Even when (and if) a potentially great volunteer reads your blurb, she’ll usually tend to believe that it was written with someone else in mind, and she won’t give it a second thought.
Once, when struggling to find chaperones for a winter camp, I received the following pushback from two different prospective volunteers:
I assumed you were looking for college students. I don’t think the kids would be excited about hanging out with dads all weekend.
I thought the word chaperone meant parents.
It’s kind of ridiculous, I know. But when a church bulletin goes to everyone in the congregation, every person in the congregation tends to assume that they’re not as qualified as someone else.
And when you assume that someone else would be a better fit for a role than you are, you tend not to follow up.
THEY MIGHT JUST FORGET THEY READ IT.
Most of our blurbs end the same way, by imploring people to email the youth minister if they’re interested.
Given that most church bulletins are read in church pews, while people are far from their computers and where smartphone use is frowned upon, there’s a bit of a leap here.
The church bulletin helps you recruit a volunteer if they read it, if they believe that they’re qualified, and now if they remember to send you an email when they get home.
That’s a lot of ifs in one sentence.
When you receive nothing in response to a printed plea for volunteers, it’s easy to get jaded and wonder why there aren’t any good people who are willing to help with what is an eternally important ministry.
Most of the time, that’s not it at all. It’s been my experience that most people will be glad to help if they know they’re wanted.
So how do we fix it?
THE BETTER WAY TO RECRUIT VOLUNTEERS
Your ministry could use a few more volunteers, so let’s go about looking for them in a way that actually works.
We’ll start by eliminating all of those ifs and we’re going to do that by recruiting volunteers one at a time.
Mill around between services.
Attend church functions where large amounts of potential volunteers will be gathered.
Don’t sit by yourself at potlucks.
Talk to a lot of people.
And when you talk to them, talk to them about youth ministry and talk to them about how they might fit into youth ministry.
When you put something in the bulletin, they might see it.
When you talk to them directly, you can be certain your message was received.
When you talk to people, qualify them immediately.
Always say the following and put something amazing at the end:
“I think you would be a great youth ministry volunteer because…”
If you can’t yet fill in that blank, then you’re not yet ready to make the ask.
But when you can fill in that blank, you’ve eliminated the second if.
You’ve guaranteed that they’ve received your message and you’ve given them assurance that they’re the right person for the job.
Even better, you’ve eliminated the last if altogether.
They can answer you on the spot and if they need time to think and pray about it, you can be responsible for following up with them.
You’re no longer dependent on whether or not they remember to pursue it because now you can pursue them.
UNFORTUNATELY, THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS
It would be great if you could dash off a paragraph outlining your need for volunteers, send it to the church secretary, wait for the bulletin to go to print, and then check your email on Sunday afternoon to find fifteen new youth ministry volunteers lined up and ready to go.
Problem is, that’s not how it works.
In my twelve-year youth ministry career, I have never successfully recruited a single youth ministry volunteer from the church bulletin.
As in zero. None. Nada. Not happening.
But when I talk to people, when I listen to them, when I qualify them, and when I ask directly, I receive a YES in return well more than half the time.
You can too, if you take the time to talk to people, know them, and go after them individually.
Good luck finding your next great volunteer.
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Aaron Helman has been in youth ministry for over 15 years and is currently a youth pastor in South Bend, Indiana.